Written by Temi Onanuga
An Excerpt from The Connect Effect
Building Strong Personal, Professional, and Virtual Networks
by Michael Dulworth Berrett-Koehler
Building your network
Map your networks. Try these methods:
- Write a short memoir about your family, classmates, professional colleagues and
others who influenced you.
- Use your address book to make a tree diagram that shows how the people in your world are interconnected. Note how you met each person.
- Create a spreadsheet, by hand, with a spreadsheet program or with a Web-based tool, that lists people’s names, occupations, the dates of your most recent contact with them, their areas of expertise, their birthdays and the names of their spouse and children.
Using the information in your map, categorize each connection: Is he or she a family member or good friend? An acquaintance? Someone whose business card you just found in your wallet? Look at other factors, such as each contact’s experience, accomplishments, and whether he or she has a personal network. Decide which contacts you’d like to get to know better.
Make a Plan
To build your network, identify people with whom you want to establish relationships.
The best way to meet them is to ask others to introduce you. Your friends, family and colleagues may know people you wish to meet at other companies or with particular expertise. Follow introductions with a specific request or offer to help.
Relationships take time to develop, so be patient. Your contacts may have business or family commitments.
Watch the clock and respect their time during your conversations. Show them they can trust you. Keep your word and do not gossip. To develop relationships beyond the superficial, talk about your interests. Stay up-to-date in your field so you can have meaningful conversations.
Do your contacts favors, and be available when they need you. Respond promptly – within 24 hours – to members of your network.
Conferences and meetings are great opportunities to expand your networks. Share ideas and introduce people you know to others. Don’t just distribute business cards; this does not foster deep relationships. Instead, conduct honest, face-to-face conversations, in which you stay engaged and focused. Relate to others through your common interests.
Renew friendships and make sure you have everyone’s current contact information.
Networks require constant nurturing. Contact a few people in your network every day to keep it alive; however, don’t be afraid to call people you met a year ago.
People associate certain images with brands such as Waitrose, etc. You too have a brand, with its associated images – even if you don’t know it. Within your network, your reputation is your brand. Your reputation consists of what others say or think about you; in other words, third-party observations, whether or not you think they are correct. Thus, your brand may differ from your self-perception.
Take control of your brand by building deep relationships. Keep the lines of communication open to make sure others have accurate perceptions about you, your interests, your accomplishments and your areas of expertise. The alternative is to be a “networking butterfly” – visible but shallow.
Maintain your brand’s strength and quality:
- Strength – What people perceive to be your best attributes and deepest interests.
Demonstrate your capabilities to give others a vivid impression of you.
- Quality – Characteristics people attribute to you. These are positive, such as intelligence, honesty and reliability, or negative, such as laziness, dishonesty or selfishness.
Getting into the Zone
When you have a working network of quality connections, you have arrived in the “network zone.” Your current good connections will put you steps closer to meeting additional interesting people.
Your network can always become richer. Physical distance can make communication difficult and reduce your network’s quality. Stay in touch with faraway contacts. Make sure your network is diverse in terms of age, racial and ethnic background.
People who have diverse networks report that they are more successful than people with homogeneous circles of contacts.
One researcher found that the top 20% of high-performing individuals at more than 50 organisations constantly search for new sources of information from a wide circle of contacts to avoid becoming isolated. Leave your comfort zone to enhance your problem-solving abilities.
Create a “personal board of directors”: Choose people who can be your sounding boards for new ideas, and provide career and self-development advice.
Look forward to Part 3, which covers types of Networks and an exercise to Challenge your Networking Skills.