There are many positive benefits to having a strong professional network.
The larger your network, the more likely your business will expand and grow. The larger your network, the more likely you’ll be exposed to job and career advancement opportunities that are worthwhile to you. Also, having positive relationships in your life adds a sense of well being to your day to day experience – not only in term of “what you may get” from the relationships, but also in “what you may give” and the good feelings that come when you mentor and give back to others.
Most people who are serious about success are aware of the need to “network”, but many people struggle with how to do it effectively. Also, a common problem is that people look at networking as an “event” rather than a “habit”. They approach networking from a position of stops and starts, rather than as a continual behaviour that happens all the time. When you approach networking sporadically you miss out on the compounding returns that come when a habit drives long term action.
Networking doesn’t need to be complex. In fact, it can be very simple. If if you are willing to turn the method I’m going to lay out into a habit you’ll find it to be very effective as well.
Here is a method that I’ve used successfully in my life and business that I know works. It is called – networking circles.
Other writers, including James Altucher and Claudia Azula Altucher in their book, The Power of No: Because One Word Can Bring Health, Abundance and Happiness, takes on this idea. Also, there are no hard and fast rules to how it works. You can easily adapt this idea to your schedule (and willingness to network).
The framework is pretty simple:
- Take out a piece of paper (or a word document);
- Draw a circle in the middle of the page. In this circle write the word “me”;
- Then proceed to draw 5-8 additional circles throughout the page;
- Label each of the circles with a “networking category”. For example, one circle you could call “Close Friends”. Another circle you could label “Acquaintances” or “People You’ve Met Once”. Name another circle “Online Communities”, and another circle “In-Person Meet-up groups”. Label another circle “Professional Networking Events”, and another circle “Conferences”. Even throw “Recreation” in there or “Exercise” (you never know how a relationship could develop with your friends from the gym or yoga class). This isn’t an exhaustive list – get creative and think about other forums where you could meet people;
- Make it a goal to talk to someone from at least four different circles a week, and commit to this habit as a long term behavioural change (not just a one time experiment);
- Keep track of your progress in a simple spreadsheet or notebook (and use the categories to track your discussions).
What you will find, if you actually execute this strategy, is that, usually within a year to eighteen months, your personal and professional network will have grown substantially. You will have more positive relationships than you have ever had, and as a result opportunities will start to come into your life.
Why is this? A couple reasons. First, there is a compounding effect (read Darren Hardy’s great book, The Compound Effect on this subject) whenever you engage in small behaviours consistently over a long period of time. Next, without even realizing it you are creating a “relationship action plan” (as discussed by Keith Ferrazzi in his wonderful book Never Eat Alone).
You are also bringing the idea of relationship building both into your subconscious and conscious attention. Because you have built a conscious habit of hitting four circles you will be looking for opportunities to meet new people, and your subconscious will make you aware of networking opportunities that you normally would have glossed over because your weren’t focused on the subject. There is a huge dividend whenever something becomes a habit.
Also, have fun with it. Make it a game. Give yourself a reward if you hit more than four circles in a week. Challenge yourself. Add some additional unique circles (like “aspirational contacts” or “superstars”). You never know how your efforts to reach out to people (even above your current income or pay grade) can really pay off.