If you want to know who to network with at an event – just by looking at them – or if you want to know who to reach out to online by merely scanning their profile, there’s a good chance you are going to be disappointed by what follows.
While some “gurus” may claim that there are tell-tale signs indicating the worthiness of a prospective connection, the truth is that there is no way to know what a stranger is really like. You only find this out when you interact with them over time. It’s a little like buying something sight unseen. It may look good when you first get it, but only time will tell if the purchase price was money well spent.
Networking is NOT the Act of Meeting People
Many people talk about networking as if it is the act of meeting others. In actual fact, networking is what happens after the initial meeting.
Networking is, in actual fact, simply the nurturing of each individual relationship as well as the introduction of network connections to one another in order to create a latticework of interconnected relationships.
Networking is the “following up”, the “staying in touch” and the “helping out”.
On a side note. I prefer the term “business relationship building” to networking. Although it’s a mouthful, it reflects what “networking” is supposed to be far more accurately. However, we’ll leave the discussion about the terminology for another time.
You Will Back Some Lame Horses
You may meet someone at an event who seems professional, energetic, and full of great ideas, only to find out after investing time and effort into building your relationship with them that they have undesirable tendencies which make them a less-than-ideal candidate for your network.
In such a case, you would be wise to abandon the relationship – for the good of your network. Or at most, you could keep them on your contact list if they have some value to you and those you know. There’s no sense wasting the work you’ve already put in, eh?
However, every now and then, you will stumble upon a gem; a person who will be a true asset to your network. Obviously, this will only be borne out over time, but in such cases, the work you will have put into building a relationship with them will be worth it.
Take the time to promote these people to your connections. They will, in turn, help invigorate your network as a whole. Who doesn’t like being introduced to a helpful, generous, and genuine person?
Just remember that not every relationship you are going to have will be one that yields returns. Many will be stillborn. Others will die of neglect, while still others will slowly rot. This should not dissuade you from finding solid relationships, however. You need to “play the field” to sort the wheat from the chaff. In a way, this process is a lot like dating.
At the end of the day, you will be left with a set of solid relationships that are going to help you and your business thrive, so the effort you put into these relationships will be worthwhile.
Abandon Your Preconceptions
Just as you should try not to be too impressed with anyone until they prove themselves over time, so you shouldn’t assume that a person with seemingly nothing to offer you in terms of potential sales or connections may be worthless as a part of your network.
Indeed, they may be hiding the fact that they know someone who might be of tremendous value to you or one of your connections. Don’t dismiss anyone you see or deal with, especially those you deal with regularly.
You never know, the barista at your local coffee shop may be related to a billionaire or movie star. Or that student who interns for you may be a social media marketing whizzkid who could help supercharge your online presence.
Network With People Already in Your Network
The subtitle above sounds obvious, right?
In our discussion on who to network with so far, we’ve focused on meeting strangers and growing the number of people in your network. It’s no surprise that when most people network, they do so with the aim of finding new connections for their Rolodex; new clients, new customers, new mentors, and new partners. More names in their contact list must be better, right?
To illustrate this point, just look at how people view the “network” count on LinkedIn. For most, having a network of less than 500+ means you are an amateur and not “seriously connected”. However, what most people with this mindset obviously miss is that most of those connections are virtually worthless from a strictly networking value perspective. They are contacts at best. For more about what the difference between a contact and a connection is, take a look at this article.
And although periodically adding new names to your prospect list is something worthwhile doing, I propose that you will get far better results by focusing the bulk of your time and effort on building the relationships you already have instead of constantly trying to find new ones.
It takes time to find out enough about a person to be able to understand who they really are and how you can possibly help one another (or the people you know). The time you need to invest in doing such an investigation could be used in a myriad of other ways, so you need to make it count. And so, you don’t want to waste that time finding out all about someone you just met to throw it all away a month later when they send you a message trying to sell you something, demonstrating that they simply viewed you as another potential sale rather than someone worthwhile building a relationship with.
Instead of rushing off to events or searching LinkedIn for new prospects, use your time to look at the website, blog, and social media posts of each of your existing connections. If you have interacted with them for a while, you know they aren’t in the relationship with you for a quick sale or an ego boost. The time you invest in building a detailed profile of them will have far greater returns for the simple fact that they have already proven themselves – at least ostensibly – to be worth the effort.
Schedule some time once every two months or so to relook at their profile and spend twenty minutes or so updating it. Once that’s done, make it a habit to reconnect with them. Mentioning something new that you have discovered in your research is a great way to show that you are genuinely interested in what they are doing.
Network With People You Know But You Never Thought of as a Connection
Beyond your clients and casual acquaintances, there are most probably a host of other people you deal with regularly who might be worth considering for your network.
Have you thought of starting to treat some of the following people as connections?
- Family members – especially cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews, and nieces who you don’t see often.
- Friends-of-friends – the people your friends introduce you to.
- Service providers – like your bookkeeper, web designer, stationer, and so on.
- Mentors – either official or unofficial.
- Partners – as in the people you partner with for joint or cross-promotions and the like.
You already have relationships with these folks. You have established a rapport and (most probably) would have already worked with them in some capacity. Just as it makes sense to focus on selling to existing customers rather than trying to find new ones, it is a far better use of your time building your relationships with your existing connections rather than always looking for new people to network with.
Once you have built your existing relationships up, you can ask your connections to introduce you to selected people in their own networks, if you are looking for new contacts. I can almost guarantee that the people you meet through your connections will be of a far higher caliber than those you would stumble upon at an event or online.
And as a bonus, networking with existing connections and contacts takes less effort, time, and expense than trying to find new people for your network. Just think about how much it costs (in time and money) to travel around the city or country to attend meetings and events where you can meet prospective connections, or how much time you must spend trawling through Facebook groups or LinkedIn looking for suitable network leads.
Sometimes You DO Need to Find New Connections
Obviously, I am not advocating only focusing on your existing connections. You should add new people to your network constantly to “replenish the ranks”. There will always be a level of “churn” (people dropping out of your network for whatever reason) and you need to compensate for that.
Also, if you are just starting up your network, you’ll have no choice but to meet strangers. Although networks don’t need to be huge, there is a critical mass below which they don’t function too well.
My point is that you should spend far less time looking for new connections than building up existing ones.
Not Everyone Becomes a Connection
It’s important to adjust the time and effort you invest in a relationship according to the potential payoff.
Your network is going to consist of various classes of relationships. In this regard I like the classification of “circles” Judy Robinett uses in her book “How To Be A Power Connector: The 5+50+100 Rule For Turning Your Business Network Into Profits”. I have modified her idea and come up with four categories of network members.
The first is the prospect. They are people of interest who you have recently engaged with – or you are planning to. You still have to determine whether or not they will be included in your network.
The second is the contact. These are people you have interacted with, but for some or other reason, your relationship with them remains informal. You may contact them from time to time and will promote them where possible to your connections, but you won’t integrate them into your network. They are a resource for you, as you are for them.
The third is the standard connection. These are the members of your network. You work at building your relationship with them, supporting them, and introduce them to one another.
Finally, you have your core connections. These are a handful of trusted connections who are closest to you and who you are willing to go to great lengths to help and support.
The ideal network would be something like;
- 5 to 10 core network members to which you dedicate 40% of your relationship-building time.
- 40 to 50 network members to which you dedicate 40% of your relationship building time.
- 100 to 150 contacts to which you dedicate 10 to 15% of your relationship building time.
- 20 prospects at any one time, to which you dedicate 5 to 10% to your relationship building time.
Your network proper is made up of the first two groups, and that’s where most of your time, effort and resources should be spent.
Many people see networking as a chore because they don’t like having to deal with strangers they meet at events or online. While you need to do this to some degree, the good news is that there are plenty of opportunities to build out your network using the people you already know – or at least people they know, There’s no reason why you can’t build up a vibrant, supportive network without having to spend hours mingling or combing through the Internet.