Why your core network is your most important resource

Early in my career I was bullish and self destructive when it came to building my network. I would go to conferences and events on the “hunt” for anyone that would get me closer to my goals. A robot, who skipped formalities and got right to the point.

What can you do for me?

My problem was that I often confused “networking” with “selling”. What’s funny is I’d spent my entire life interacting with people and building lasting relationships, but when formalized into a business activity, for some reason, I was inspired by greed and agenda pushing. I wasn’t getting anywhere.

In the book “Middle Class Millionaire”, Russ Alan Prince and Lewis Schriff studied the behaviors and characteristics of regular middle class folks, from members of the middle class who elevated themselves to a net worth greater than a million dollars. The four characteristics they found to be most prevalent were hard work, financial savvy, persistence, and a strong network. So what does it mean to have a strong network?

Surely you’ve heard the saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. If you take a second look at who often shares this piece of anecdotal wisdom, it’s usually someone who was on the losing side of a selection process. The reality is these kinds of selection processes, both large and small are happening hundreds, if not thousands of times a day in your extended network. If I run into James who has a math problem I will recommend he talk to Rick, the best math geek I know and trust. If Rick also happens to make a living tutoring people in math, then he just benefitted from his network and from the quick selection process I just made.

If we re-frame this quote given this knowledge it would read more like this:

“It’s not what you know, it’s who knows you, knows you are trustworthy, knows what you do, and knows what you want”

A strong network is one where connections are a resource that gives without prompted action. The resource is curated over time, and its value and benefits appear under unexpected fortuitous circumstances. The value of your network is determined by quality over quantity, and there are no shortcuts in its development.

Social networks have done us an injustice in the over simplification of “number of connections” as a metric of networking success. Ever heard of someone referred to as a “500 plus-er” on LinkedIn? Similarly, you can have 10,000 business names in your address book, but if they don’t know who you are, then what’s the point? LinkedIn’s meta culture has created an oversaturated, disconnected network of acquaintances.

Stop creating a tally and start creating meaningful relationships.

What I know now that I didn’t early in my career is that proper networking is a genuine attempt to connect with others and to let others connect with me. Here are some practical steps I’ve learned to connect with people in a professional setting:

  • Get to know people by identifying common interests, connections, experiences, and lifestyles.
  • Ask someone what inspires them, not what they “do”.
  • Don’t leave the conversation without understanding someone’s offer and need. Their offer is what they do well; their need could be a challenge they currently face, or even their aspirations.
  • Reinforce your offer and your need in a reciprocating fashion.
  • Be yourself, not what you think someone wants you to be. You’ll only come across as unauthentic and untrustworthy if you “act the part”.

“All things being equal, people will do business with a friend. All things being unequal, people will still do business with a friend.”

— Mark McCormack

With some perspective and practice, anyone can settle into a sense of ease while engaging in business networking efforts. Go out to connect with people, and allow them to connect with you. From there, anything can happen.