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Ife Tokan: How to Build a Sustainable Business Relationship

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Many people mix up networking and building a long term business relationship. Networking is the first stage of building a business relationship. In other words, networking is short term, and building a relationship is long term. Networking is crucial because it starts the conversation at that seminar, that conference, in that lift or maybe on that flight journey. Networking gives you the access to build that relationship whether it be through a business card, phone number, email, etc. Networking effectively is vital to start the process of building relationships.

I have found that building a business relationship is very similar to building a romantic relationship. Most people, especially guys, have been in that situation where you meet a girl or a guy that is attractive to you, you approach, give your best chat, make her laugh, etc. (networking stage). You then ask for her number, and she gives it to you because she has been impressed. If you come on too strong after she gives you her number, or you state your intentions the next day i.e. I want you to be my partner, you might throw the person off… even if you were genuine about it. This is very similar to some mistakes people make when building business relationships; they state too soon what they want, which means most times they lose that the potential client, partnership or business.

With this in mind below are steps you can start to implement in your post networking journey to secure that business or client.

Follow The 48-hour Rule
Anytime I meet someone I am interested in, and we exchange business cards. I make sure I send an email to the person that same night, the following morning or within 48 hours highlighting what we discussed and how it was a pleasure to meet them. Why? At the networking stage or event, you have limited amount of time to say what you want to say so you stick to the small talk and maybe touch on a few personal things like holidays, kids, etc. Depending on where you meet the contact, you might find that your new contact would have met so many people at the event and probably forgotten your name. Finally, we live in a busy world with so many distractions, so people do tend to forget the little things. Following the 48 hours rule will ensure you are remembered. NOTE: Ensure your first communication with your new contact has a call to action or an open-ended question that requires a reply from them.

Once you have established the initially conversation post the networking event i.e. Your contact has answered your email. It is vital you are proactive, depending on the kind of conversation I had at the networking event or where we met, I arrange a follow-up meeting, coffee or phone call. I was invited to a company Christmas dinner, hovering around the room I bumped into a CEO of a large content to distribution company to African media houses. He told me about some of the big clients he had and some of the content he had distributed (he distributed the premier league license to some of Africa’s media houses). This was fascinating to me; I saw an opportunity where we could work together. After our conversation, I asked for a business card; I told him I would contact him and we even agreed on the subject of the email to be sent. I contacted him and arranged a follow-up call for the Friday in which we had the opportunity to speak for 1 hour. Today the relationship is stable.

Your Branding (Social Media)
Ensure all your social media accounts can back up the story you tell at any networking events. Usually, after I meet someone I usually Google or LinkedIn them for assurance of their credibility. The same could be done to you, ensure your strap line or header on LinkedIn is up to date. Privatize your Facebook and Twitter account if they are not business appropriate. Ensure your online branding tells your story well. I met a lady once at an awards event; we had a good conversation she seemed like she had an exciting career especially when she was dropping a lot of big players names. I, later on, found out she talked the talk, but her online branding couldn’t back up what she said. She overplayed her position and her role in society.

Follow Up
We all have busy lifestyles, things tend to slip, and we forget things. If your new contact doesn’t reply to you immediately, do not take it personally and do not be afraid to follow up. I have a rule where I follow up 6 to 10 working days after my initial email. It is important you don’t follow up to early, so you don’t seem too keen and you don’t follow up too late. This way, you don’t seem unserious about the proposition. From my personal experience 8 out of 10 times after I follow up, I usually get a reply quickly. NOTE: You also have a busy lifestyle. A trick I have learned is to put a reminder in my diary (usually ten working days from the day I sent the email) to follow up with the contact. I ensure I do this immediately after I have sent the email.

You Have To Give To Get
This is honestly the secret sauce to building long lasting relationships whether in business or our personal lives. As humans we are inherently selfish, we always think “What’s in it for me?”. With this in mind, you can put yourself in a strategic position to offer something to your new contact. When I want to build a relationship with someone, the first thing I think is how I can benefit my new contact. This could be in the form of introducing the new contact with one of my existing contacts that s/he could benefit from or indirectly presenting them an opportunity to develop their business or even giving them a genuine compliment on their achievement. Where possible make sure, you have something to give.

To conclude, building business relationships is like a muscle. The more you work on it, the stronger and more confident you are at it. Do not expect to get it right the first time rather see it as a journey to learn and improve continuously.

Photo Credit: Matthias Ziegler |

"Ife was listed in the Top 100 Outstanding Graduates by the Future Leaders Magazine, UK. He has interned in top global brands like Accenture, PwC and Deloitte. He is a big believer in giving back to the community through any capacity possible. He describes himself in three words: Purposeful, Passionate and Proactive. Ife loves building and mentoring future leaders." Twitter: ife_tokan LinkedIn Ife Ade Tokan

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