Before you read on, you should know this is not your average networking post. It won’t talk about why it’s important. I assume you know. It won’t debate ‘in person’ versus social media— because I hope you know it’s a combination. Instead I want to talk about networks that foster relationships. Healthy relationships. So if you think networking is swapping business cards, or following someone on Twitter, it’s time for a reality check.
HOW DO I DEFINE RELATIONSHIPS?
- It’s two-way. Kind of obvious, but try this litmus test — do you have their mobile number? And if you send a text, is it more than likely you will get a helpful response within 24hrs?
- It’s multi-path. So it doesn’t just exist in one channel. A good relationship transcends that. In other words, once you’ve got your text back, do you meet up for coffee, or Skype?
- It stretches over time. If it dies within a week, it’s not what I’m talking about. Remember I’m taking liberties with my definition of relationship, but I think it should be more than transactional at a single moment in time.
- There is an agreed value transfer. In other words, overtly or implicitly you have an understanding of what’s in it for both parties. This may change over time, but there is an appreciation none-the-less.
This might sound like a callous way to evaluate a relationship, but it makes it no less real. We do this in our personal lives as much as in business. You probably just don’t realise it. Using a formula might feel clinical but for the purposes of evaluating your networking objectively, it helps.
It also aids relationship growth. You want your network to mature and vest over time. That means strategically investing in it so your connections are alive — constantly evolving. To put it another way — your net should work! It’s also a good barometer about where to invest, because you can’t be everything to everybody.
SETTING NETWORKING TARGETS
Ever heard the saying ‘you can’t manage what you don’t measure’? Same applies here. Networking, being a verb, is actionable. In that sense, it should also be purposeful and have goals. With an understanding of the measure of relationship (above), it becomes about setting your targets to ensure you are building a network of relationships that are meaningful in the context of what you are about. Ask yourself:
- Are you an entrepreneur, looking for a group of like-minded people, first movers who are potential partners, customers or mentors?
- Or an artist looking for inspiration, or someone to challenge and stretch your thinking?
- Perhaps you are a PR professional who wants to establish a set of alliances with different influencers in a specific sector?
Whatever it is, you need to understand your position and why you are networking in the first place. An indiscriminate approach more often than not is a waste of time for everyone. I’m not the only one who thinks it’s silly sending random LinkedIn connection requests without any context as to why. For me collecting connections is the antithesis of networking.
So isn’t it about time you started to give a little more thought as to why and how you network? It’s a recurring process, so today is as good a time as any to begin.