Meet, e-mail, Facebook or SnapChat: should you “network”?

In a word, YES!  If you are interacting with humans during the day, you are networking. Whether you think that way at the time, every interaction you have with someone is either deepening or damaging your network, and your brand. Here’s my thoughts after reading countless books and my personal experience – successes and failures.

From a career perspective, your network can accelerate or decelerate your progress towards that dream job you are aspiring to be before you retire. Of course, all of us would like to have a list of 5 people we could call at anytime and get the best job ever tomorrow, but that is an unlikely scenario. What is important to remember, you can improve your “luck” (check earlier blog) in getting that next job, by nurturing, deepening, and growing your network.

Tier 1, 2, 3 to prioritize your network groups

Let’s start! Take a look at all of the people you know – confidants in your inner circle, friends, family, co-workers, clients, business partners, the members of your sailing club – in each of these “network groups”. From a career perspective, think about who in this long list of people you know at various levels of depth, can help your career.

They could work for a company you aspire to work for, they could be the boss of the person’s job you want next, they could be a great reference when someone asks, they might know someone you need to get to know.

Prioritize this list into groups that align with your goals. You can keep it as simple as Tier 1, 2, 3 – Tier 1 being someone you want to deepen a relationship with to specifically enable your career. To be more specific – those contacts who are absolutely critical to your career success plan (use active communication). Tier 2 are those contacts who are valuable to your success, but not critical (try mix of active and passive communication). And finally, Tier 3 is someone to keep “warm” in case you need to reach out for specific advice or a question now and again – your network of contacts with primarily passive communication.

By the way, I don’t put anyone into a Tier 4: “can’t help me” – because you just never know.

When talking about active communication, I have in mind specifically tailored messages for that individual with an objective to deepen the relationship – for example, 1:1 calls and meetings, personal e-mails, etc.

Passive communication is dedicated to part of a larger group being communicated with on a topic they would be interested – LinkedIn, Twitter, e-mail, invitations to a large meeting or conference, and other similar ways and tools suit here.

From Facebook to phone calls – try multi-channel networking

When you have your prioritized list, pick a central way to manage it – Microsoft Excel, a CRM tool, whatever. Something that you are comfortable using and will help keep you on track in communicating at the right cadence with your network.

For each individual in your Tier 1, tailor a specific call plan for each. These are your most trusted, closest advocates of your career. You want to be able to pick up a phone and call them at any time for advice, help, or a reference. Use the right combination of ways to connect with them regularly – e-mail, phone calls, LinkedIn, Facebook, text messages – whatever you know will get the best results in deepening your relationship with them.

Attention! Be sensitive to the generational differences on how people communicate as well. For you millennials, or God help us the Generation Z crowd out there, know that the more “senior” (read as older) members of your network may not be on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter – let alone on Instagram or SnapChat. They may not read e-mail. They may not respond for over a week as they are busy. So, make sure you have a communication plan that works for the individual.

Why is it important to do your homework?

If you are going to meet ANYONE new, be prepared they could be a Tier 1 or unknown aspirational person in your future network – you never know.

It is so important, especially as you are actively working to mature your network, to take advantage of those “moments” to make that first impression and create your brand (see blog of the last week). Do your homework before you meet these persons. If they are reaching out to you – try and prepare even more.

To illustrate an impact of this, here are my personal stories which will show how failure and success looks like.

Feeling unprepared or F-A-I-L-U-R-E

I was very busy starting up a business and someone I worked with had a friend who wanted me to come to his house for drinks and talk about company we should partner with.  After being prodded several times, I finally made the time to get it on the calendar and drove over to this person’s house tired and annoyed I had agreed to meet as I was very busy. Let’s just say that when I arrived at the large gates of the property with their initials on it and drove up the winding driveway to eventually get to the mansion this person was living in, I knew I was unprepared.

The meeting went great, however, had I been more prepared, I could have led a much more interesting conversation and I could have better connected with a very important person to my career network. This person had sold several companies in my industry and had a net worth of several hundred million dollars and had a fantastic network. His wife made some special snacks for me, I met his children who were also very successful. Unfortunately, I was basically in shock the whole time I was there – totally unprepared. Instead of actively working to deepen a potentially fruitful relationship, I had a great evening but really missed an opportunity to expand my network significantly, simply because I didn’t plan ahead.

If I had spent just 5 minutes on Google understanding who this person I was meeting was, and spent 5 minutes to built a short call plan for them with defined outcomes of the meeting, I could have been so much more effective. Three hours of driving in traffic and drinks wasted by not spending the 10-15 minutes to prepare for the meeting. I won’t ever forget that lesson.

Power of improvisation or S-U-C-C-E-S-S

I have a list of aspirational contacts that I always wanted to meet. One of these was speaking at a conference and I really wanted to get on his radar. Hence, I had a well thought out call plan on how I would connect with him. Finally I met him and it worked – we spoke briefly, I gave him my business card, and was thrilled with that connection.

What happened next however, was even bigger. I noticed one of my contacts, who was also at the conference, seemed very familiar with this person as they hugged and shook hands and chatted like old friends. Later that day, I spoke with my contact, and he said “let me really introduce you” and he called my aspirational contact on his cell phone and said I am someone he should really spend time with and handed me the phone.

Since then, I have had a meal with my aspirational contact, we exchange calls and texts regularly, and he has even invited me to his house and offered to help my son with some career advice.

The lesson here is – have a plan, but improvise when you see an opportunity to deepen your relationship even more.

Book suggestions to start

Two books I suggest you read on networking to get started if you haven’t read any yet:

  1. Keith Ferrazzi: “Never Eat Alone”

A very easy read with very practical advice and examples of how to expand your network. Moreover, the author has uploaded many videos on the internet – check them and subscribe to weekly e-mail tips from him.

  1. Dale Carnegie: “How to Win Friends and Influence People”

First published in 1936, simple lessons proven over time. It is a must read.

So, map out your complete network and prioritize key individuals who can make a difference in your career. Then create a communication plan for each individual to maintain contact at the right cadence on the right channels. Make a call plan like it is a sales call for each of these Tier 1 or aspirational contacts. Finally, learn from your failures and successes in your future interactions. And read the two books I suggested if you haven’t already – you won’t regret it. These steps could be your plan to start networking.

You can follow me on Twitter as @johnwalshiii – keep charging, stay healthy, and looking forward to connecting with you!

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