Network, network….you gotta network! It’s a given in the business community that networking is vital to a successful career. Keeping close ties with our own networks will provide opportunities that even money or time can’t afford us. It’s how we advance in our jobs, and for many of us, it’s how we landed our job in the first place.
This being said, networking is more than walking into an anonymous room, shaking hands, making small talk, and exchanging cards. Networking is a long-term strategy that will only reward those who acknowledge the bigger picture. With a little help from the panelists of our recent Networking Legends community event, I’ve laid out for you what I think of as the four stages of the development of a business relationship. Put this plan into practice, and your network will remain effective and healthy.
Step 1: Growing Your Network
Even those of us who are new at this game know that the most effective way to grow our network is to attend networking events. However, as my father Stanley chides, just showing up at an event does not mean your job is done. He recommends making full use of events through focus, knowing your goals, coming early and staying late, not lingering with established friends or partners, and remembering to follow through after the event. Marcia Nelson of Anchin, Block & Anchin, LLP recommends a realistic goal is to walk away from an event with one good contact who would take your call tomorrow, while CMO Margaret Molloy of Siegel & Gale suggests the online networking approach of publishing or linking to industry leaders with articles or news. My best practice: I discretely jot down a couple of facts I’ve learned about the person shortly after I’ve meet them. The back of their business card is a good place, provided it’s not in front of them (a cultural faux pas). I then refer to the facts about our meeting in my follow-up email, using the event’s name in the subject line to increase the likelihood of my message being opened.
Step 2: Nurturing Your Network
The goal of managing a strong network is to bring value to the relationships you form, keeping in mind that the give-and-take may not always seem balanced at a particular juncture. As Nick Lepetsos, founder of HaloCard says, “Networking is a two-way street, but traffic does not always flow in both directions at the same time”. The challenge and fun of a new relationship is discovering what others assess as valuable, both professionally and personally. Once you uncover what’s important, you can build a content arsenal to supply them with….articles or books that feed their needs, or invitations to events that would be up their alley. Marcia Nelson is active in bringing people together, both in larger groups and through one-on-one introductions of people who can gain mutual benefit from meeting each other.
Ellen Bickal of Dorsey & Whitney takes it a step further by graciously hosting beautiful client dinners to thank these special folks for their support. Personally acknowledging the people who are important in your network is the “nature of nurture”, and will remain the key to strengthening the relationships.
Step 3: Manage Your Network
In order to maintain stable social relationships with everyone in your network, you will actually have to limit its size. Modern social media have attempted to convince us otherwise. For instance, I’ve met people who have 5,000 LinkedIn connections. Clearly, one can’t manage effective relations with 500 people, let alone 5,000. Dunbar’s Number puts the maximum amount at 150, which is probably a realistic goal. Eric Rytter, partner at Dorsey & Whitney, keeps a smallish network of 100, not as a “method to the madness”, but as a comfortable number to stay in touch with over drinks or dinner. Marcia Nelson’s approach has been to categorize her network with A, B and C lists. Stanley often suggests shedding “dead weight” a lá Adam Grant’s Give and Take. Finding a method and a number that work for you is going to be the most valuable technique for network management.
Step 4: Leverage Your Network
If all the pieces are in place, and your network is fine-tuned, you can now take the liberty of making it work for you. Remember, you built the network to “have it before you need it”. When you finally want or need a favor, you’ll benefit from understanding the in’s and out’s of “The Ask”.
When asking for something, it’s smart to help that person help you. In other words, don’t beat around the bush. Be specific with background details of exactly what you’re looking for. Often, the ask is for an introduction to someone in a position to help. This is where some etiquette is in order. Michael Roderick of Small Pond Enterprises uses the double opt-in, or, checking with the second party first to be sure they are on board for the introduction. Skipping this step might be the worst thing you can do. Finally, keep the originators in the loop. And although it should go without saying, I’m going to say it anyway: you should not introduce a new contact to the originator’s competition.
What are some techniques you use to manage your network?