Want to know how to build your network?
No need to be shy with me.
Because while you may not know it, I’m an introvert!
So I’m not going to let you use that excuse.
Nor can you hide behind the veneer of being too busy.
Because, regardless of what type of marketing you do, having a bigger and stronger network will improve your work product with less effort on your part!
A broader connected community provides you with more co-marketing opportunities. As a result, you boost your results cost effectively.
Further, if you ask business professionals: “What are you most afraid of?”
Whether they admit it or not, the answer is, “Losing my job!” And this is despite the lack of salary increases and longer uncompensated hours.
Additionally, beyond improving your marketing, you need to build your network to improve your personal wellbeing.
So the real reason you need to expand your network is:
To overcome the sense of loneliness you feel deep within but never discuss.
As with other business goals, in the process of building your network, you help to overcome the deeper societal problem of loneliness since you’re not alone in this feeling.
So what do you need to do?
Put on your big girl pants and learn how to build your network.
Don’t worry, we’ll show you the easy way to do grow your community to improve your business, your career and your personal happiness, even if you’re an introvert!
Build Your Network Definition
Before diving into the research and tactics you need to build your personal and professional network, let’s define what we mean by “Build Your Network.”
Network refers to the people with whom you are connected. Based on this association, they know who you are and give you permission to contact them via at least one means of communication. This includes face-to-face, postal mail, phone, text, email and/or social media.
You contact and engage with the people in your broader community on a regular basis. You take the time to discuss one-on-one matters of mutual interest. During this engagement, both of you actively listen so that each person feels heard.
You spend real time together beyond your regular communications. As a result, you enjoy each other’s company and develop shared experiences. In the process, you deepen your relationship and overcome your sense of loneliness. Since other people may join you for these real life interactions, you expand your community.
Research Proves Why You Need To Build Your Network
The importance of building your personal and professional network and related community is proven by academic research.
Expanding your network through small personal interactions helps to overcome a deeper societal problem: Loneliness.
Loneliness Is A Pervasive Problem
According to Ipsos’s 2018 research survey of 20,000 US adults aged 18+ years and based on the UCLA Loneliness Scale:
- Almost half of Americans sometimes or always feel alone OR left out. Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships aren’t meaningful and that they are isolated from others.
- One in five people rarely or never feels close to people OR that they have people they can talk to.
- About half of Americans have meaningful in-person social interactions daily.
Before you blame your smartphone apps:
Often referred to as 6 degrees of separation, the small-world phenomenon states that:
Any two individuals in a social network are likely to be connected by short chains of intermediate acquaintances.
Stanley Milgram did the first pioneering research on the social science of the small-world phenomenon in the 1960s. In Milgram’s experiments participants were asked to forward a letter via a person they knew on a first name basis to reach a target person that they didn’t know. The average number of people in the chain was between 5 and 6.
Further, Cornell’s Jon Kleinberg discovered in 1998 that:
- Short chains of connections should exist in a network of acquaintances.
- People should be able to find these chains without knowing much about the target individual.
In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the small-world theory further with his Law of The Few. To this he added the Stickiness Factor and the Power of Context to explain why epidemic social events occur. We often refer to this type of event as “viral”.
1. The Law of the Few states that the success of a social epidemic depends on the activities and involvement of 3 key roles:
- Connectors know large numbers of people and constantly introduce people to other people,
- Mavens have deep information about a specific topic, and
- Persuaders have the ability to make people agree with them.
2. The Stickiness Factor states that the specific content of a message makes its impact memorable.
3. The Power of Context asserts that environment influences human behavior.
Small-World Implications For Your Career
Wonder how these sociological theories apply to your career and personal life?
Larger, more open networks of people are the single variable that explains what really causes career success, according to Michael Simmons.
In my opinion, this is why some colleges and business schools provide better long term career success beyond providing a better initial salary and early mentors. (Note: This initial boost can yield an exponential impact over your lifetime income.)
Because some educational institutions invest in keeping their alumni connected and supporting recent graduates.
As a result:
This significantly expands the network of successful business executives willing to help new graduates because each individual pays-it-forward.
While I don’t have research to prove this behavior, antidotal evidence supports my point.
While at a consulting division of a Fortune 100 company in the pre-Internet days, my husband worked with a top salesperson.
How did this salesman get and warm leads?
You guessed it:
He regularly contacted people from his ivy league alumni directory.
Dad’s Advice To Build Your Network (Even If You Are An Introvert)
Despite his 6’5″ and 200 pound frame, my father was an introvert.
So what did my father do?
He took advantage of his physical size and overcame his shyness.
Since we often miss what’s right in front of us: I didn’t realize this about my father until years later.
During high school I was painfully shy. #Truth
I was scared that I would never meet anyone before I went away to college.
So I had to build up the courage to ask my dad for help.
Here’s what he told me:
Don’t worry–you can do this!
If you’re in a social situation where two or more people are talking to each other, the chances are that they already know each other.
Instead of walking away:
Go up to them and introduce yourself.
They’ll think highly of you because they will view you as self assured.
While I shook my head to show I understood, my father’s words left me doubtful.
Until I went to my first party at one of the college dorms by myself. So I had no choice but to test my father’s advice.
And I discovered that dad was right!
Even better, this advice can work for you.
Actionable Networking Tips:
- Take a deep breath and go up to a stranger in a business or social situation to introduce yourself. Just do it! Based on my experience, it gets easier each time you do it.
- Follow Heidi’s 3 People or 30 Minute Rule. When you attend a networking or social event where you don’t know anyone, challenge yourself to stay at least 30 minutes or to go up to at least 3 people you don’t know and introduce yourself.
Who Should Be In YOUR Network?
Some career experts recommend ONLY focusing your networking activities on people who can help you to achieve specific business goals.
But I disagree because this approach because it:
- Focuses on you and your personal needs instead of paying-it-forward and helping others before you ask for help in return.
- Undervalues the networks of the people you know and can reach. If you doubt this, please re-read the small world phenomenon section!
- Decreases your chance of success since you focus on reaching the people who are most difficult to reach. Senior executives and highly visible influencers have more guards and more difficult barriers to get through because other people like you want to break through the noise and get their 15 seconds of attention.
These people know you well enough to contact you. But they’re not part of your inner circle. As a result, their perspective on your strengths is broader.
Regardless of whether you seek business leads, job offers, marketing support, a new place to live or even a life partner, your success depends on the size and diversity of your network.
10 Types of people to include in your network
To diversify your personal and professional network of connections, include a mix of people from different backgrounds, locations, educations and other life experiences.
Remember your networking goal is to build an inclusive community!
- Friends and family. When it comes to combatting loneliness, spending time with your family and close friends ranks at the top of the list.
- Current and past bosses and coworkers. Don’t wait until you need a job to connect with your coworkers and others within your organization. Also maintain contact with people from past jobs.
- Business distributors and suppliers. Keep in touch with the people who provide various services to your business. This includes your marketing agencies, contractors and freelancers. They tend to be good sources of information and jobs.
- Professional colleagues. Take advantage of conferences, live events and professional organizations to meet others in your field.
- Former professors and teachers. Don’t limit yourself to school instructors. Also include teachers related to your passion projects.
- Classmates. Stay in touch with your school friends. You’ve got a shared past and group of contacts.
- Members of religious organizations and other groups where you share non-business interests. For me, this would include my local knitting groups.
- Neighbors. Don’t overlook the power of physical proximity and the impact it has on shared interests.
- Professionals you consult outside of business. Many people underestimate the power of the people they see everyday. Why? Familiarity. Take off your blinders and reach out to people who see lots of people everyday. This includes your doctors, their assistants and your hairdresser.
- Social media contacts. Don’t assume that every social media contact wants to develop a longer lasting relationship. Rather, be open to extending your relationship onto another platform or means of communication.
How To Expand Your Network More Broadly
Once you start viewing your networking activities more broadly, use these Actionable Networking Tips:
- Follow up with people you meet as soon as possible to ensure that people remember who you are. At a minimum, send an email or postal letter. Where appropriate reach out via social media.
- Respect how people want you to contact them. Trust is valuable. Don’t start off on the wrong foot by getting someone’s email address in an untrustworthy way. If someone doesn’t want to share their information with you. Respect them.
- Don’t discriminate among contacts based on job title, experience or reason. The reality is that you never know who knows whom. For example, at a networking lunch, a contact commented about another marketer. What he didn’t realize was that she was my sister-in-law.
The One Easy Thing You Need To Do To Build Your Network
What’s the secret?
Contact one person per day, every day.
Don’t laugh – it’s that easy!
Keep in touch with everyone in your network on a regular basis. You never know who has the connection to someone who will change your life. For example, I met my husband at a business networking party. We got along but he didn’t call me until a friend fixed us up on a blind date!
Specific measurable networking activities include:
- Connect with at least one person each day via your communications channel of choice.
- Simply say “Hi. I’m thinking of you. How are you doing?” The subtext is “How can I be of help to you?”
- Then actively listen and respond to their needs. This is the most important thing that you can do. Remember listening makes both of you feel less lonely!
Pay Attention To These 3 Network Opportunities
Put your goals and needs aside and listen to for these 3 Networking Opportunities:
1. Be open-minded and build your network broadly. You never know who’s connected to whom. When it comes to personal relationships and connections, you only see the tip of the iceberg.
Don’t limit your opportunities with a “I-only-want-to-meet-C-level-executives” mindset.
Just because you want to connect with them, they may not want to connect with you.
I received a project from a Tiffany private equity firm without any outreach or qualifying interviews.
Because I had done 2 projects for her husband who owned a boutique private equity firm and he recommended me.
2. Accept whatever someone can do for you at that time.
A former student reached out and asked me to help her find another position. Since I didn’t know of any, I suggested she subscribe my blog and follow up.
Narrowly focused on her current objective, warm leads, she didn’t follow my suggestions.
So she lost out on a great opportunity when a colleague contacted me the next week looking someone with her exact skill set. Oops!
3. Reconnect with each member of your network on a regular basis.
This piece of advice has an important caveat:
Add something to your communications that makes your request enticing and worth paying attention to!
Otherwise it’s just noise and you get branded as a pest.
Further, Don’t write: “I haven’t heard from you.” because that’s about YOU and your needs!
How To Build AND Keep Your Network Active
Networking isn’t a game of tag.
To reap the maximum benefits, keep fueling the growth of your network over time.
If you assume that:
- The average person in your network has 150 contacts based on Dunbar’s number, and
- A third of these 150 people are loose connections,
You don’t need a lot of connections to exponentially increase the size your network.
While this is the basis for word of mouth, influencer and employee advocacy marketing programs:
First build relationships on an individual basis before you ask for further help.
Aaron Orendorff refers to this approach as “Networking Up the Chain”. This method helps you to move from people you know to people you don’t know.
Orendorff successfully uses this technique to create crowd pleaser content based on connecting with top influencers. He starts by reaching out to people he knows and asks one simple request. After each person responds, he asks if the person would to connect him to someone who is outside of Orendorff’s network.
Ridiculously Easy Actionable Networking Tactics
- Gamify your networking efforts by using the “Seinfeld Strategy”. It’s also called “Don’t break the chain!” Track each day that you reach out and network by marking an X on a calendar. After a while, you get a chain of Xs to motivate you to keep doing it. (BTW–Seinfeld denies following this approach.)
- Pay-It-Forward with you networking activities. Where possible, offer help and information to your connections. This helps to establish a sense of reciprocity (cited by Robert Cialdini) so that they’ll feel indebted to you.
- Take your relationship offline. This is particularly important if you work alone or telecommute. At a minimum set up Skype or other video conferencing to connect face-to-face. Also get out of the office for coffee, lunch or drinks.
The How To Build Your Network Conclusion
The reality is:
You have to build your network by reaching out to one person at a time and deepening that relationship over time.
Contrary to your needs or desires, networking happens at its own pace.
Further, no matter what you accepted as your personal reality as a child:
People aren’t born with lots of friends and connections.
Rather these skills are learned!
Regardless of your current age, you have the ability to reach out, listen and develop more relationships with a broader group of people.
All you have to do is to give yourself permission to try.
If a specific person doesn’t respond to your outreach, then tell yourself that they’re not available now.
Then, take a deep breath and reach out to someone else!
BTW, if you sign up for the AMG newsletter and confirm your subscription, I will reply to your email!
If you take one action each business day, over a year that adds up to 200 people you reached out to.
Like a child, a strong network requires constant care and feeding.
And equally important, it takes a community!
Do you have any additional advice for building a network?
If so, please include it in the comment section below.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on March 8, 2011. It has been extensively revised and updated.
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