Network (v.): to join things in an informally interconnected association of persons.
When I was first exploring my newly identified strength as a connector, a connection told me about the book “Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty.” While I didn’t find the book entirely engaging, the book title provided a useful mantra for networking, and over the past year I’ve been more consciously connecting and building and maintaining my network.
The act of networking typically causes negative feelings – fear, avoidance, revulsion. Indeed, the idea of meeting or connecting with people solely to have more people that you can say that you “know” is counter-intuitive to introverts, and can seem superficial and pointless to most people. Purposeful networking is about creating a true community, a lifelong resource where the connections are real, meaningful and mutually beneficial.
A purposeful network is not just a big network. A long list of connections on LinkedIn or Twitter is not a network – it’s a scrapbook. How many of those connections even remember when you met or how they know you? A true connection doesn’t have to be a friend, but it should be someone who remembers more than just your name; they should remember who you are and how you are part of their network. Because if they are part of your network, you are also part of theirs.
Purposeful networking ensures that you stay that way. Here are some ideas to help give your networking purpose and make your connections real:
Give to get – connections have to be based on mutual benefit. Even if the benefit for one person is more immediate and obvious (“please introduce me to your boss”), the other has to believe in the potential for a future benefit. So in your conversation, always be looking for opportunities to add value to them; the opportunities for yourself will naturally follow.
Set goals – typical networking events involve two things that most people (including me) loathe: mingling and small talk. While that feeling of dread as you enter the bustling room full of people at a conference never really goes away, setting some goals about who and how many connections you will meet gives you both something to focus on, and a natural “out” – once you’ve achieved your goals, you’re free to leave if you want to, mission accomplished. I did this at a recent conference, and it made the welcome reception both successful and manageable (in part 2 of this topic, I’ll list my goals and describe how I achieved them).
Quality over quantity – review your lists of contacts on social media, with a view to keeping it purposeful. Reconnect with some people that you’ve perhaps neglected, and delete people from the list that are no longer purposeful – for either you or them; if you can’t remember how you know them, they likely can’t either, so it’s time to go. You might think about applying Dunbar’s Number theory here, and consider this network to be the Acquaintance level (~500 people). I do this myself fairly regularly, on all of my social media platform.
Follow-up – once you’ve met someone who you can purposefully network with, follow-up with them. If you discussed something that they expressed an interest in, email them a link about that. If they mentioned something you’re interested in learning more about, email them to ask for more info. And especially if they invite you to email them, EMAIL THEM. You can also invite them to connect on a professional social media site such as LinkedIn.
Maintain the network – don’t be a stalker, but also don’t let a connection get too cold. You don’t have to email and connect with everyone all the time, but work to keep connections real and active. Especially for key contacts, make an appointment for yourself to reconnect with someone a few months down the road.
All of this networking, this well-digging, has a purpose: making sure you’re prepared for when you get thirsty. The network – and not the connections – is the well. Building and maintaining your network, even when you don’t need it, ensures that it’s there when you do. There’s a certain karmic element to this: you may not always get something from all of your connections, but if you are purposeful and consistent (“mindful” to use last year’s buzzword) you will get as much or more out of your network as you put in. And it is the network – not just the connections – that is the well.
Next post, I’ll go through an example of my networking experience at a recent conference. In a third post, I’ll give some examples of poor networking approaches, and discuss LinkedIn as a tool for networking.
Who is Robyn?
My career as a research project manager is rewarding, dynamic, challenging, and fun. I'm looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experience in communication, organization, and common sense approaches in research management and leadership, and to enabling others to learn and grow in this exciting career.