Network both within and outside your comfort zones. You need to constantly challenge and be challenged in your thinking and ways of doing things as you network. How much are you going to grow if you only interact with people in the same field, same industry, same geographical location to mention but a few? Your long term goals and objectives could lie outside your current area and industry. How are you going to get there? I know that a number of people will do totally different things when they retire. They have been building and developing other skills during their working years. Right now there are already experts and gurus where you hope to be and go. Make use of them.
Assess the value you are getting from and adding to your network periodically. Every now and then you need to find out if your network is providing the results you were looking for. When you set out your goals and objectives initially there were timelines linked to these. How are you doing on this scale? If things are not moving as fast as you would like, what are you going to do about it without irritating people in your network.
Innovate, rebrand and share within your network. Many things are going to happen as you grow your network. You are going to do the same things better, you are going to move to different things, your role will evolve. Keep your network updated of where you are, what you are doing and how you are doing it. Your brand is growing all the time. Sometimes you will decide that the brand needs some tweaking or even a complete makeover. Keep your network in the loop about the new you, the new brand. Share the information and let’s keep things in motion. Your network will not be impressed if they discover that you changed roles years ago, are now in a different space altogether and never bothered to update them.
Just get in touch. Some people only get in touch when they need a hand or need help. Do not become all too predictable when people get mail from you or take your calls. What do you want this time? You can’t do it with everyone but you need to get in touch with your network and just catch up. You are not looking for any favours. You just want to find out how someone is doing. That said there are also pitfalls of just getting in touch with nothing in mind in particular. Some people want to get straight to the point. Handling such people comes with experience. Don’t be discouraged if calls come to an abrupt end.
Move with your network wherever you go. Changing jobs, moving house, relocating to another city should be no reason to lose your network. You need to invest time in getting all the contact details of your network. You must make sure you do regular backups of your network. Even print in hardcopy if you have to. I know people who have lost all the contact details after a cellphone was stolen or the work computer crashed. You can’t afford to have contact details only saved in one place.
Consider integrating business and social networking. Tread with caution on this one. I am specifically referring to business and social networking sites such as Myspace, Facebook, Xing, LinkedIn etc. You need to think very, very carefully about whether you want your business contacts getting to know the nitty gritties about your personal space and whether you want your circle of family and close friends getting to know about your business and the like. Many people have lost jobs after posting inappropriate comments about their work on social networking sites that leaked to their employers. As some might put it, they never mix business with pleasure. This is really yours to decide. If you are undecided I believe the safe option is keep the two separate as much as possible.
Use the degrees of separation. According to the theory on six degrees of separation everyone on this planet is separated from any other person by no more than 6 people. Below is a formal definition of this theory from a Wikipedia page.
(Six degrees of Separation (also referred to as the “Human Web”) refers to the idea that, if a person is one step away from each person they know and two steps away from each person who is known by one of the people they know, then everyone is at most six steps away from any other person on Earth. – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_degrees_of_separation
I am more concerned about the underlying principle behind this theory than the factual accuracy of whether its six degrees or seven degrees. The world is shrinking all the time with all the massive strides in communication. We are getting more and more interconnected all the time. This means as a networker if there is someone you believe could add immense value to your network, you only have to look at the people you currently know to come up with a strategy on how that person can eventually become a part of your network. Try it.
Keeping contact details constant if you can. Some people are in the habit of changing numbers so often that you just can’t keep up. At times it’s unavoidable if our situation and circumstances dictate and demand this. However, this disadvantages you greatly when it comes to networking. You never know when someone will need to get in touch with you. You will need to decide whether you are going to have a different number for work and for home and who you will give those numbers to. A major source of problems is that telephone numbers and other contact details are given indiscriminately to every Tom, Dick and Harry and then we are struggling with unwelcome calls made at inopportune moments.
Talk to people and get a network! Some people interact with several people during the course of their work and in their personal lives but have no network. Is this situation actually possible? Some days ago I talked to one such person. This person had been in the corporate world for at least 2 decades but had precious little to show in the form of contacts. I suggested that we work on a strategy of getting contact details for all the contacts. This was going to be a big project but at the end of the day a worthwhile one.
Lastly it’s never too late to improve the networking whatever stage you are at. There is no one size fits all approach with networking. Consider your unique circumstances and situation, think what would work best for you and give it a go.
Happy networking! BTM