Several things happened recently that prompted me to reflect on the role our relationships play in our professional lives. At times, it can seem like our entire professional career is a product of the people we know. How did I get my first job out of college? A friend of my family passed my resume along to someone who filed it in the event the company had an opening in the future. And, when the company did, I got a call. What did I do to get my most recent speaking engagement? I joined a networking group where one of my fellow members recommended me to a professional association in the process of securing speakers. The list goes on and on. The examples from my own life and those I know are practically limitless.
It is ironic that given the importance of our relationships, we do not pay them much mind. Who among us maps out an annual strategic network plan? Or who performs a yearly network check-up? We take the people we know for granted. We reach out to them when we need them and assume they will be there for the next time.
A good network of relationships is akin to a well-built spider web. It should be spacious, strong, systematic, and serviced. It takes a web like this to catch flies after all. Take a break from your daily responsibilities to evaluate your network. While you do, be mindful of the items below.
Size Matters. Review your “Contacts” wherever they are stored (Google, Outlook, Rolodex). Write down the names of all the people whom you consider to be in your network. Not all of your Facebook and LinkedIn friends are going to make the cut. Only include those people who would know you by name if you contacted them. Only people on whom you can count to do a favor, put their necks on the line, or make an introduction on your behalf belong here. Of these people, who would count you as part of their web? For whom would you vouch?
Quality over Quantity. While size does matter, your network’s level of influence arguably is even more important. You may have lots of names on this list, but who among them matters? While my Aunt Susie is entry number one on my list (she would go to great lengths for me), there’s not much she can do to help. In other words, who on your list is in a position of power? List the names of people who are high enough on the totem pole to be of service. It is not enough for them to want to assist; they also have to be situated to do so.
Location, Location, Location. Consider the layout of your community. For instance, ask yourself if you have a national business. If you do, then you need a national network. Do you have one? If not, identify the geographical areas where you need to bulk up. Revisit your list of names. Divide these people into categories. Which of these contacts is political? Which is professional? And, which is social? How many people do you have on each list? Ask yourself whether it is sufficient. Do you have areas which need to be developed further? Has a particular category of people fallen to the wayside? There are spiders that weave one web in their lifetime and there are spiders that build 20. Determine the approach that is going to be most effective for you.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind. When your car reaches 25,000 miles you have it serviced. Every six months you get your teeth cleaned. However, I wonder if you have a maintenance schedule for your network. If you want your network thinking of you, then you need to be thinking of them. How often do you check-in? Are you meeting for coffee? When you receive an invite for an event near and dear to one of them, do you attend? Once you have built your community, be sure not to let it crumble.
I recently read an article in Forbes saying “…that people would rather do business with a person they like and trust rather than someone they don’t, even if the likeable person is offering a lower quality product or service at a higher price.” For you to be liked or trusted, you must first be known. Ensuring this is the case is critical; building and maintaining your web continues to be increasingly significant.