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I constantly preach about the importance of nurturing your network, but there’s one very important element of our networks that often takes a backseat to the business contacts we build. That is our invaluable network of friends.

For so many of us, focusing our attention on our work life is a high priority. That’s a noble goal, but what finally happens when we’re off the clock?

We need to concentrate our efforts on developing a network of friends.

I can honestly say that my friends have saved me from making big mistakes, celebrated my victories and made difficult days better by just being there. And they know I will return the favor.

I have dear lifelong friends, business friends, neighborhood friends, golf friends, office friends, friends where I worship. And so on. I confide my deepest secrets to some. I ask for advice from several. I enjoy activities with others. All have impacted my life in important ways.

Great literature, movies and music lyrics are full of references to friendship. James Taylor reminded us that when you need a helping hand, “you’ve got a friend.” Bette Midler gave us a long list of reasons why “you’ve got to have friends.”

One of the most successful and longest-running television shows of all time was “Friends,” which will probably continue to run in syndication when the stars are old and gray.

Henry David Thoreau, one of America’s most famous naturalists and philosophers, gave the following definition of friendship: “A friend is one who incessantly pays us the compliment of expecting from us all the virtues, and who can appreciate them in us. … Friendship is never established as an understood relation. It is a miracle which requires constant proof. It is an exercise of the purest imagination and of the rarest faith.”

September is Friendship Month. It might not be a Hallmark holiday, but Friendship Month is still a great time to go over some tips on how to build, nurture and maintain great friendships.

Be open. Share your feelings honestly. Open communication is important in building lasting friendships and an unwavering support system. And don’t forget to tell your customers how much you appreciate them.

Be receptive. No one is perfect, and there may be times when you don’t agree with your friends’ choices. Show them that you care and respect them. It’s OK to share your opinions, because both sides need to practice acceptance. The reason a dog has so many friends is that he wags his tail and not his tongue.

Make friendships a priority. No matter how busy you get, don’t forget your friends. Friendship is a responsibility — not an opportunity. Reconnect with old friends and continue to make new ones. Make friendship a habit, and you will always have friends.

Listen. Part of being a true friend is listening to their problems and concerns without interrupting or always trying to fix things. Sometimes all they want is a receptive ear. Everyone hears what you say. Friends listen to what you say. Best friends listen to what you don’t say.

Express gratitude. Don’t forget to show your appreciation for your friends and let them know how much their friendship means to you.

Considering all these points, ask yourself this: If you were another person, would you like to be a friend of yours?

Mackay’s moral: A good friend is someone who thinks you’re a good egg even though you’re slightly cracked.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or email [email protected].