This was inspired by a conversation earlier this summer with a group of people talking about job hunting and freelancing. One of the suggestions I gave was "work your network", and I got an immediate "That's just a phrase! What specifically can *I* do?" So I started putting some thoughts down, and wanted to share some here.
The busiest people I know *tend* to be the most connected, either in their industry at large, or in their local community, or both. They tend to know (and remember) far more people than I think I ever could. But that’s just my perspective – I often get comments from people who say “oh, you must know everyone!”, usually after being in a meeting place and saying hello to more than a few people. I don’t necessarily *feel* like I know a lot of people, but as I’ve reviewed my own network (via linkedin,inside919, etc), I realize I do have many many contacts, but many of the relationships are going stale.
There's no shortcut to this - going to face to face meetings is still one of the best ways to meet people in your geographic area, and attending industry events is the best way to meet people in your industry. And this takes time. There are some people I know *only* through annual conferences, and it took several years of meeting at conferences, but we're now good friends, and will help each other out at the drop of a hat when possible. But those relationships took time to build.
"But... I don't have years to wait! Is there anything I can do to jumpstart this?" I get that occasionally from people. The short answer is 'no' - human relationships take time to form, but some can form more quickly than others. One of the few tricks I know of which can jumpstart business relationships is ...
I’ve done this multiple times in the past, and I’ve seen other people do it successfully, so there must be something to it, right? Invite people from your network, who don’t know each other, to get together. It might be for coffee, or lunch, or dinner, or something. Just three of you, or perhaps a third party for a total of four people. Introduce the people to each other, and let them know why you think they should get to know each other. Small business deal reasons might usually be the best, but it might be something just based on a shared hobby/interest.
A new friend is involved in commercial real estate and was interested in learning more about coworking. Hey! I happen to know someone who runs a coworking space! Ed, meet Robert, etc. In this case, I just put them in touch via email, but arranged for a casual face to face for a week or so later. Will anything come of this specifically for them? I hope so, but if not, they still both know that I’m actively looking out for things to help make their businesses better. Took me about 5 minutes of phone calls and a couple emails, and I’ve actively created a connection.
Committing to doing this once per week – whether only via email or via face to face lunches/coffees/etc – and you will see results. What sort of results? Will it always be direct work for you? Probably not, but you will be top of mind in many more peoples’ brains when something comes up on their end. It might be just a question for you (and a chance to make another connection!) or project work, or something else.
The key to this is to be genuine about it. Being truly interested in the business of others will require you to learn more about them and their business. Once you know more about their current situation, you shouldn’t have to fake it. But… do be aware of your social capital with people. As much as there are valid connections to be made, you will develop a sixth sense for time wasters. I have been guilty of connecting person X, who is a real expert, with person Y, who turned out to be a time waster. It’s not intentional, but I do lose a bit of capital with person X. Do that enough and your reputation *will* suffer, so be careful. Start small, but do start. The benefits of playing matchmaker in your extended network will pay dividends years in to the future.
What are your tips for "working your network?"