A value-added network can be achieved through explicit actions to develop, expand, and promote trusted relationships. One successful example is Thomas Powers, the founder and chairman of ecademy, www.ecademy.com, one of the largest UK-based business networks. His passion and commitment to networking compares to none; he is ranked among the top business networkers in the world. Ecademy’s philosophy is “Winning by Sharing”, a theme of paramount importance. Donna Fisher and Sandy Vilas, of Power Networking, define networking as: “Networking is making links from people we know to people they know, in an organized way, for a specific purpose, while remaining committed to doing our part, expecting nothing in return.”
So how can you add value to your network?
Over the years my primary networking focus has been establishing contacts that provide valuable job search-related opportunities. More recently, I have expanded my focus to include promoting services and exploring business opportunities. My networking strategies are simple – contact people and offer a mutually beneficial relationship through shared business contacts, opportunities, and potential partnerships. By connecting people with potential for shared mutual benefits, I am delivering an important service and developing trusted relationships. This is extremely rewarding for me and seems to be greatly appreciated by those I have connected.
Developing a strategy will help you focus on developing your network effectively. Don’t be afraid to change your approach frequently until it feels right and you are certain that it will serve your goals and objectives. The key driver is ongoing communications regarding mutual goals, interests, and opportunities, as well as expansion of your network.
Using established networking groups and on-line communities allows you to become linked to people all over the world. Nina Camp, an expert on the subject says, “Linkedin is the best business networking site – not social –which is attractive to Fortune 1000/500/100 business executives. Recent additions to the site make interfacing more attractive. The ability to send a message from the site when accepting connections is a good new feature, along with the V Card download and the opportunity to endorse immediately.” Linkedin, http://www.linkedin.com, is also my choice, and the on-line business community I use most frequently. To grow your network, initially you may need to be proactive in contacting people who you would like to connect with, but as your contact list grows, people will seek you out and want to become part of your network.
Building Network Contacts
While building your network, you will find that no matter how hard you work to establish relationships, a simple fact of human nature dictates that you will naturally hit it off with certain people, finding common goals, interests, and reasons to connect. This is not to say that you should give up on individuals less inclined to form a trusted relationship, but the amount of time you dedicate to such communications will define the potential for a successful connection. Finding mutual values, interests, and levels of comfort takes time and work. Making an effort to find such common grounds requires two-way communication, without which you will have a void of knowledge and information-sharing necessary for the growth of the relationship. Timing is also an issue and one which you need to keep in mind when you reach out to a contact, especially to someone who may not be as aggressive or interested in expanding or exploring networking benefits. Give potential contacts plenty of room to communicate using their own timetable.
Building and expanding your network requires a plan or set of processes that you can follow repeatedly. The following are some practices you might want to include are.
1) Communicate with your most trusted contacts frequently and share information, ideas, or just an update on your current status. Show interest in their activities, job, company, and common interests. Send an interesting article or information you feel that would be of value.
2) Share new contacts with others who you feel may realize mutual benefits.
Provide referrals to others for business services, opportunities, and information, or
as a common connector. It might be as straightforward as saying, “I met Joe
Smith’s boss and he said he knew you.”
3) Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to expand your network. If you are just starting out, set a goal for establishing X number of new contacts per week. When I first joined ecademy.com, I set a goal of adding 50 new contacts a week, which resulted in developing 1151 contacts in a year’s time.
4) Be open to new contacts that may want to communicate with you. Connected people like to connect with other connected people. I have never refused a new contact. You will learn that as you continue to grow your network, others will find you and want to become part of your group of associates.
5) The last step in your process is the most important one. Give to your network contacts, expecting nothing in return. The act of giving will earn trust and understanding and demonstrate that you have a genuine interest in your associates. “Winning by sharing” It works, so give it a try.
Those Who Did
As most successful business people will tell you, failures are an important part of your personal and business development process. Don’t discard failures, instead learn from them and use your new knowledge to address future challenges and goals. Laurence J. Peter said, “There are two kinds of failures: those who thought and never did, and those who did and never thought.” If you don’t make an attempt, you will never realize the potential of what you might have been able to achieve. Building network relationships is not a task with a beginning, middle, and end; it is an ongoing process. Network and you will build a valued and trusted contact community.