In my last post I clarified that a personal network is what is being discussed in my blogs. However, there are many similarities between a functioning of a human network and a computer network. In this post we’ll discuss how to build your own strategic network.
To build an effective network, you should have a goal in mind. What is your career or personal aspiration in which you need the assistance of others? Your objective may be highly specialized – like acquiring a particular job or getting a particular promotion – or it may be simply to expand your sphere of influence and make more friends. Regardless of the objective, you should always keep in mind that one of your primary goals is to help others. If you are not willing to help others and invest in the relationship, then a network cannot exist.
Once you’ve achieved clarity about your ultimate objective, the next step is to identify the steps necessary to make your objective a reality. Start by figuring out the final link in the chain which takes place before meeting your objective. Who makes the hiring decision? What is the profile of the contacts you want to expand your sphere with? Once you know this, you can figure out the best way to meet the people you want to connect with. What groups do they belong to? Where do they socialize/do business? Put yourself there. Even if you don’t meet them directly at first, you’re in a place where you have access.
However, while considering your objectives, you must first identify what you bring to the table. What can you offer to this person or their circle of influence? Identify what you have in common with your target(s) and define how you can serve them.
In your first meeting with a new contact, you should not go in trying to “close.” Rather, your objective in the first meeting is to get a second meeting that enables the discussion to continue and the relationship to develop. In your first meeting you should ask three key questions:
- Is this a good time to talk?
- May I ask you a question?
- What can I do for you?
The third question is key. Being in a network is about positioning yourself to give back in order to receive.
Once you’ve started the developing the relationship, you need to keep it alive and well. Let’s take the computer analogy again. In the “old” days, you had to dial up your modem every time you wanted to connect to a network. You could get only precisely what you asked for, and you could only get it while you were plugged in. Today, computers are always on networks and are always pinging and being pinged by other machines that are connected as well. Sometimes it is helpful, such as OS updates, and sometimes it is just spam. You have to remember, you’re on the network even when you do not need anything. You have to find a way to reach into your network every so often to keep the relationship productive rather than always just fending off (or sending) spam and cookies. This can be done through simple handwritten thank you notes after a meeting (a huge differentiator in this digital age) or a check in to see how that person is progressing against their goals.
In the next post, we’ll talk about the art of these network operations.