Frank & Oak Media Event Photo: James Rosen for Frank & Oak

How to Build a Valuable Network

Congratulations. You have 500+ contacts on LinkedIn. You have them. But do you know your network?

Recently, I took a marketing job at an innovation consulting firm, PreScouter, Inc. I love it for several reasons. Besides working with smart people (corporate America, Ph.D. students, and critical thinkers in general), the first and the main reason that I love marketing is because I can connect with people.

I have been building my network for years by interviewing CEOs and learning from startups, going to Paris Fashion Week, attending networking mixers at 1871 and Ms. Tech, and meeting new faces at niche events or rooftop parties.

While that’s a good step, it’s the first step.

After you have had your fill of free wine and pizza, I invite you to look around the room.

How to Build a Valuable Network:

Here are the top four ways to build a network of value – a network that can help you meet your business goals and personal goals.

Have a point.

This is the reason you are all here. Why are you networking, to begin with?

Ask yourself:

  • Do you want a job?
  • Do you want to do business with this company?
  • Do you see yourself needing their services or partnering in the future?
  • Do you have common interests like cooking or attending events?

When you find out why you want to connect, it’s easier to search for people who can help you meet your goals. It’s also easier to see which events to attend that align with your goals.

BUT, remember….

Don’t nix people. I went to a networking event, and someone was like “oh, you’re in marketing, I don’t want your business card.”

You never know how you can leverage your contacts in the future, so the general rule of being nice to everyone applies. However, as marketing and sales people know, there are warm leads, cold leads, and hot leads. Categorize the people you meet so you can better approach them people on LinkedIn or Twitter or at events. It will help you meet your goals faster.

Key takeaway: Not everyone in your network will be valuable.

Be helpful before you need help.

One of the reasons you build your network is not just for yourself, it’s also to help other people. A niche interest group might need a local Chicago designer, and you are part of SheSays Chicago so that you can connect a new contact with your network.

One of the rules that Robert Cialdini shares in his book, “Influence: Science and Practice” is the rule of reciprocity. When you do something nice for someone, they want to return the favor.

Key takeaway: Give first.

Do a maintenance check.

Are there people in your network who you don’t know?

Just because you cannot help each other at the moment, doesn’t mean that you should delete them from your database. Keep up to date notes about how you met (you can add private notes on LinkedIn profiles to remind you) and how you might be able to help each other based on interests and projects.

In the book “Never Eat Alone,” Keith Ferrazzi shows readers how to build a spreadsheet to keep track of contacts in terms of the last point of contact and how you might help each other. You can download the template here. 

After you find a method to keep track of your contacts. You want to make sure to stay in touch. The longer you go without talking with someone, the harder it becomes to connect – especially if you only met at a 3-hour networking event.

Key takeaway: Reach out to your network at least two times per year.

Be interested and up to date.

Most importantly, find ways to be on your network’s radar. There are great resources like Google Alerts and LinkedIn Updates, to name a few.

Subscribe to other people’s blogs. Check the updates from your LinkedIn updates section. Share an event that one of your friends is planning. Send an email to reconnect every six months.

You will miss so many opportunities because you don’t pay attention. Your friends, your family, and your connections are doing some amazing things, and unless they are in PR, they probably are bad at promoting them. So, dig in and get interested in what other people are doing. This is how you can see how to help one another.

Key takeaway: Pay attention to other’s people’s lives (and the headlines) for conversation starters.

Ultimately, there are many ways to start relationships. I find that the hardest part is to turn an introduction into a relationship to meet your goals and help others meet theirs. I hope some of these approaches will help you meet your business goals.

 

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