THE BLOG

How to Network Like a Pro Without Leaving Your House

06/02/2015 03:55 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2016

2015-04-09-1428613992-9937502-JohnRuhlin.jpgAuthor John Ruhlin and his firm THE RUHLIN GROUP are considered to be the foremost experts on developing relationships with key executives and the topic of "Appreciative Leadership." He speaks nationally on the topic, is the bestselling author of "Cutting Edge Sales" and is the number one distributor in the 60 year history of CUTCO Cutlery.

When you think about traditional networking tactics, conferences, steak dinners and mind-numbing small talk probably come to mind. That's because all business leaders resort to these tired tactics to get noticed.

But if your goal is to impress a contact, how can you expect to stand out when your networking approach blends in with the crowd?

I've worked hard to build and preserve relationships throughout my career and have learned that expensive steaks and bottles of wine alone don't translate into lasting (and lucrative) business relationships. Maya Angelou said it best: "People will never forget how you made them feel." Instead of treating your network to expensive drinks and dinners, reserve that $50 or $100 for efforts your connection will treasure -- and actually remember.

Ramp Up Your Networking Game

As a small business leader, you can't make it to every conference and keep up with every contact. To make the most of your networking efforts, you need to work efficiently, not tirelessly.

By investing in personalized actions rather than generic events and dinners, you can strengthen relationships with people who will move the needle for your business -- without even leaving your house.

Here are a few creative ways to get started:

1. Dedicate time for writing "power hours."

Spend an hour each week handwriting notes to your clients and connections. But make sure they speak to your specific relationship with the recipient. If you don't have time, you can also use services, such as Greetabl or MailLift, that send handwritten notes and even small themed packages for you.

2. Give your contacts meaningful shout-outs.

If you have a column, contribute to industry publications, or speak at events, giving your connections a shout-out is a creative way to remind people you exist while adding value from a business perspective. Some of the friends I admire most have included me in articles they've written or speeches they've given to boost my reputation. I make sure to return the favor, creating a continuous cycle of word-of-mouth advertising.

3. Send customized "practical luxuries."

At Ruhlin Group, we use what we call strategic appreciation: sending cool, personalized practical luxuries. Don't forget to include spouses, family, or assistants in the gifting process. Recognizing these key individuals can bode well for future opportunities.

An engraved pen or a coffee mug won't cut it. Your gifts must be unique and creative to leave a lasting impression. For example, we sent a $100 pair of Cutco multipurpose shears to 150 people right before Valentine's Day. We included a handwritten note saying, "Let's cut to the chase, we would love to partner with you more." The response has been incredible -- our client Electrolux has reached out with orders for upcoming golf events it's sponsoring.

If you send a tangible item your connections admire or use every day, they'll continue to think about you for weeks -- even months. That's the idea behind Keith Ferrazzi's Relationship Action Planning. Each meaningful action creates a ripple effect that can keep you top of mind with hundreds of contacts long after they receive a gift or read their name in your article. But your efforts have to come from a place of generosity and respect. Don't expect anything in return, or your intentions will come across as shallow at best.

Even if you own a small company with a tight budget, you can utilize what you have to make every small note or mention count. After all, handwritten letters, references in written materials and small personalized gifts will stay with someone much longer than a couple of drinks.

At the end of the day, you can't replace face time, dinner and drinks solely with "touches" from afar. You can cut them by 30 to 50 percent, though. If you supplement them with relationship action plans, you'll deepen relationships, save some time and money, and most importantly, continue to nurture important relationships -- no awkward small talk required.