How to Easily Make Time for Relationship Building

By Andrew Sobel

Relationship building is in some ways analogous to diet and exercise. How many of us have made resolutions to eat better, exercise, and lose weight? We all have. And how many of us met our goals to our complete satisfaction? Very few of us. Why? Because diet and exercise is not a one-off event! Healthy living requires discipline and short-term sacrifices. You have to make a long-term lifestyle change, not go to a spa once a year. This type of change requires doing small things, every day.

Here are a six suggestions:

  1. Elevate Your Mindset. Start by working on your mindset and attitude. Make a commitment to elevating the quality of your relationships to the same level as your professional mastery. In a study I did of nearly 3000 professionals, 90% said trusted relationships were very important to professional success, but only 30% said they were very satisfied with their relationships. You have to tend the garden.
  2. Segment and Focus. Focus on a handful of relationships, not every name in your contact database. I like to segment my network into three groups:
    • First, the Critical Few. These are the 15-20 most critical professional relationships for me. These are people in my inner circle who I will meet with at least once or twice a year, and communicate with often. Your Critical Few should include key clients, colleagues, mentors, influencers, and so on.
    • Second, the Middle Few. These might be your next couple of hundred contacts who are people you know but aren’t doing business with right now.
    • Third, the Many. These would include all other contacts, including your social media connections. These might number in the hundreds or thousands (or millions if you’re Taylor Swift…)

First of all, I make sure I am making time for my Critical Few relationships. Then, I try to periodically stay in touch with the Middle Few. The Many I reach through value-added posts on my blog, LinkedIn, and other channels.

  1. Regularly Schedule Time for Relationships. Set aside a specific time each week to focus on your relationship-building efforts. This could be two hours every Friday morning, or something small that you do every day (e.g., call someone, send an article, write a note, make a lunch appointment, ask for a referral, etc.).
  2. Create Small Rituals. For example, send thank-you cards to people who have helped you, or write a short summary of every client meeting which you then send to the participants the next day.
  3. Get Others to Help You. If you have a personal assistant, use them to extend your reach and help keep track of key individuals—turn him or her into a “relationship marketing manager” instead of just an EA or assistant. Get your team involved, so that everyone working on a client engagement has relationship-building responsibilities.
  4. Match Your Approach to Your Personality. Build relationships in a way that is consistent with your character, personality, and style. If you’re introverted, fine—focus on one-on-one interactions, not loud dinner events. If you’re not comfortable with cold calls, don’t do them—always get a warm introduction if that is possible. If you don’t like sports, fine—relate to your clients along other dimensions such as family and your hobbies.
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