Here’s a better way to build helpful relationships

In my role with The Riverside Co., I interact with hundreds of business owners, investment bankers and other financial professionals. You’re probably thinking I spend most of my time networking. After 20 years in this business, I find networking nearly worthless.

It’s only the first step in the long journey of building relationships. Now, I’m not the first person to say networking is dead (there’s a well-reviewed 2012 book by that title), but many people continue to waste their time.

I’ve been to hundreds of networking events and exchanged thousands of business cards. I’ve experienced almost no success from such events. People want to do business with their friends, based on real relationships. Not the superficial connection of being someone’s 552nd LinkedIn connection or the 38th person they met at a conference.

Getting started
You won’t get along with everyone in business, and that’s OK. There are only so many hours in the day.  Don’t follow up with rude, aloof or otherwise unaligned people. Focus where you can make an impact. Invest your time in those with complementary personalities/interests. Talk to businesspeople as if they are already friends. Hold off on business talk, and ask a lot of questions — let them set topics and be wary of advertising yourself.

Develop real relationships
Now that you can tap a mouse to connect with someone, real connections have never been more important. You don’t build lasting friendships online or over the phone. Even a cup of coffee or lunch has little impact. Real relationships are built over time and through shared experiences.

Get personal, be memorable
Don’t hesitate to weave personal details into your professional conversations. If you are into rock climbing, classic cars or any other hobby, invite someone with similar interests to an upcoming event, or create your own event.

I like craft beer, and hosted a niche event at Uinta Brewing that included a tour with the brewmaster and a variety of special touches for beer nerds. The dozen or so attendees (friends) loved the unique, personal and memorable experience. Contrast that to a staid cocktail hour or umpteenth steakhouse dinner — there’s no comparison.

Good begets good
We have all heard the phrase “Pay it forward,” but few truly live it. It feels good to do, but it invariably helps the helper at some point. When you build a wealth of goodwill with your select group of deeper business relationships, it usually pays off down the line, whether you need a job, a reference or any other favor.

Much of my professional success has been driven by dozens of hardcore fans that always look out for me and actively try to help me. That’s a lot more meaningful and practical than 10,000 names in a database.
I’m all for spending time on a network of business connections. I just think it should be a lot of high-quality time with a small number of them. That’s how I network for success.

Jeremy Holland is managing partner at The Riverside Co.