Networking and Relationship Building
Networking More Widely or Building Your List of Contacts
According to statistical research, every individual in the whole world is potentially only six contact steps away. This “six degrees of separation” shows that even an entire population of over seven billion people is still highly accessible. However, for practical purposes, we don’t necessarily want or need to meet millions or even thousands of people in different organizations, age groups, religions, professions, cultures or places or any other categories. Ideally, we therefore need some kind of filtering or research system that will help us to build a high quality set of relationships, or a strong contact network that can help to find people and resources both efficiently and effectively.
The first step in this filtering process is to establish what sort of contacts or relationships you think may be of value or benefit to you (or the organization of which you are a part). Only you can determine this “value”. You may already know, or be close to someone very powerful or influential but gain no benefit from the association, in some cases. On the other hand, you may find someone in the street where you live that can bring great benefit to you by building a relationship with them – you just need to know what you’d like to achieve in order to make a reasonable assessment.
How to research your contacts
When you start to network more widely, you quickly realize that there is a pyramid, or hierarchy of depth or quality in all of your potential relationships. In the diagram below is one view of what such a networking pyramid looks like.
At the base of the pyramid above are what we call ‘suspects’.
- ‘Suspects’ are people who look to be open to an approach to offer support (remembering that networking is all about giving first and not seeing what you can get and reciprocal support and/or assistance may then occur as the relationship develops). It is usually better to find out more about of these so-called suspects before they are approached in person. Many apparent suspects are often misidentified and only randomly picked. Only some suspects (when researched more closely) get to the next stage of being real prospects.
- ‘Prospects’ are individuals that have been confirmed to meet the effective network criteria through research and can usually be approached in person. Once again, through initial conversation, it may be that not all prospects are correctly identified. However, the numbers of people at this level are less and we can be much more patient in letting time provide an answer.
- ‘Contacts’ are usually prospects to which you have offered support and advice and asked for their assistance or guidance on one or more occasions. At this stage, you may have discovered only minor opportunities to call, talk or contact one another, but the potential to do so more has been established.
- ‘Advocates’ are usually contacts that are openly promoting or advocating the benefits of networking (with you in particular) to other prospects and contacts. Although this may not mean frequent contact, it is likely to be more frequent than with general contacts in your network.
- ‘Partners’ are usually the best and most effective networkers that you know and the ones you most often call to chat or to ask advice or suggest ideas or options. By this stage, the relationship has generally reached a much higher level of mutual trust and understanding.
This networking pyramid is not a fixed or rigid classification structure to climb, in a step-by-step fashion, but it does offer a useful way to think about the filtering process that can occur over time to get from network suspects to network partners.
How to research your contacts ahead of time
To even begin to discover who might be your network ‘suspects’ at the base of the pyramid, an excellent place to start is to ‘read’ for opportunities much more widely. In this case, the word ‘read’ means becoming broadly alert for the many opportunities that may present themselves to network every single day. Many of these opportunities will be ‘posted’ in newspapers, magazines, on notice boards, in advertisements, in the coffee shop with business cards on bulletin boards, on the Internet in general and in social media in particular (such as LinkedIn or Facebook for example) and many other sources. Of course, an increased alertness will count for little unless you have a well thought-through perspective on what you are looking for, rather than just networking for the sake of networking. To an extent, this will depend upon your overall personal networking aims and objectives.
It is usually the case that only one or two goals will apply most. Consequently, your networking research efforts might be invested quite differently if your goals are broadly around work or career options than they would be if they were to be about going into business for yourself.Hence, although a few people will have very wide and diverse interests and a broad array of interesting contacts, in reality our networking pyramids are usually built according to our specific goals and interest areas. This is often why we talk about a “jobs network” a “small business network” and “education network” and so on.
Through heightened awareness and investigation of possible networking opportunities, every individual can begin to research possible ‘avenues’ or ‘channels’ almost immediately. Whatever your interest, events, formal meetings, informal gatherings, clubs, associations, talks, presentations, conferences, online forums and other opportunities will exist to help you ‘join in’ or involve yourself. At the outset, none of these ‘social’ opportunities may ‘fit’ exactly or necessarily be of much use. However, they all offer an excellent chance to increase your information about possibilities and to find more worthy ‘suspects’ or ‘prospects’ that can help you to build your own networking pyramid.