I have absolutely no doubt that anyone who has achieved any degree of success will attribute a large proportion of their success to the people in their network, specifically those who have supported them, encouraged them and provided inspiration and wisdom during the good times and the not so good times. There is an old adage that says it isn't what you know, it's who you know, and this rings more true today than ever.
The reality is that we all have the opportunity to build a network of contacts who can help us to achieve our goals. This network can be local, national and international, thanks mainly to the incredible communication opportunities that we can all take advantage of. But a network is something that we have to continually invest in to keep it healthy and to keep it growing and developing.
So how exactly do you invest in your network?
1. Be a giver not just a taker
If you are part of a network and all you do is take, take, take, people will soon grow weary of you. To be a valued member of any network you need to give more than you receive. By taking this approach you will enjoy many rewards. When building networks, it has to be a win/win scenario for all involved. Always ask yourself the question "how can I add more value to my network and the people within it?"
2. Become a big referrer and a quality referrer of others
I have found that one of the best ways to build my network has been to become a big referrer. I love to refer business and I look for ways to refer every day. Now I don't expect people to reciprocate, but they generally do and I always find that if I refer 10 people in a week, I get 20 referrals back (and not from the people I have referred - strange but wonderful I know). The second part of being a big referrer is to only ever make your referrals to others what I call quality referrals. Do some screening first, don't use referring as a way to get rid of people you don't want to work with. I always ask myself, is this person or business one that I would want referred to me? If it isn't, I certainly wouldn't be referring them to a valued member of my network.
3. Make it easy for people to refer you
Just as it is important for you to refer others, if they can't refer you back, that becomes frustrating and awkward for them. So my strategy is to ask better questions and give better advice. I always ask people in my network how can I refer them? I ask them what their ideal client looks like and what kind of projects do they really love taking on. This way I can refer business that is perfect for them. Likewise though, I explain to them what I do, what parts of my business I am growing, what my perfect client looks like and the projects that I love to do. This creates a high degree of clarity and everyone wins.
4. Don't just sell to your network
A lot of people join a network and all they do is sell to everyone in it. They bombard their network with emails, every meeting is trying to sell them something. The other members of the network soon grow tired of this. My test for this is to ask a simple question, if an individuals telephone number comes up on my caller ID, do I want to take the call? When it comes to people who do nothing but try to sell me, the answer is no. The same applies to emails, if I know it is just another sales email, most of the time I simply delete them and that person goes from being a part of my network to someone on the outside of the inner circle. The real key here is to offer value to your network. Give them things for free, make suggestions, offer advice and ways to make their life easier or to increase their income, but don't just try to sell to them.
5. Protect people in your network
I protect my contacts fiercely. As mentioned above, I won't give them crummy referrals and I certainly won't give my database to other people to sell to those on my email list. If people want me to pass on a contact, generally I ask my contact if this is OK before doing so and if they say yes, I cc them in on my introduction email, just so they know exactly what is said. The moral to this story is that if you don't protect people in your network, they won't protect you and you will get inundated with people who are probably going to try to do nothing more than sell you things you don't want.
6. Be there in good times and bad
We all go through good times and bad in business and there is nothing worse than a fair weather friend. We all know them, they are only around when times are good and they have something to gain. For me, people in my network are trusted friends, if they are going through a tough time in business I will do what I can to help them. A fully functioning network should be like this. If you find that when you go through tough times your network seems a little light on the ground, you haven't got a very network. Remember though, how you treat people during their tough times says a lot about you and people of significance will remember that much more than they will remember how you acted when times were good.
7. Work on your network daily
Spend time working on your network every day. It might mean writing a few "how are you" emails, making some calls, or catching up with people for coffee. I spend at least one hour a day doing something related to my network and it is a great hour, one that I not only enjoy, but one that reaps enormous benefits.
In conclusion, take a strategic approach to building your network. Be proactive, not passive about it and invest a generous amount of time and energy. Put in more than you get out of your network and you will soon start to enjoy the benefits. If you have been neglecting your network, or taking the people within it for granted, do something about it today.