Arguably, one of the most overworked words in the English language is networking, particularly in business. Most of us talk about building a network, networking, etc. but many of us don’t have a grasp of what it really means. Webster defines if as the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business. In my mind, the operative word in this definition is cultivation, but many of us don’t spend a lot of time focusing on that key element. This was brought home to me in a personal way once again a few weeks ago when I received a call from someone I will call Bob.

My phone rang and when I answered, I found Bob on the other end of the line. He said, “It has been a while, and I just wanted to touch base. I am networking”. I thought to myself…………”.Oh boy, here we go.” Now I haven’t talked to Bob since 2008 when at his request, I submitted a consulting proposal to him. My primary recollection of him is that he never responded or called me after several attempts to reach him. This time, before he even said anything, I knew what he wanted. Bob is currently out of work and engaged in a crash program to establish a network. He might as well forget it. It won’t work.

Building relationships is a lifelong, never ending project, and cannot be accomplished overnight.  As a provider of services for much of my career, I have often been frustrated by the failure of many supply chain managers to extend the simple courtesy of returning phone calls. This frustration turns to bemusement when the telephone rings and one of these same individuals is now out of work and suddenly my new best friend.

I am not a relationship expert by any means, but over the years I have tried to develop circles of friends and associates who can be relied on for help, to share ideas, or offer advice. The circles are concentric and some are closer than others. Some people I talk to every week or month. Others maybe every six months or so.

Regardless of the frequency, you should not get in touch only when you or your company are in trouble or need a favor. Relationships are important but they require a lot of communication and effort. If you wait until there is a crisis in your career or your personal life before you attempt to develop a network of people who care, you are too late. However, if you build your network carefully, cultivate and nurture it properly, when you are in need, it will support you through your difficulties.

Written By: Clifford F. Lynch