Do It Before You Need It
I started this blog out of frustration. I had just talked to my umpteenth client/friend/student/colleague who found him/herself out of a job with a stone cold network and a total freak out about what to do. (See my first blog post–Get Ready to Lose Your Job) Networking definitely helps when you need to find a job. In fact, it is probably the best tool to have in your arsenal for finding a job. These days, a powerful network can make the difference between finding a job in weeks or months and it taking more than a year.
Networking also helps with just about everything else you might need–getting promoted, finding business opportunities, selling products, building your reputation/brand, getting answers to tough questions, staying in touch, and even finding someone to date (I’ll leave this last one to other blog writers). You can build your network purposefully, or you can build it serendipitously, but be sure to keep building it. Remember, though, networks are about RELATIONSHIPS, not about numbers or names or tools or connections.
Let’s talk first about building it serendipitously. There are marvelous tools available now that make it easy and fun. Facebook, Linkedin, and Google+ are the top tools right now, but there are many more–Plaxo, Twitter, MyLife, etc. Not being involved in a social network these days is like not having a resume or appropriate business attire. To function in today’s business world–no matter your age or organizational position–you have to be saavy enough to be using social networks. If you participate in these social networks–let’s say Facebook or Linkedin–and just reach out to people you know and accept invitations from people who reach out to you, you will build your network. If you particpate in LinkedIn Groups discussions, answer questions and comment on people’s status, you will strengthen the connections/relationships. If you share a little of who you are on Facebook and comment on friends’ posts, you will build the relationships. It starts at one level and grows to other levels. It has to be real. Superficial interactions are obvious and quickly shunned. If you do it gradually over time, then it doesn’t take a lot of time and you have the beginnings of what you need when you need to look for a job or a promotion or business opportunities.
This serendipitous network building also has the benefit of creating a network of strong connections–you know all these people pretty well. When you need something from these folks, you are more likely to be comfortable asking, and they are likely to respond. Not much work/lots of potential benefit. Why not?
The other way to build your network is purposefully. This is what I recommend. Take a look at your networks.
On Facebook using myfnetwork :
On Linkedin using LinkedIn Maps
What do you see? If your networks are anything like mine (and they may not be–every network is unique), you will see people who are “hubs,” and you will see clusters. For me, one of the interesting things about these two pictures is that some of the “hubs” of my Facebook network are on the edges of my “clusters” on LinkedIn. This makes sense to me, because I see these as two different networks. One is more friends and family and one is more professional. There is strong overlap between the two, but there are lots of people on one and not the other. The LinkedIn Maps feature allows you to label the colored clusters. This provides you with the ability to see the relationships among the groups in your network.
Now, pull up. Look again. What do you see? What is there? What is missing?
What Do You Want From Your Network?
Do you want a job? Do you want to make a career change? Do you want a promotion? Do you want to make sales? Do you want business opportunities? Do you want venture capital money? Do you want to build your brand?
Now, based on what you want, look at your network again. Can it get you what you want today? What’s missing? Professional connections in a particular field? Venture capitalists? Senior executives at other companies? Senior executives at your company? Are there people at all levels in organizations? Are there people at all generations in companies? What about geography? Do you have a strong network in all the locations you need?
What Are You Going to Do About It?
First, let’s go old school. On paper, or using mind mapping software, do a brain storm of who you know. Start with the groups you belong to or are associated with. Once you’ve listed the groups, start listing the people associated with the groups. Who are the key players in those groups? Who are the best connected? Who have you talked to lately? If you haven’t talked/connected with people, then reach out to them. Do it via email, phone or one of the social networking sites. Prioritize people according to the purpose of your network.
Address what is missing. How can you reach out to people you need to be connected to in those areas that you need to grow? Get introductions through your existing connections. Use the helpful tools that LinkedIn provides. Attend professional functions, follow thought leaders’ blogs and make comments. Participate in Linkedin Groups discussions.
Create a plan on how you’re going to keep up with your network. Do regular (but not obsessive) work to stay in touch with your existing network and to grow it.
Some Myths About Networking
- It’s about the numbers. IIt’s really about quality connections.
- It’s about your connections’ job title. Looking at the visualization of your network should show you that the ‘most’ connected people are not necessarily (and not even likely) the highest ranking.
Some Truths About Networking
- It has to be real.
- It takes time.
- It’s about mutual win/win.
- It works.