Building a strong network has been core business advice ever since people have been in the business of giving business advice.
When we know smart, supportive, connected people who can introduce us to ideal clients, recommend us for speaking engagements and partner with us on exciting projects, our business flourishes.
But in my experience both coaching people how to build a network as well as being someone on the receiving end of a lot of networking outreach, there is a big step that most people miss when consciously expanding their network: The Platonic Courting Zone.
Have you ever gotten an email like this in your inbox?
I am a (type of service provider) that serves (this audience).
Can I pay you to write an article on (this topic — that very frequently has nothing to do with topics I write about) on your blog?
Name of person I have never met.
From a company I often can’t identify because they don’t put the name of the company under their signature.
Nor do they include any sample articles.
Clearly, I am underwhelmed by this approach.
Because it misses a huge part of what makes human connection really awesome: a normal, natural series of interactions that can, where there is common interest and chemistry, move into productive business relationships and opportunities.
The Platonic Courting Zone
The Platonic Courting Zone considers that when you have no relationship at all with a new person, there are a number of ways that you can reach out and make a connection in a way that promotes respect and curiosity.
- Sending a love letter
I love to send notes that have no purpose other than to tell someone that I am absolutely in love with their work, listing the reasons why. The key is to write it from the heart, and not ask for anything in return.
- Commenting on a blog or social media post
I have met some of my dearest friends in the comment section of blogs, or in conversation on social media. If you are interested in warming up a relationship with a new person, follow their work and engage with them in a thoughtful way. Most people will pay attention to who is taking part in a conversation on their site.
- Sharing a person’s work on your social channels
Because you are a true fan of the person’s work who you want to connect with, share their stuff when it is relevant to your audience. We all want our work to travel, and it shows that you value their perspective. I figure that the 1000th time I mention John Legend in a speech, blog post, webinar, book or tweet, he may start to take notice (I am probably at time 899 so far!)
- Sharing time off the beaten path
I love to get to know someone outside of a straight business context. When I was speaking at Jonathan and Stephanie Field’s Good Life Camp a few years ago, I roped my then acquaintance Jeff Goins (pictured with me below) into taking the train up with me from New York City. We ended up getting delayed and spent hours together sitting on benches on train stations, and even getting shushed for speaking too loudly in a quiet car (in fairness, we didn’t realize it was a quiet car).That trip allowed me to get to know Jeff in a whole new way, and we shared deep stories and deep laughter. Our friendship deepened, as did our connection with work.Now that we can’t travel or meet in person for awhile, you can still set up some “off the beaten path” interactions with texts, instant messages or Zoom catch-ups.
Sending a useful article, handwritten card or small gift.
Think of how you feel when your Mom sends you a clipped newspaper article, or a handwritten card. (As long as it isn’t “Why it is harder to get pregnant after 40 and why you should start giving me grandkids now!”)
It is lovely to get a little note, quirky gift or useful tidbit.
You know that someone took time to prepare something and take it to the post office.
- Replying to an email newsletter
It just takes a quick “hit reply” and a few comments to let your newsletter author know that you appreciate their words. I have met many a new friend and colleague from some quick email exchange over a newsletter I wrote.
A word of caution
Use discernment in this process the same way you would in a romantic courtship. Notice things like:
- Is there any natural personality chemistry?
- Does the person seem warm and open, or cold and standoffish?
- Does this activity feel genuine and non-pressured, or rushed and intense?
- Am I connecting with a real person, or just the professional image I have of them?
- Am I watching for signs that there is mutual connection, and respecting boundaries?
Meeting new people is wonderful.
Collaborating is awesome.
Pitching ideas is a key part of marketing your business.
Just make sure that before you go straight for the transaction, that you have spent some time investing in the Platonic Courting Zone.
Your relationships will be strengthened because of this investment.