We all know that a strong network is key to business success, but it isn't so clear how to go about building a network.
At the recent AIA National Convention I asked architects why there were there and I generally got one of two answers. The first group was there to fulfill their Continuing Education requirements. The second group was there to build their network and foster existing relationships.
Fostering Successful Relationships for Fun and For Profit
The importance of having a strong business network is not a new concept, but it is often difficult to clearly see the most effective route to building an effective network. At the outset of a business relationship, personal benefits may not be readily apparent. Often, time and energy must be invested long before any benefits are seen. Additionally, no one wants to be ‘that guy or gal' who networks with an ulterior motive of personal gain. Personal gain is secondary; friendship is primary. True relationships are not built on being fake or insincere.
As solo architects and small firm owners our time is precious and we wear many hats. We may feel hesitant to add relationships that will place more demand on our time, especially if we see no perceived benefit. But successful business people know by experience that by fostering these relationships, unexpected opportunities do come their way.
From the outside these opportunities may look like luck or chance, but successful architects know that these opportunities are the results of relationships that have been nurtured and cultivated over time.
Keys For Building a Profitable and Fulfilling Network
Faced with an enormous event like a National Convention, how do we make the best use of our limited time? There are so many programs to go to, products to see and people to meet. Randy Deutsch, Associate Professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (@RandyDeutsch) shares the networking secret that separates top performing architects from those who feel like they never get any breaks:
“Ever notice all those firm principals hanging out just outside the entry of the conference rooms – or in the lobby – while programs are in session? They know a secret that it has taken them a career to learn and that I will share with you right now: the programs are the least important part of the convention. It is whom you meet or see going in or out of the programs that matters.” (read more here)
But who should you talk to? What events should you attend? How do you strike up a conversation? Here are 4 tips for building your own profitable and fulfilling network that will form the foundation of your successful practice.
- Volunteer for a national, state, province, or local committee – the AIA has various committees and knowledge groups that are managed by volunteer architects. These men and women are fun people with deep networks who know the value of relationships. Start by getting to know them and giving them value. If you aren't currently serving on a committee, seek out these people, introduce yourself, and give them value.
- Give value to those you meet – there are various ways to give value to those you meet. Think about who else in your network they would like to meet and introduce them. Connect with them on social media and help them build their network. The value you can add will depend on the individual so you need to think deeply about who the person is and how you can help them.
- Never eat alone – ask what the people you are meeting are doing throughout the conference to identify the events you should attend. Make each meal count by eating with your new colleagues and friends.
- Have a follow-up system – collect the business cards of those you meet (notice I didn't say “hand out cards to those you meet”). When you get back to your hotel room that night send them a little note and connect with them on LinkedIn, Twitter or another social media platform. Put a note in your calendar to follow up with them in a few weeks and be on the look out for ways to add value to their life.
The steps to forming a profitable network are simple but take time and effort. And the rewards will be far beyond financial. The friendships you form will be key in having a long and fulfilling life. A strong network is definitely one of the top keys to having a steady flow of good projects come through the office.