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Are you the one? How to find your perfect networking partners

Opendoorz Director, Cathy Dunbabin, shares the secret to building long-term, effective professional relationships.

Professional relationships are just like personal ones. No really, they are. They take work, they take compromise, they take shared values and they take chemistry. When you meet someone in your professional network that you ‘click’ with, magic happens! Not only do you find an ally, a supporter and a friend, you find a person who will champion you and refer to you repeatedly. Those sorts of connections are priceless and, much like a marriage, can last a professional lifetime. However, ‘get into bed’ (for want of a better phrase) with the wrong person and it can lead to upset, bitterness and expense!

But how do you know when you’ve met ‘the one’ in professional networking terms? Well, it’s all about understanding what you’re looking for in a professional partner. And… here’s where the marriage analogy ends…it’s actually better to have a few ‘special’ professional relationships. Loyalty in professional relationships is key but exclusivity isn’t!

What are the key qualities to look for in your professional relationships?

Below is our Opendoorz list of the qualities we think make for a great professional relationship.

New business introducer

It’s a given really – we’re all here to do business.

Trusted supplier

Don’t just think sales, think about people who can help you deliver what your customers want.

Collaborator

Someone who you can partner with to deliver a unique offering to a shared customer base.

Repeat introducer

Those who act almost as an extension to your service offering or you to theirs. You are their ‘go-to’ person for your area of expertise.

Encourager/Mentor

People who inspire you and who help you become a better business person. Or people in your network who give you opportunities to grow and develop your skills, such as speaking at events or conferences.

Key person of influence

A ‘go-to’ expert that you turn to for sound advice

Fun and friendship

Business and pleasure do mix! Your network absolutely should be a source of fun and friendship, not least because without those it’s impossible to have a genuine relationship with someone.

Sounding board

Someone you can get honest advice from without judgement.

Free advice on tap

the one who’s always happy to answer a quick question, provide a bit of free advice. The person that helps you deliver a better service to your clients.

Accountability and challenge

That all important ‘kick up the bum’ we all need every now and again keeping you focused and on track.

Now, obviously you are not going to find all of those qualities wrapped up in one person (if you do, cling onto them!). Which is why, it’s ok to have more than one ‘special’ professional relationship.

Filter out what’s important to you

The list above is pretty extensive and, the chances are you some of those qualities in a good professional relationship are more important to you than others. Be intentional about your professional relationships and understand what qualities are most important to you. 

Take some time to review those qualities and rank them in order of importance to you, your professional development and your aims and objectives.

Finding the one(s)

Take the top 3 qualities to you and create a Venn diagram (like the image below). For me the qualities I am looking for are: Repeat Introducer, Accountability and Challenge and Encourager/Mentor. So my diagram looks like this:

Now look at your connections and try to place them in that diagram. If they give you one of those three things, put them in the appropriate circle, if they bring two of those qualities to the party put them in the area where the two overlap. If they bring all three, they are an absolute keeper and pop them in the middle! 

Use a systematic approach to building your professional network

This whole process might sound a bit harsh – assessing people based on their qualities but, trust me, I’ve been networking for 25 years and there is no way I can maintain long term, close professional relationships with everyone I’ve met. I’ve also come across people who have turned out not to be a great connection for me, not necessarily bad, but just not great. There simply isn’t the time or energy for me to nurture a relationship with someone who isn’t going to also fulfil my needs. For your own sake, you have to prioritise and you have to build relationships with people where there is a mutual benefit. It can’t all be a one-way street in their favour. 

The devil is in the detail

Be specific about what you’re looking for in a professional relationship. If you’ve ever been through a dating agency, then you’ll know how extensive the questionnaire is about what you’re looking for in a potential partner. You need to be as picky and as specific about your professional connections. You’ll save yourself a whole lot of time and energy, not to mention avoid kissing a lot of frogs before you finally find the Prince (or Princess!).

At Opendoorz, we put great emphasis on facilitating our members to develop their professional relationships and really get to know each other. One on one insight meetings, showcases, continuous professional development sessions and creating a trusted space for open and honest discussion are all part of the regular structure of Opendooz and it one of the reasons are members stay with us for such a long time. 

If you’d like to experience the Opendoorz difference for yourself, why not join us for a guest meeting? https://opendoorz.biz/networking-events-oxfordshire/

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