Build a Stronger Network

How many people did you meet last week? How many people have you had a meaningful conversation with this week? Who have you helped this week? These are questions I ask myself all the time.

For me, relationships are the most valuable currency of business. It’s important to meet new people and keep up with my existing relationships. It’s cliche, but it’s true… sometimes it is who you know.

Look at any successful person and you’ll see a huge network of other successful people around them. While there’s no guarantee that a relationship will get you the deal, your next job or a cover story in BusinessWeek, they can help you get in the door (and that’s half the battle). If you don’t have a strong network, today is the day to start building one.

Before I get to some suggestions for building a stronger network, I want to clarify a few points. I’m not suggesting that you start a business card collection. Too many people think networking is about collecting business cards – whether actual or virtual – in an effort to demonstrate how many people they “know”. Networking, like so many other things in life, should be a quality over quantity proposition.

Here are some general suggestions for expanding your network:

  • Know Your Goals – determine the types of people you want to build relationships with. Remember, smart networking is a quality over quantity thing. Set goals for yourself, such as meet five reporters that cover my industry or develop relationships with the CEOs of two public companies. If you know who you want to meet, list them out. Tip: remember to set an achievable goal and a deadline, such as X number by Y date.
  • Keep Score – if you set your goals, track your progress. Did you achieve your goal or not? While I don’t advocate counting cards, it’s a good measure of how many people you’re meeting (the same goes for Friends, Followers or Connections through various social networks). If your network isn’t expanding proportionately with the people you’re meeting, revisit your strategy.
  • Target the Right Engagement Points – if you’re looking to build relationships with media, attend events or conferences where there is the largest concentration of these journalists. If possible, pick venues where people will be in a networking mood. Using the journalist example, a big tradeshow isn’t the best place to meet a journalist. A media industry happy hour might be. Ensure that the event you choose is an appropriate networking environment. The holiday party at a newspaper might be good, but journalists could also frown on this activity. A great example would be a media relations event with a lot of journalist guest speakers.
  • Have a Good Opener – you’re going to have to introduce yourself at a networking event. You should be able to answer the “what do you do?” question consistently, with a clear and memorable message. It doesn’t hurt to prepare this statement and practice it – just don’t sound like a robot when somebody asks you (unless of course you are a robot).
  • Get Digits – exchange business cards with the people you meet. This might seem like an obvious approach, but I often overlook this when I get caught up in conversation. While it’s easy to find people via social media these days, a card is an invitation to follow up. Throw an idea out there to the people you meet, and ask if you can follow up to discuss more. This gives you an excuse to follow up. If you don’t have a pen, email the person with your contact info on the spot. Bonus points if you Bump somebody.
  • Follow Up – it’s easy to throw a stack of business cards on your desk and never touch them again. You should always follow up a first meeting with an email or phone call. Do this within 48 hours of meeting somebody. If you skip this step, you might as well toss the cards. I’ve made this mistake before and have kicked myself later when I needed to connect with a person I had lost touch with.
  • Stay In Touch – don’t let your relationships die off. Keep in touch with people. Some job hunters I met back in the late 90s are now directors at big brands. When you keep in touch with contacts over the long haul, you’ll be surprised how many interesting connections you’ll have down the road. You’ll quickly become one of those people that knows somebody that “does that” or “works there.” Of course, you want to stay in touch with people so they’ll remember you too. People forget who you are and what you do – you have to remind them regularly if you want to get value from your network.
  • Dress Appropriately – a morning meeting of CEOs (or bankers or lawyers) is a suit and tie event. A happy hour event with marketers is business casual (or jeans). Leave the flip-flops at home. Some people will think you’re cool, but some will roll their eyes. I’ve never been one to get caught up in what people are wearing, but others care about this sort of thing.
  • Deliver Value – I’m pretty passionate about this point. I regularly scan my contacts to see what ideas pop into my head. If I come across some information that would be interesting to one of my contacts, I share it with them. If I see synergies between people in my network, I share it. If somebody asks me for help, I offer it willingly. Don’t miss the opportunity to pay it forward, you’ll feel great and will find people often reciprocate.
  • Don’t Judge – people don’t always make the best first impressions. Don’t judge a book by its cover and don’t make assumptions about people after only a few interactions. I can’t tell you how many times my opinion has changed about people over time, as I got to know them better. At the same time, our personalities change over time. People grow. Don’t base your opinion about somebody on outdated information. At the same time, don’t brush off a contact because they don’t have an important-enough sounding title or work for a famous brand.
  • Look in the Mirror – it’s one of the hardest things to do, but take a good self-assessment on a regular basis. Are you putting your best foot forward in networking situations? Do you tend to make more requests from your network than you do give back? Don’t be greedy when building relationships. If you’re constantly turning to your network when you need something, versus trying to find a way to help people in your network out, the strength of your relationships will weaken.
  • Keep It Fun – meeting new people is fun. It’s a great way to expand your circle of influence, to learn more and to advance in your career. I am fortunate to have a large network of peers I can interact with. It’s okay to have a sense of humor and to be relaxed with people – just be conscious of your environment and your audience.
  • Build Relationships When You Don’t Need Them – don’t start networking when you need to find a new job. This is the most common no-no I see with networking. On the same note, don’t expect a journalist to give you a warm reception when your first interaction is a pitch. Get to know people before you have a request for them. Things are much easier in any area of business when you know the person already. Of course, this is one area where journalists have it a bit easier – most people are willing to talk to a journalist (but it’s still easy if the connection already exists).
  • Say Please and Thank You – when people say ‘please’ or ‘thank you’, they make more of an impact on people (at least me). It’s common courtesy, and it’s right.
  • Be Sincere – if you just care about the connection, and not the person, it will show. Don’t bother spending any time on networking unless you are willing to spend the time it takes to establish and nurture those relationships. It’s corny, but relationships are like plants in your garden. If you don’t water and fertilize on a regular basis, they’ll die.
  • Everybody is Important – the Barista at Starbucks? She’s working on her MBA and is going to be your boss in five years. The guy working on your car? He’s going to coach your kid’s soccer team next season. And that woman wanting to interview you for her school paper? That’s the CEO’s daughter. Everyone is connected. Never – never ever – assume somebody is not relevant to the type of relationships you’re looking to build today. You never know who will be important, so assume everyone is.

Start With One New Connection Today

You might not remember this, but I bet your kindergarten teacher tried to get you to play with the other kids. You should do this as an adult too. I’ve never regretted taking the time to get to know somebody else. Have I met some people that annoy the heck out of me? Maybe. But I probably drive them crazy too. More often than not, you’ll be amazed by other people. It’s the best investment in your personal and professional development you could possibly make.

Let’s connect. Want to take this advice a step further? Let’s connect. Feel free to comment, send me an email or connect on Twitter. I look forward to meeting you. Also, don’t be shy… share your advice on networking for others.

(Image Credit: altered rolodex by thislittlepiggy)

About Jeremy Porter 214 Articles
Jeremy Porter has been passionate about the intersection of public relations and journalism since studying both Public Relations and Journalism at Utica College of Syracuse University in the late 90s. Porter launched Journalistics in 2009 to share his ideas and insights around both professions and how trends and developments in modern day marketing, communications, and technology impact those working in these fields. Porter also values the traditions and history of both professions and regularly shares his perspective in these areas - and related topics geared toward the next generation of journalism and public relations professionals.

27 Comments

  1. Most of the successful business people I know say their network consist of people who are smarter than they are. This is important to know because a person can’t make it to the top and stay there without the help and advice from others. So for anyone who is trying to make it as an entrepreneur make sure you reach out to not only close friends, but to those who have a the experience, knowledge, and insight to help you reach your goals. Also look at the person’s accomplishments and ask them if they would be willing to be a mentor, this is another way to build a relationship.

  2. Excellent Piece Jeremy.

    It’s actually surprising how many folks don’t understand the “value” of a maximized personal network. It should be treated as any other task, carve out time each day or week to “network” with a purpose.

    I really like “Everybody is Important” – you just never know who, what, where, when or how…..

  3. Jeremy,

    You definitely practice what you preach. I’m glad I got to meet you at Social Fresh Tampa and see you again at SXSWi. I enjoyed our conversations and the nuggets of advice you gave me. It didn’t go unnoticed that you were also on the go making the rounds.

    I am forever indebted to you for introducing me to Pete 🙂

    Thanks,

    Emily
    @EmilyHaughey

  4. As a recent graduate who used all these strategies to get a job, I couldn’t agree more with your advice. I think the biggest piece of advice is to keep the network alive and growing. There’s really no need to stop making connections these days, especially if we all concentrate on providing helpful content with each other.

  5. I’ll never forget my first experience looking introspectively at myself. One of my professors had us do a ‘visual’ interpretation of what our ‘network(s)’ look like. It was then that I realized that I was at a severe disadvantage vis-a-vis most of the others in the class.

    This excercise not only opened my eyes to the importance of networking, but I met a real networking ‘pro’ who gave my lots of great advice. One nugget was that he always made sure he ate lunch with someone new if he was dining in the cafeteria of his company (he was the Director of Operations for Campbell Soup). He would eat with those from the finance dept. one day and the marketing dept. another day.

    He also made sure he ‘keeps in touch’ with his network, even if it’s a quick hello via e-mail once every 2 months. I’m still not the networking pro that I should be; however, I have a great complement of friends, aquaintances and other professionals via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, my blog posts and in person.

  6. Echoing Case Ernsting above, using all these approaches before, during and after a search, is key to success in landing a job.

    It also works for getting introduced to and making connections with potential clients.

    With the lack of PR jobs and the surfeit of candidates, ask yourself, “How have I helped a PR colleague get ahead?”

  7. I love how you remind everyone to “keep it fun”. I will be moving to Charlotte at the end of the summer and have been networking the last few months in hopes of learning more about the city, different job opportunities, etc–the whole process has somewhat amazed me. People love to talk about their job & the city they live in, and are usually more than willing to answer any questions that you have. What started off as a few short emails, has turned into several insightful, fun relationships.

  8. Wow, it’s a tough world for an introvert. I think all your points are correct, but for someone like me this kind of stuff is very hard.

    I tend to have very good relationships with a few people, but it’s really draining work for me to try to keep up with a large number of people.

    I would be interested to hear how other introverts overcome this.

    • Chris – I hear you. After 18 years with one company, I’m job searching now due to my job being eliminated. The most important message I’ve gotten from my outplacement service is the value of networking. People are often surprised when I tell them I’m an introvert, because I’m comfortabale around people I know, but please don’t put me in a room full of people I don’t know! It’s painful and exhausting. That said, I realize I must reach out to make connections with people, so I force myself. It gets a little easier the more you do it. Sometimes I pretend I’m the outgoing type, and that helps. Smile and be friendly; show interest in what the other person and what she has to say. Just keep doing it. Good luck!

      • Linda, I do understand where you are coming from, because I’m an introvert too. I don’t have a problem with a small group of people (2 or 3) but when there are many people in the room I clam up and I end up I’m watching other people mingle and interact. Networking is very hard for me. Linda I wish you good luck, and with a little work we will both become better at networking.

    • I’m the same way. I often find that there is useally at least one other person at the event who looking at the crowd overwhelmed, I try to find them and approach with a comment about not knowing anyone and that useally breaks the ice.

  9. Excellent advice, especially the points about minding your manners and your appearance. It’s quite shocking how people are oblivious to the social aspect of networking. I think anyone can network–it definitely is not about quantity, but quality. Aim for a few good connections.

  10. I enjoyed reading your post, Jeremy, especially the part about everybody being important. Another thing that helps build a stronger network is inviting new people to existing organizations. Our local Southwest Florida chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association had our image awards gala the other night, and there were so many new faces at the event! It was refreshing to see new people, there was added energy in the room, and it presented a great opportunity to begin new relationships.

  11. I’d add only one to your list:
    Network outward and not just upward. Everyone has the potential to offer something of value along the way.
    This is one of the best postings around networking I’ve seen in ages. Pleased to meet you!

    • Great addition, Dennie, to a terrific list of important reminders. Networking is not only the key to growing and enhancing our professional lives, but it’s the key to building those one-to-one connections that make business fun and more meaningful. Nice to meet everyone here!

  12. Great post. It’s funny how people perceive networking. For some folks it just comes naturally, for others it seems like another task that they would rather just avoid, and yet others are totally in it for themselves. In general, I agree with your points, and would emphasize that slow and steady is the way to do it. If you make a personal commitment to “play with others” and shake the hand of someone new at an event, you will slowly and gradually grow your network.

    I also completely agree that in order to make it meaningful, you need to take the time to follow-up and provide value at some point in the relationship. All relationships are two-way, give-and-take. Be genuine, care for others by getting involved . . . impactful relationships require time.

  13. Nonsense!

    It’s NOT who you know!

    It’s WHO knows YOU!

    You can know hundreds and thousands of people, but so what? It’s only if they know you and your work that counts. That means they must see you in action. That means you must get on programs, speak at conferences, be highly involved in organizations. You must show that you can deliver.

    Don Ranly

    • I completely agree with all the points you make. If you successfully brand yourself (speak, write, etc.), making connections is a lot easier (because people know you, and want to know you). But… relationships are still two-way, so you have to know the people too. Thanks.

  14. Thank you, thank you, thank you. As a Baby Boomer, I’m not as attuned to networking as is my Gen X daughter. Your advice is really excellent and broken down in a way that anyone (hah…me) can act on. Appreciate the many great reminders and some wonderful new tricks for an old dog. Woof!

  15. I am totally agree with this post, because we need to remember that it is not important to have millions of business cards, otherwise the quality of these contacts for our business.

    When I was doing my work experience as a PR, sometimes I found difficulties when I tried that the media published the news about my client, however when my boss called them or when I phoned telling that my boss (telling his name) order me to call, they always published the news, because my boss had a lot of contacts inside the media. One of my conclusions in this experience it was that the real PR job starts when you have a contact agenda, because before of that either your client is a big company or nobody is interested in you. Moreover, in the company we have two bigs folders only with business cards, it was incredible!

    On the other hand, like you say in your post the clothes that you wear in a meeting are important. The day that we have a meeting with the client, we needed to dress up in a special way because the clothes can describe some aspects of a person and you need to transmit a good image about you and the company to the client.

    Finally, I would like to look up the importance of the words “thank you” and “please” because they can open a lot of doors.

  16. It was an interesting read. I am a team member of Brewatalk. Brewatalk is a new social networking site meant for avid bloggers like you for whome mere 140 characters are not enough to speak their mind. The Brewatalk would be obliged if you could visit the site and give us an honest opinion about it. Your opinion would be highly regarded. Hope to see you at http://www.brewatalk.com.

  17. It was an interesting read. I am a team member of Brewatalk. Brewatalk is a new social networking site meant for avid bloggers like you for whome mere 140 characters are not enough to speak their mind. The Brewatalk would be obliged if you could visit the site and give us an honest opinion about it. Your opinion would be highly regarded. Hope to see you at brewatalk.com.

  18. I loved this post. As a PR student at the University of Oregon, I am approaching graduation and have no doubt learned the importance of networking. The U of O Journalism School is constantly putting together events for students to connect to other students and professionals, which is so great. Yet my only wish is that I would have learned all this advice earlier. I think of all the opportunities I had in college that I did not take advantage of, and it makes me think if I did I could have even had a job lined up after graduation by now! I think this post could be really useful to college students, especially younger ones. Now, I am trying to network everywhere I go! I found my job working in a coffee shop is also a great place to start 🙂 Thanks for the post!

  19. This is a wonderful article in how to build strong relationships. I really enjoyed it, Jeremy. I think another point is that people miss so often, is that when someone contacts you, be open to a conversation or a helpful hint.

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