Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Francis Wade | Holding on to long-distance business relationships

Published:Sunday | March 12, 2017 | 3:00 AM

As someone who has lived and worked overseas, it's hard for me not to compare. There is a big difference between the way local and foreign professionals maintain business relationships.

My conclusion: To keep up with modern demands, we Jamaicans must change our practices. Here's how.

A colleague from overseas once led a few courses in Kingston. She received a few complaints it appeared as if she was in a rush, trying to push people to act immediately. She agreed with the criticism.

"The way I see it," she said, "my time is limited."

We discovered that this view was at odds with that of her participants, who expected her to be in their lives forever. In their minds, the interaction was the first of many, not the last.

This clash of world views gets repeated every day. When we pay attention to each one, we can illuminate the ways in which we underperform the rest of the world, and why.

One reason begins with the fact that we live on a small island with no visible neighbours. Furthermore, the citizens of the closest countries are culturally distant, speaking languages we don't understand. We only notice them when their boats float up on our shores in a navigational error.

The overall effect is that we are relatively isolated, under little pressure to communicate with others who are different. In our relationships both domestic and foreign, we relax, taking things easy. It's an attitude beloved by our tourists, but in business, it holds us back.

One way we limit ourselves lies in our tendency to treat Jamaicans who are 'off the island' as if they are on Mars - so far away they cannot possibly be reached for anything but life-or-death emergencies. This contrasts with the wider world, where forming and maintaining business relationships is not a casual affair. Instead, it's a deliberate, conscious strategy executed in three parts.

 

STEP 1 - MAKE YOURSELF AVAILABLE

 

The obvious first step in the internet age is to ensure you are visible online with an updated profile on LinkedIn. A few years ago, this was optional. Today, it's a requirement, yet I find that out of ten local business people I interact with, two have active accounts and only one bothers to keep it timely, relevant, and interesting

Those who claim to be modern professionals, but don't have an account are fooling themselves. Instead of looking to an international standard, they are probably busy following their friends. That's hardly a proper comparison: collectively, it leaves us far outside the mainstream, islanders who couldn't care less how the world sees us.

 

STEP 2 - REACH OUT

 

Many professionals who are serious do much more than create a profile; they use it as a showcase for their best work.

No idea where to start? Write an article with the following title: 'The Top 3 Secrets People Who Want to Do My Job Well Need to Know Before Starting'. Once the draft is done, customise the heading to suit your profession.

Then, share it with your friends after doing the necessary grammar and spell checks. When they give it a green light, post the article on LinkedIn. I'm not making this up. It's very close to the process I followed for about five years before becoming a paid columnist for The Gleaner.

You may not aspire to that level, but it doesn't matter. Creating content is a professional obligation if you have any commitment to your career's future. It's the modern way to gain the notice of the best people in your field, anywhere in the world. After all, it's how you got to know them - via their content. As thought leaders, they actually may enjoy hearing your perspective and so might many others.

 

STEP 3 - INVEST TIME TO STAY IN TOUCH

 

I regret not following this advice earlier. Foolishly, I lost track of colleagues from my early business years. Today, you simply shouldn't allow this to happen. The resources you need to maintain career-long relationships are all at your fingertips and you must spend time learning how to use them.

Once you do so, use our geographical advantage. Jamaica's stature in the world is strong. When someone tries to link with you from the other side of the globe, appreciate the asymmetry. You may never have heard of their country, but yours has a positive reputation.

Use it to your benefit. Be bold in reaching out to persons whose work you admire, no matter how 'big' they seem to be.

Someone who is planning to migrate may immediately see the value of these three steps, but don't wait until then. To thrive in the larger world of business now, build a global reputation plus a network that will last your entire career. They could be essential elements to your future success.

- Francis Wade is a management consultant and author of 'Perfect Time-Based Productivity'. To receive a summary of links to past columns, or give feedback, email: columns@fwconsulting.com