Sunday, December 5, 2010

How Powerful is Your Network?

Your network is one of the most powerful business tools in your toolbox.  But the network isn't just about numbers.  You must build quality into your networking process.

It is true that more connections will increase the probability that somebody in your network aligns with your needs, but managing your network strictly to the numbers will give you a false sense of security.  Anyone can accumulate numbers, but the best of you will build a powerful network of quality connections.

Here are five keys to building and maintaining a powerful business network:
  1. Treat every introduction as an opportunity to add to your network.  One mistake I see people frequently make is filtering relationship opportunities before they have the chance to assess them for potential.  Everybody you meet has the possibility of adding value to your network.  Just because you work in transportation and the person you just met is a jewelry designer doesn't mean you can't find business value in the relationship.  Get to know the other person, help them get to know you and...
  2. Assess every networking opportunity for shared potential.  Your network isn't only about how others can help you.  It is equally about how you can help others.  In fact, the best networks are built on the premise of helping first before asking for help.  Be prepared to approach new network prospects with your value proposition and probe for ways that you can help them.  If you are seen as a person who can solve problems for others, people will line up to help you when you need it most.
  3. Actively manage your network.  Your network is a living organism.  Therefore, it requires constant feeding and nurturing.  Think of it like managing a sales territory.  A good sales person is always in touch with their customers, regardless of where they are in the sales cycle.  You need to do the same with your network.  It may help you to categorize your network connections, giving them a relative priority and to evaluate the priority on a regular basis.  That way you can make sure  you are focusing your time and attention on the relationships that are most likely to align with your current activities and needs.
  4. Don't rely on formal organization relationships for your network.  Many times, particularly with younger people, I have seen a tremendous dependency on the formal organization for their network.  Don't just network within your daily operating sphere.  The best networks are built outside your day to day activities.  Those are the people who will still be there if your current job or company change - for whatever reason.
  5. Help others build their network.  One of the best things you can do for others is to help them build their networks.  Every time you make a new connection,  you should try to introduce that person to two new contacts.  This is a great way to quickly establish the shared potential of your new relationship, and it will ultimately lead to expansion of your own network.
To some, having an overt plan to manage your network may seem a bit mercenary.  However, a powerful network is critical to long term success and your network will ultimately be the foundation of your career.  If you plan and manage it well and if you put the time into developing quality two-way relationships, your network will pay you back many times over.

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