The Value of Your Network and Networking

"The value of a network grows in proportion to the square of the number of users."

Metcalf's Law

In an increasingly noisy world, we are all becoming more immune and even resistant to messages and information from others.

Go back a generation or two and you'll find most business/personal transactions were done on a handshake with someone you knew or got to know through someone you knew. Your route to success today is still tied to your roots . . . the relationships you have built in your life, on trust.

A Network is a group or system of related or connected parts. The action form of Network is Networking - the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions.

Both the Network and Networking are important.

Most people are familiar with the principle of Six Degrees of Separation, where it has been proven that almost all human beings are no more than six people or contacts apart.

But without an intentional strategy to build your network or to be involved in networking, Six Degrees of Separation is only a mathematical principle with little or no intrinsic value.

Think about it. Who do you prefer to do business with and provide referrals for? The usual answer is people you already know. The key is to get to personally know and connect with even more individuals. The more people you are directly connected with, the more people you will have inside your network - and also waiting just six contacts away from you.

The art of building a valuable network is strategic in nature - it does not happen by accident.

Successful networking is built on trust. Essentially, it is more about giving than getting. Inexperienced networkers have the attitude of what can I get from this group or person when, in fact, the opposite mental set must be present to build a long-term network. Yes, we must be strategic with the individuals and groups with whom we connect, but we must have in our heart: what can we give or contribute, not what can we take.

Networking is also about quality, not quantity. It took me several years to learn not to be anxious or frantic when attending networking events or opportunities. I used to try to meet as many people as possible. With that approach, I met everyone but really knew no one.

Building relationships takes time and effort. This holds true in the networking world. I have found that if I go to an event or attend some type of networking opportunity and connect (not meet) with just one or two individuals, my time has been well invested. The challenge is that today's society wants us to think that the fast and the furious win the race. When building a network, being focused and intentional is far more productive.

Networking is a principle that usually defies logic or predictability. Many of us will try to determine in advance who and what will come out of a specific network or contacts. My experience is the exact opposite. Your successful contact, connections, and contracts will usually come from where you least expect them. The best examples of this are the true stories each of us has lived.

Here is an example. In 1989 I joined the National Speakers Association (NSA) and attended my first national convention in Dallas, Texas. Admittedly it was an intimidating event; I met Zig Ziglar, Cavett Robert, and other luminaries from the speaking industry. On the first day, I met fellow Canadian speaker Brian Lee and we became friends. The next year at the NSA National Conference in Atlanta, Brian introduced me to his friend Patti, a trainer who lived in Atlanta. Patti and I also became friends.

Here is where the story reveals the power of a network. Two years later (1992), Patti called me, - all excited. "Ken, I have just met this person here in Atlanta who is looking for trainers for a large project in Canada. I gave Jim your name. Here is his information . . ."

I called Jim the next day and soon thereafter, we met. Jim and his committee selected me to work with them. That single contact referred by Patti resulted in a contract with a Fortune 100 company that, over 10 years, was worth over million dollars to our firm. Never could I have anticipated or predicted that sequence of events. I also wonder where I would be without that single contact made with Brian Lee over 15 years ago.

No matter what your need, focus, or interest, there is almost always an association, network, or group of like-minded individuals. Find out who and where these groups meet. Use the Internet to search for these groups; they range from obvious business organizations to associations for Parents with ADHD Children to thousands of other groups.

I encourage you that whenever possible, be part of a live event. The impact and quality of a person-to-person interaction cannot be replaced by phone calls or email.

Be intentional, be strategic, be giving, and watch what happens. You will be amazed at the power of networking. Remember the old cliché - success is not about what you know, but who you know!

Action Steps to Help You Increase the Value of Your Network

First you must acknowledge that your network and networking are highly influencing your success level.
Building a true network of value does not happen by accident.
Become intentional and strategic about your network and networking activities. Determine how you want your network to look and who should be in it. Define its reason or benefit.
Find out where the individuals you want to target are already meeting or if they are already part of a network.
Be clear about your objectives and purpose.
Always, always, always focus on what you can give not take from the network. Think of what you can offer or contribute; let people know about it.
Become likable, confident, interesting, and attractive.
Think quality, not quantity.
Stay connected on a regular basis in some form or another by letter, email, phone, or in person.
Be willing to let go. Sometimes you might think an individual or organization fits your purpose, passion, and direction but if that is really not the case, acknowledge that you might create more mutually beneficial relationships elsewhere. Because none of us has unlimited time, we must prioritize our networking and networks.
Have fun, enjoy, and let the process unfold. Don't try to control it - just be in it.