August 26, 2015
3 Ways on How to Approach Your Network Strategically
The year is 2015 and our personal networks have never been bigger. The advent of web-based networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook have essential exploded the number of people that we associate with. This is not a bad thing - it is an incredible opportunity that allows us to draw connections with other individuals for many purposes other than business.However, this opportunity is also accompanied by brand new challenges. Namely, how does one approach such a large digital network in a strategic manner? All too often I speak with my clients, many of which own between 2,000-3,000 contacts on average, on how overwhelming it is working with such a large number. Thankfully, I have worked with enough people in this situation and implemented some practices into my own network that allows me to provide some modestly helpful advice.
Here are the 3 Ways on How to Approach Your Network Strategically
1. Divide and ConquerOnce you aggregate your contacts from your different sources, the number you see will most likely be entirely too big to even know what to do with. In fact, studies have shown that humans are actually only able to really "know" about 150 people at one time.That may be true, but it does not mean you cannot effectively uncover opportunities to provide or receive value among 3,000 contacts. The key is to divide and conquer your large number. Many of the people in your network are not the same: They have different jobs and live in different places, and more than likely hold many different kinds of relationships with you. Now, categorize these people! In Contactually, we specifically call this "bucketing," which simply a way of dividing and conquering your network in order to focus and organize your efforts. I recommend creating between 15-20 categories and continue to iterate on that structure until it's humming like a machine.Next, explicitly declare what your goal is for each category. Perhaps your "Friends and Family" bucket goal will read, "Goal: To be a dependable and loving friend & family member." Objectively stating this goal may prompt you to get better at remembering birthdays or calling your grandmother more often. It's a known best practice to physically write your goals down. In the words of NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, "A goal is just a wish until you put it on paper."
2. Create Your Own Farm LeagueIf you created a group of 15-20 buckets, you most likely have one called "general business contacts." For me, these folks are not necessarily customers or prospects. You probably have not even done business with the majority of them. However, you know them somehow and they are in your network - so what do you do with them?Pull a strategy from Major League Baseball. Create your own farm system in order to cultivate individuals that you can have mutually beneficial relationships with. Instead of having one large bucket for these 100+ business contacts, break it up into a 3-tiered farm league:
If you can't tell already, this provides a narrative for your general business contacts. Do not think of people in terms of money, but instead think of how you can advance them from one stage to the other through phone calls, lunch and coffee, and hand-written notes.
- The All-Stars: This is the very top tier and a special place in your network. For me, this is reserved for business contacts that I could also call best friends, mentors, or people that I am generally close to. Perhaps for you there will be childhood friends in here or old colleagues from your first job out of college. The point is that this small circle of 15-20 people is held with high regard. You should probably follow-up with these folks often and keep the door small when letting people in.
- The Major League: Just below your All-Stars sits your major league. These relationships are typically the 50-100 people that are solid allies to you and your career. The people here may refer you business or appear with opportunities for you from time to time. The key here is to continue improving your relationships with these contacts in the hopes that you will promote some to the All-Star level.
- The Minor League: This is where people should start out when they enter your network. More than likely, these are people that you meet at networking events or get introduced to casually by other contacts. There is not much substance to the relationship yet, but there is opportunity. The primary importance of new additions to the Minor League is that you not only follow up but also follow through with the relationships. Turning relatively new contacts into meaningful relationships is perhaps the most difficult component of the farm system and will take persistent effort.
3. Build Your StaminaAlthough this is a simple concept, I believe it is the most important component of having an optimal network strategy. It simply has to do with the consistent effort we put into our contact list and how long we are willing to sustain it. It is incredibly easy to add people into the Minor League, follow-up with them twice, and totally forget about them. By the second follow-up, you may be thinking, "This will go no where." But what you do past this point is what makes the difference between the top 10% of networkers and the bottom 90%. If you can stay optimistic about a future opportunity and continue to reach out despite getting nothing in return, you are statistically increasing your chances of seeing results from your network.
Perhaps the most appropriate case study comes from one of Contactually's most esteemed customers - successful hedge fund manager Guy Spier -- who ferociously wrote hand-written letters at the beginning of his career as a way of practicing diligent networking:
"At times, I felt foolish. And I didn't see an immediate impact. My view now is that it can take as long as five years to have a significant effect, so most people give up long before they reap the benefits. In sending out this cascade of letters, I began to open up to people in a way that I never had before, and I started to see everyone around me as someone I could learn from. As I now understand, this habit of writing letters is an incredible way of compounding goodwill and relationships instead of compounding money."