Last week on “I wish I had known” I went through my system for organizing my contacts in a spreadsheet. If you’ve taken my suggestions up to this point, you now have an all-inclusive list of your entire professional support system, all in one place, ready for analysis. So what do you do with this data? Let’s talk about that…
If you’ve been reading my past posts on my networking journey, you have probably gathered that I didn’t know a whole lot about how to build a network at the beginning of my career. I knew it was a good idea to “network.” My idea of what that was didn’t really work for my personality and preferences, so I had to figure out, by trial and error, what worked to get me “connected.” Over the past few weeks I’ve been sharing this process with you, in the hopes of helping those out there who also feel that the traditional concept of “networking” is intimidating and unnatural.
My advice thus far has focused on establishing a clear idea of where your professional support network currently stands. In other words, get all “your people” on one list and take a look at it. Again, break this task down if it seems overwhelming, or consider hiring someone to help you. This task is fundamental to understanding where your networking efforts are best spent. When you consider the amount of time it can take to network “blindly,” i.e., without any strategy, merely hoping that the right people come across your path, the time necessary to compile your list will seem far more palatable.
Once you’ve compiled your connectivity list (and have sorted and organized it), you’ll be ready to look at your contacts and set some preliminary goals for solidifying and growing your network. Here’s where I think it gets really fun and rewarding…
First take a look at your list(s) of people that are either in the same profession or in fields related to your profession. Write down answers to the following questions (bonus points if you start a document or notebook for networking notes…if you’re looking for a great place for this sort of thing, try Evernote):
- Which 5 people on my list are the most likely to refer business or opportunities to me in the next 90 days?
- Which 5 people on my list would probably refer business or opportunities to me if they better understood my skills and goals?
- Which 5 people on my list could be good potential mentors?
- Which 5 people on my list are the most similar-minded to me?
- Which 5 people on my list do I admire the most professionally?
It’s ok if you have some overlap. You will finish this exercise with 25 names at the most, or possibly less if there are names that are listed more than once.
Now, you may recall that I asked you to put even close friends and family on your list. And after you divided your list as described here, you should have a separate list of people mostly unfamiliar with your profession (i.e., they don’t work in or closely with your profession, even though they may hear regularly about some of your tasks and challenges). I’m guessing you have a lot of friends, family, church and extracurricular contacts on that third list. They may not seem closely tied to your professional goals, but they’re there for a reason.
Next write down answers to the following questions. You may draw from any of your three lists, but don’t forget about that third list when you’re going through these questions.
- Which 5 people do I most enjoy interacting with?
- Which 5 people would I lean on in the event of a disappointment?
- Which 5 people do I admire most for the way they live their life (both professionally and personally)?
- Which 5 people inspire me?
- Which 5 people challenge me to become better?
Again, you can have overlap. It’s ok if you list some of your people twice. It’s ok if your answers come from a combination of your three lists. And it’s even ok if some of the people that came to mind weren’t already on your connectivity list. Write them down anyway.
At the end of these exercises you will have a list of, at most, 50 people. These people each have the potential to influence your career in a valuable way. You have the power to release this potential by making these relationships a priority.
Coming up next – what you can do with the answers to these questions to add depth to your network.