Over the years, I’ve met a lot of people. If you were to look at my Facebook and Linked-In directories, you would find professionals and artisans, white collar and blue collar, stay at home parents and people who have chosen careers over families. Some have been clients. Others have been service providers. I’ve known some for forty years and others for less than forty days. My network of relationships really reflects the broad spectrum of humanity, and I am richer for that.
The other day, I was looking at my various networks and considering them in the context of my new business. As I looked at all of the names, I realized that I was also categorizing them. Some people were friends. Others were colleagues, and so on. I had someone in every column.
After reflecting on all of the names, I realized that by defining my relationships, I was also limiting them. If I called someone a friend, I was less likely to ask them for a favor in a professional context. If I called someone a colleague or a client, I had other reactions. If someone provided services to me, I looked at the relationship as one in which I have to pay for each interaction.
I also realized that my categorization of relationships was misguided, especially in the context of my new business, so I looked at all of the names a second time. I realized that the only people that I included in my networks were people who I actually liked. No matter how I might otherwise categorize these people, they were all my friends, at least from my perspective. More importantly, in many cases they were people for whom I had performed favors over the years.
I am always quick to offer to help out, or I try to be. Now that I am starting a business, I realized that a true friend will do that and that I needed to test the notion that “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” I also had to do so without appearing needy, because I know that there is only so far that I can push those relationships.
I started with a couple of simple e-mail messages. My website had just been completed and I asked two people – one a friend from high school with an MBA and the other a friend from graduate school who is an expert in all things related to social marketing – to take a look at my site. They both responded quickly and enthusiastically. They were pleased to offer their thoughts and I was thrilled to get their feedback (which was great).
Of course, I would not take my friendship for granted and I would never abuse the relationships that I have established over the years. I only look for favors that my friends will find both easy and convenient to deliver. With that in mind, however, I am looking at all of my relationships and wondering how I can build all of the people I know into a cohesive business plan. More importantly, perhaps, I am also looking at all of my relationships and wondering how I can bring more value to them so that the people who know me will derive more value from knowing me. I am convinced that it is true that the more we give, the more we will receive. Even if that is not the case, knowing all of the hurdles that I face as I start my own business, it is very satisfying to know that I have helped out someone else.
How do you define your relationships? Do you try to maintain a wall between your business relationships and your personal friendships? Do you feel comfortable asking friends for favors? How do you manage your relationships to ensure that you stay in touch with everyone you know?