Photo Credit: Suhyeon Choi, Unsplash

How I Make My Network Work For Me

I love my network. And I like to think my network loves me. We’ve been good to each other and we always watch each other’s back. And like a fine wine, my network only seems to be getting better with age.

But it doesn’t come easily. Maintaining and building a network takes a commitment. I typically spend roughly 5–7 hours a week engaging with my network, on top of the hours I log during my day job.

Still, it’s the wisest investment I make all week, without a doubt.

I often speak in the community about the power of networking. When I share the amount of time I put in, people are sometimes skeptical. But I have never questioned my network’s power, or the benefit it brings me.

Why?

Because whether times are good, bad or downright stressful — whenever I activate my network, they never let me down.

So, let’s break down my network and how I use it.

SIZE OF MY NETWORK: It all depends on the situation. When I think about the people I am connected to, I typically break it out into three main groups:

  1. The Tribe — These are the 25 or so people who would do almost anything for me (and vice versa.) We call each other for advice or the occasional “I need you to meet with me right now” request. We are a group who rallies around each other during layoffs, who nominate each other for awards and proudly brag about each other’s accomplishments. We’re a pretty close group.
  2. The Amplifiers — This is a much larger group of acquaintances, friends and colleagues who get mutual benefit from amplifying each other’s messages. This is the group I will ask to share this blog post. Our relationships aren’t so deep that I would call on them for a big favor or ask for too much of their time, but we are always up for promoting each other’s work. We support each other when it’s convenient.
  3. The Teachers — This is a group that I look to for continual learning. We may have never met in person but we have collided in the digital world, which means we are likely connected on LinkedIn, follow each other on Twitter and read each other’s material. This is the group I listen to — and learn from.

WAYS I LEVERAGE MY NETWORK: There are more ways than I can count — but here is the start of a good list:

  • When I am bored with my job and need a change
  • When I am questioning my job security
  • When I need to spread the word about an event or a cause
  • When I am looking for volunteer or Board work
  • When I need help brainstorming ideas for a project
  • When I am hiring and looking for a good candidate
  • When I am considering throwing my hat in the ring for an award
  • When I need an introduction to someone in town
  • When I need advice or a different perspective

HOW I DEVELOP MY NETWORK: Building a network is the easy part. There are many people out there willing to connect. The hardest part is maintaining the connection to ensure that you are getting value out of those connections.

Make no mistake–it is real work.

Here are a few of the things I do weekly to stay connected and to keep these relationships strong:

  • I keep a network Twitter list so I can see what my connections post and I like/share or comment on what they put out. It’s important for them to see that I am invested in what they are doing and reading what they have to say.
  • For my tribe, I remember birthdays, anniversaries and important milestones. I mark these dates on my calendar so I don’t forget and I send a personal note.
  • When invited, I attend as many network events as possible. Even when I’m exhausted or over committed, I will stop in for a few minutes so they know I made the effort to get there. Remember — I will ask the same of them eventually.
  • When my network comes through for me, I send thank you notes, email follow ups and voicemails. It’s important for them to know that I don’t take their time for granted.
  • I block out at least one breakfast and one dinner a week to meet up with someone from my network. Life sometimes gets in the way, but I try to stick to this schedule. This will allow me to meet in person with roughly eight people a month and get updated on where they are and find ways we can help each other.
  • I always answer their emails and return their calls. Always.
  • I help them make connections with others I know could help them, without being asked to do so.
  • I nominate them for awards.
  • I invite them to events or meetings where they can meet and interact with new people.
  • I talk about them out in the community!

Whether it’s a massive, time-consuming effort or a quick note to show them that I care, I make the effort to stay connected to the people who are important to me.

I do this because the value of my network cannot be measured. It has saved me, bettered me and motivated me. You can’t put a price tag on what it has given me.

I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the book Why Your Network Is Your Net Worth by Porter Gale.

“I believe your social capital, or your ability to build a network of authentic personal and professional relationships, not your financial capital, is the most important asset in your portfolio.”

So when you think about the benefit a powerful network can bring you — don’t underestimate the time and commitment it takes to maintain.

Take good care of your network.

And it will take good care of you!