[Podcast] 4 Steps to Creating Your Own Professional Community

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This article is taken from the Build Your Queue podcast below, Season 1 Episode 1 with Alexis Willis, Director of Small Business and Entrepreneurship for the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

Building professional relationships is crucial to moving your career and your business forward. But how can you be intentional about starting and strengthening those relationships in a way that feels genuine?

The reality is building relationships is not an overnight process. You can’t meet someone and immediately expect them to help you.

Instead you need to take time to sow the seeds in your relationships by asking:

  • How can I be intentional about setting aside time to nurture my professional relationships?
  • Where can I block out time to network?
  • How can I build an accessible community around me?
  • What should I do when conflict arises in a professional relationship?

We’ll answer all these questions and more below. Keep reading, or listen to the full audio in the player above.

1. How can you be intentional about nurturing relationships?

You want to be intentional about building your relationships, but how do you look at the giant landscape of people in your community and figure out who to connect with?

Once again, relationships don't happen overnight, and you shouldn't force them, but there are always small things you can do to create opportunities.

The trick is to not overthink it. You don’t have to instantly create a deep relationship, but you can do small things to strengthen your relationships with key people over time that create a big impact.

Look for small opportunities to support your key contacts, like:

  • Joining a task force
  • Helping someone decide which committee to join
  • Offering advice from your field of expertise
  • Buying lunch for someone to pick their brain

Pay attention to what your contacts care about, and what problems they may be trying to tackle. Then make yourself available to help.

Be intentional about these things for a long time. You can’t just pick and choose when to provide help, as if it were blocked out on your calendar. You’re looking to step in whenever a need appears.

For example, if a close colleague is looking for someone to work registration at an event last minute, and you’re available to do that—you should. It’s only an hour out of your evening, and it gives you an opportunity to be visible to that person and the people coming into the event.

2. Where can you block out time in your calendar for networking?

You don't have to do a ton of networking to start building your professional community, but you do need to create infrastructure so you can have more opportunities. For example, if there's a group that meets on Tuesday evenings, find a babysitter who can watch your kids on Tuesday evenings.

It can also be helpful to look for events that take place during the work day. If your work schedule isn’t flexible, luncheons can be the next best option. Luncheons are a great opportunity to find new people to schedule additional coffee or lunch meetings with.

But what if you’re an introvert?

Networking events take a specific skill set just like anything else, but it's something you can develop. If you’re always silently working in your office and don’t know where to start—research what networking events are going on in your community during the current month, and go from there.

Go to one or two, ask yourself if there's anything you can do better, then keep going.

One thing you can do to help is to get a physical calendar, and block out one hour each week to be front facing with people. From there you can increase the hours each month as you get more comfortable and can create time for it.

Just make sure to reasonably balance community events with your to-do list so they don’t eat into your admin time.

3. How can you create networking opportunities around you?

There are plenty of networking events you want to go to, but there's also some scheduling conflict. If you're raising kids, for example, you're probably not going to make a 7:30am coffee meetup.

So how can you find a group of professionals and events that fit your schedule?

If what you need is not available, create it. You can build that community around you by organizing events during the time slots you know you’re available.

For example, if you’re a mompreneur you can create time to network with other mompreneurs by scheduling regular play dates with each other's kids.

But how do you prompt people to join those events and become a part of your community?

Start with small things like:

  • Inviting them to lunches
  • Having celebratory parties
  • Hosting after hour socials

This helps facilitate a stress-free environment where people can come together to let connections happen organically. (It’s also important to give everyone a chance to frequently share their name, company, and role, so they can remember each other.)

Your goal is to make it easy for the members of this group to pass along opportunities.

4. What are the best ways to only focus on relationships that are working?

What happens when you don’t connect with someone, or enter a relationship that backfires?

You’ll need to go your separate ways without escalating the situation or permanently slamming any doors shut. Doing so could hurt your reputation, or leave you with an unnecessary emotional scar.

If you work together and then there's conflict, follow these steps:

1. Maintain distance until the situation has cooled off

2. Re-approach the person with an open mind (or have a mediator with you when you talk)

3. Give each party time to state their case

4. Go separate ways

You may even need to apologize for things that weren’t your fault, or smooth things over that didn’t necessarily involve you. It’s more important to end things on a positive note than risk having the other person feel burned. You're trying to build a powerful community around you and your business. You don't want fires to spread.

It’s helpful to know yourself, so you can be prepared to handle your emotions when these situations happen. If you know what gets you fiery, you’re more likely to stop yourself from reacting. You’ll also be more likely to recognize if you have completely different skills and tactics from someone, and be prepared to navigate around those differences.

People are always different and complex, so working with them is going to be a learning process.

Start Creating Your Community of Professionals

To intentionally build a strong community around you, first you have to define your goals. What are you wanting to accomplish? How can people help you do that? Who can help you? Let that be your guiding light.

Second, find a place to serve people with no strings attached, like on a committee or task force. This not only blocks out time for you to help your community, it also gives you immediate connections you can network with.

And finally, take inventory of the people around you. Sometimes the best mentors are right in front of you, and you should never be afraid to ask them for guidance. You will fail if you think you’re the only person experiencing something and don’t ask for help.

Remember that in every business, there is someone who has made mistakes or gone through a learning curve, just like you. You’re not in it alone.