When building your network, keep in mind some pointers to maximize effectiveness.
Know who’s on your team
A network should be like a botanical garden, with different species and varieties that make the whole organism valuable and interesting.
In much the same way, you should also know the types of relationships within your team. KC Haydon, a professor of psychology and education at Mount Holyoke College in the US aptly summarizes the types of people in your network.
- Support Squad: People who celebrate with you; those who lift you up when you are down
- Compatriots: Peers who share similar goals and challenges
- Role Models: People who inspire you; people you look up to or admire
- Mentors: People who give you honest, constructive guidance and feedback
- Motivators: People who remind you of your purpose
- Power Pros: People who can help you access resources you need
- The Yin to Your Yang: People with complementary strengths, skills, or perspective to yours
By knowing the different types of relationships within the network, you have a sense for whom you can tap for different types of questions, situations, advice, and feedback.
Tailor the discussion
Sending a generic connection or information request message on LinkedIn won’t help you stand out in a sea of invitations and InMails. Instead, do a bit of research and tailor your request to your situation and the person whom you are contacting.
If you are connected (or being connected) to an expert in your field, then you might request their perspective on a job offer you’ve received.
If you are looking to build a tangible skill like financial modeling, then reaching to out someone five years senior to solicit their advice on high quality training resources makes sense.
If you are generally looking to build a network, ask each person you meet to connect you to two other people who would be open to doing the same. And offer to do the same for them.
Have an agenda
When speaking with or meeting someone within your network, make sure to be prepared with a specific ‘ask’ or request.
Someone once asked me to connect them with people in my network who were “hiring.” I was willing to help but without parameters to narrow the request – size of company, industry, or location – it was like searching for a needle in a haystack.
Depending on context, feel free to ask about family or personal interests when speaking about a new connection (these days, it’s all about “How are you faring during the lockdown?”). But don’t get too familiar. If you’ve met someone only once or twice in a formal setting or context, it probably isn’t appropriate to extend birthday greetings just a couple of weeks later.
Be realistic and don’t try to shortcut because you’re too lazy to make the effort. I really appreciate it when someone mentions the sources they’ve already tapped when soliciting advice. If I know someone has read a particular book or listened to a relevant podcast, then I also know that they are serious about their query and I can have a more nuanced discussion with them.
Finally, I prefer people who get to the crux of the matter instead of over-flattering or skirting the topic enroute to a specific request. I am busy, but willing to help, provided the requestor is respectful of my time and limits. Also, don’t be overly nervous in your interactions – even seasoned professionals started out networking in much the same way. So be yourself, breathe, and enjoy the experience.
Business school classmates, 20 years after graduation. The batch has a WhatsApp group with 170+ members who share 200+ messages daily!
Present yourself in the best light
Don’t be your own worst enemy. Be on time for any calls or meetings you’ve scheduled with new connections. Also, when writing to someone, make sure you run a spell check, use proper punctuation, and clearly outline the specifics of your request.
I remember being so impressed with a business request made on LinkedIn. The individual had written a brief, thoughtful, and direct message that stood out from the generic, poorly crafted messages I normally get. I responded, purchased his company’s services, and ended up forging a long-lasting professional relationship with the requestor.
Repeatedly asking for help or advice, especially on the same issue, can be a turnoff. If I’ve connected you to one or two resources, that’s probably the extent of my ability to help outside of a formal, structured, long-term engagement. Badgering someone for more and more makes you look needy and dependent.
Knowing what is reasonable to ask is also important. Last year I co-signed a student loan for a mentee whom I have known for five years and who has earned my trust over time. If someone I met six months ago who asked for the same, I would politely decline (I would also wonder about their common sense).
Finally, if you don’t agree with the advice being offered, that’s fine but don’t be overly argumentative or difficult. Differences in opinion is normal; how you communicate that and still maintain a collegial relationship is a mark of maturity.
When someone goes to the trouble of making an introduction, follow-up. A former employee of mine asked for introductions related to his volunteer work. When he followed through on the connections I had made, he always included a small nugget about both me and the other party in the email. I really appreciate knowing that he valued my time enough to make the effort.
If you ask someone with a professional background (lawyer, banker, consultant, doctor and so on) for advice and they offer it for free (which most will do, at least the first time), please update them with the final outcome of the decision/problem/scenario. This simple act reflects your respect for their time and expertise. It costs you nothing yet acknowledges their contribution.
Even if you don’t need anything specific, touch base with people in your network every so often. If you read something that makes you think of that person, send it to them. I regularly share newspaper articles, information about sales or events or just send across greeting cards to people in my network, to let them know I’m thinking of them.
Finally, ask if there is any help you can provide to the to whom you’ve been connected or tapped for help. Don’t underestimate the value you can bring to others. Offer to proofread an article, conduct an informational interview with someone’s child or provide feedback.