A couple of questions:
- Could you quickly secure a new job solely on the strength of your connections?
- Could you start a business and achieve self-sufficiency immediately based upon your connections?
I suspect that the answer is ‘no’ to both questions, as it proved to be for me in December 2005 when I chose to start my business. At the time, my thinking was “Hey, I used to run Macworld. Once people know I have my own company the phone will ring off the hook.” Unfortunately, reality proved to be different and I struggled for the first two years.
The Event Mechanic! struggles
The main reason for my early struggles? My network was only 10% of what was needed to make a living. With both time and considerable effort that network now is much healthier and now financially I do well. As a result of my network, I often get referrals for new opportunities or, because of the range of my network, I can usually reach whoever I need through a couple of connections.
If you have the six months to two years of savings to support the lean times between jobs, then you might be fine. If not, you should be working on your network. And the time to work on it is when you don’t need it, not when you are scrabbling for financial survival.
How can you create a vibrant network?
- Focus on connections that offer value.
- Make sure that any connection is recognized as being mutually beneficial, rather than a one-sided ‘extraction.’
- Offer value before expecting it from others.
- Be open to making connections on behalf of others.
- Don’t neglect your core network in deference to focusing on new connections.
- Use LinkedIn as a roadmap.
- Treat your efforts as a business; develop a board of directors for advice.
More or better?
Is the goal to have more connections or better connections? My old boss, Ron Gomes, often would answer that kind of either/or question with a ‘yes,’ since ideally, you want both. But, if there’s a trade-off, I would argue that it is better to have fewer, stronger connections than have many distant connections who you don’t really know. As a metric, I’d recommend trying to develop a network of one hundred core connections with whom you connect at least annually. That number should be complemented by several hundred “secondary” connections who will, at a minimum, respond to an email or take your call on an “as needed” basis.
Don’t be an Extractor
Building and maintaining a network takes work, but you should consider it an investment in your ‘rainy day’ fund. And, as was noted earlier, remember the importance of reciprocity. To be successful with network building you should enjoy helping others, as there will be times when members of your network need YOUR help. Relationships that are one directional will not be sustainable and your network will have the fraction of the power it should have.. When you’re only seen as an extractor, there soon will be nothing to be extracted as your connections will leave in droves.
I learned the value of a good network the hard way, and now enjoy the benefits of having invested in that effort. Will you make the same effort or risk being caught short when you need the resources?
Extra Credit reading:
And thanks to Dan Schwabel for his outline of the seven steps to creating a sound network.