The One Thing You Need to Build Your Network

“What are you afraid of?” Ask most business professionals and they think “Losing my job,” whether they admit it or not. Granted, the current economic situation isn’t cheery, especially if you’ve got experience and a touch of grey, but what are you doing about it? Waiting for someone to select your LinkedIn profile, send you an email, or give you a phonecall?  Whether you have a job or not, you need to build your network.

A tale of two networkers

While a strong network doesn’t ensure you won’t loose your job or you’ll get a new one by snapping your fingers, it does translate to having people who are willing to help you. Here are two examples of networking.

  • One friend only sees people when she’s between jobs because she’s so busy working when she has a job. This friend works hard building a network to get each new job. Each time, she swears she’ll keep her network alive. Yet time after time, when she gets a new job, she winds up spends 110% of her time working without raising her head until she needs another job.
  • Another friend regularly emails me to have lunch. Even if it takes rescheduling a few times, we manage to have lunch every couple of months. Guess what, she’s always got her feelers out to see what she can do to help. It might be getting placed in an interesting article or a connecting a new client prospect. The lesson is that she’s always pays it forward and people are ready to return the friendship when she needs it.

The One Thing You Need to Build Your Network

What’s the one secret to building your network? Make one new contact every day. (Of course, if you’re unemployed, you need to up the ante.) This doesn’t mean an email that says I need a job, please let me know if you hear of anything. That message is headed straight for the trash. Take a cue from my second friend and touch base with your network regularly. In the process connect with one new person each day via your channel of choice, whether it’s LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, email, text message or phone. Reach out and say “Hi. I’m thinking of you. How are you doing?” The subtext is “How can I be of help to you?” Then listen. This is the biggest thing you can do.

One caveat: You must be open-minded and build your network broadly. You never know who’s connected to whom. When it comes to personal relationships, you only see the tip of the iceberg. You can’t limit yourself by saying I only want to meet C-level executives.

Lastly, accept what someone can do for you at that time. Recently, someone reached out to me for an entry-level marketing position. Since I didn’t know of any, I suggested she follow me on Twitter and/or read my blog. She only wanted warm leads and didn’t follow through. The following week, a colleague contacted me looking an entry-level marketer. The contact lost out on an opportunity. Lesson: Keep an open mind!

5 Pointers to build your network painlessly

Here are five pointers to expand your network painlessly.

  1. Send colleagues relevant articles. While you’re doing your daily reading, forward articles that relate to members of your network. Think broadly in terms of news, blog posts and e-books. Show you’re thinking of them. It’s particularly helpful if they or their company is mentioned.
  2. Forward leads to your network. Remember you need to make it personal. A mass email has the opposite impact. Think job openings, potential freelance jobs or PR leads. (Hint: HARO is great for this!)
  3. Get social on various social media networks. Give colleagues a shout out on Twitter for #FollowFriday or retweet their tweets or articles. Also, leave comments on their blog. Since comments are nirvana for bloggers, this’ll get you noticed.
  4. Wish them Happy Birthday. Everyone loves to have people remember their important milestones. Leave a message on someone’s Facebook wall, send an email, mail a birthday card or call them.
  5. Take it offline. Meet for lunch or coffee. Or, go to an appropriate Meetup or conference to meet new people in your field.

Building a network happens one relationship at a time. Take one action each business day and that adds up to 200 actions a year.  Like a child or a garden, a strong network requires constant care and feeding.

Do you have any other advice regarding building a network? If so, please include it in the comment section below.

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen


Note: This column was part of the #UsBlogs Weekly Round Up. This week’s topic is “What Are You Afraid Of?” (And What Are You Doing About It).

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Photo credit: Oskay via Flickr

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  • http://www.clever-copywriting.com Renee Malove

    I LOVE this post. As in, I love it enough that it’s going up on my Facebook page when I’m done reading here, and since I’m fairly stringent about NOT posting links on Facebook (with the notable exception of @Josepf and @CaiPalmiter these are all people I know IRL, most of whom went to school with me and can tell my parents when I’m bad) that should tell you something right there.

    This is an excellent representation of the short-sightedness of people who network with their eye on the prize. I’ve had people telling me for years that I needed to start posting links asking for professional networking referrals through various sites, but how they were doing it seemed so completely backward that I didn’t touch it with a ten foot pole. So very, very nice to realize that the reason it didn’t make any sense was because they were doing it wrong!

    You never know when someone you’ve developed a personal relationship with will be able to help you out professionally. I recently referred one of my husband’s friends to an excellent web designer in his local area I’d worked with but who didn’t advertise. My sister in law recently did the graphics for a project I was doing for a client on a short deadline. I helped one of my son’s classroom mothers start laying the groundwork for her own accounting business.

    By the same token I met one of my favorite clients through Facebook (her kids are the same age as mine), have been referred work from our local bookstore owner helping out area authors and have done a number of jobs for a gentleman who I developed a friendship with after he oversaw a job I did for a friend.

    None of these people met me through any professional association and quite frankly, I don’t know that any of us would have been as willing to help if they had. We always want to help those who we have a personal investment in and, more importantly, we want to know they can do the job before we throw our own personal recommendation behind them. And make no mistake, if someone suggests a job to you it’s probably because they’ve heard about it through one of THEIR networking partners. If your name is dropped into the conversation the candidate in question is going to have an advantage over other, simliarly qualified candidates because your reputation will be standing behind theirs.

    It’s easy to see where Google got their PageRank model from.

    By the same token, people who look to build business relationships in an inappropriate setting can be shooting themselves in the foot. Weddings, funerals and family dinners are NOT the place to be obvious about looking for business connections! At a wedding I attended the father of the groom helpfully introduced me to his niece. The platform of the introduction? She could use my company’s services. I know he was trying to be nice, but I think we both almost died of embarrassment when we realized what he was doing. Conversation was awkward, and needless to say I haven’t heard from her since. On the other hand, had the relationship evolved naturally we may have stayed in touch and a business and personal relationship could have formed.

    The bottom line is, any relationship you can form is valuable. I’m greatly looking forward to the #usguys meetup next month, because they’re a great group of people (and lots of fun to talk crepe fillings with!). But I’d be lying if I didn’t say through UsGuys and other Twitter groups I’ve met some wonderful colleagues who have given me excellent advice on blogging (thanks Heidi!), web design and development, Facebook marketing, writing techniques and other awesome information I’d only know by having regular conversations with an amazing group of people with the same interests and passions as mine.

    So, to wrap up my rant, don’t be afraid to follow. Tweet. Exchange emails and FB status updates and have a cup of coffee every now and then. Enjoy people for who they are and not what they can do for you (or you can do for them). It’s almost always a win-win situation in the end.

  • Yuko Ichihara

    Prof. Cohen,

    Thank you for your encouraging, reassuring post on my birthday!

    I’ve been thinking of writing you, and then came across this post of yours.

    Your ‘actionable’ marketing colums on ClickZ are still my ‘up to date’ textbook.

    Have a great weekend!

    Yuko

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/stevenpofcher Steven Pofcher

    Heidi –
    Good tips
    1) Linkedin is a very important tool in networking. However, too many people use the standard Linkedin boilerplate connection request. The request must be personalized. In most cases, if I get a connection request that is not personalized, I just delete it, especially if it is from someone I do not know.

    2) Wishing people Happy Birthday is an effective networking tool. Depending how well I know the person, I will send a postal birthday card or an email. Everyone likes to be remembered on their birthday.

  • Monica

    SO true, Heidi! I do try to practice this philosophy, and yes it’s harder to carve out the time when you have a job. But it makes you better at what you do, because you learn something about what’s going on outside your own company and because we all need a break from the daily grind. I’m amazed at how many people totally don’t get it.

  • Gaby O’Rourke

    Some great tips. Couldn’t agree more that people need to focus on building their networks purposefully, a little at a time and water them well!
    I wrote something on networking too recently called “I hate networking” http://thewallaceeffect.wordpress.com/2010/09/02/i-hate-networking/ because let’s face it, many people find it difficult and/or awkward. “How do I network effectively?” is one of the most asked questions I get.

    Great take on fear, Heidi! You can’t help enough on this topic.