And yet, the things that are the most valuable require cultivation. Relationships, trust, advocacy, investment. They’re not just-add-water things.
In business and in life in general, investment comes first. Returns come after. Familiarly, we put that in terms of “give to get” or the like, but rarely if ever do we really think about that until we actually want something and find ourselves desperate for attention, lacking resources, or wondering where to turn for support. And then suddenly we realize we’re asking for a withdrawal against an account that’s been sitting empty.
This is why it’s so important to invest the time and effort in continually building your network and relationships long before you need them.
Here are a couple of examples of this in action that happen all the time.
You want a new gig. Perhaps you’d even like to break into a new industry, a new role, or a new company. So you get on LinkedIn or your pile of business and start digging through your contacts. What happens?
If you’ve spent time cultivating relationships simply for the sake of having them – as opposed to angling for what they can net you in the short term – you likely have a rich network of people to draw from. They have networks of their own. They have their ear to the ground. They may have the inside track on an interview, or working knowledge of a company or a role. They may know you well enough to recommend you or be a reference. And if you’ve valued that relationship on its own merits, those folks are more than likely delighted to have a hand in finding you the gig that’s the perfect fit for you.
But if the first time you’re reaching out to someone is to talk to them about how they can help you get a job? Best case, they’ll be polite but not particularly interested. Worst case they’ll find you rude or presumptuous. No one wants to feel like they’re being used simply as a lever or a convenient stepping stone.
Sharing Your Stuff
Crappy email pitches about your press release are awful. Unsolicited links in DMs from strangers are the bane of most Twitter users. Your completely irrelevant link drop on my Facebook wall is tacky. Why? Because they’re at minimum intrusive and self-centered, and can border on annoying and presumptuous. If you’ve never had a word to say to me until such time as I can be your marketing vehicle? Not so much interested.
But if I at least know you casually? Better yet, if I like you? I’ll want to support YOU, even if your news doesn’t directly apply to me. If I’m enthusiastic about what you’re doing, you may even get more out of me than you asked for and I’ll relish the chance to help you do something great.
Good PR professionals spend YEARS building their media lists and networks of people that are likely to want to write or share an interesting story, long before they ever have the story itself. Why? Because the relationship is what opens the door to the pitch. In reverse, it doesn’t work well, if at all.
The Elusive Return
You want to know what the return is on your investment?
The trick is that you may not know yet. Not for some time. You see, you may not be able to quantify the return until the serendipitous moment where all that time, effort, and investment on principle actually pays off in practice. You may not be able to predict it, or the circumstances, because they haven’t happened yet.
Return is a trailing measure. You know what you got out of something only after you’ve put something into it in the first place.
Networks are the most powerful medium we have at our disposal, and they’re as old as time itself. The internet has dramatically reduced the degrees of separation between us, yet dramatically increased how easy it is to presume trust “relationships” that are founded only a click or a follow.
But we humans still thrive, breathe, and live within the interpersonal threads that truly connect us – not the connection mechanisms – and those connections can transcend geography, circumstance, or situation in the very best ways.
Will you always have the perfect connection at hand? Maybe not. But therein lies the magic.
If you’ve spent the time genuinely investing, building, and contributing to the networks that surround you, those connections may just make themselves known. The ones you do have will help make the ones you don’t. We remember and invest in kind in the connections that are made with us through genuine – and mutual – means.
So. That network that you’ve taken the time to nurture, cultivate, and build when you didn’t need it at all?
May just give you a shining example later on of why that effort was so very, very worthwhile.