Okay, I’m not really Spiderman but I do have a network, which is very much like a web. It starts simply, becomes more intricate over time, and periodically, has to be rebuilt or repaired. Some months ago, “People Collector” sounded like a cool job title since it was something I did lot of in launching a new venture. Over time, “People Broker” has come to make more sense because no one keeps every single contact that is made.
Like a web, your network will become compartmentalized as individuals are fitted to situations, and it will experience turnover. My theory is that most of us have a few distinct groups for our contacts; tell me if this is off-base:
- The people you meet but little comes of it
- The people you meet who become friends
- The people you meet who become business associates
- The people you meet who become advisors and allies
Indulge me for a second in a bit of rhetorical analysis. Networking is defined as a “socioeconomic business activity” and while everyone is crystal clear on the business part of it, how much focus is there on the social? Sure, you want to build new business relationships, but first you build relationships, meaning you are looking for like-minded people. Not all of these like-minded people will contribute to your business in any meaningful way but that doesn’t mean they cannot contribute to your life.
Take the last group first; I suspect most people will give it the highest value, it will be the group they cultivate and nurture, and it will be the one that is the most satisfying. It will likely also be the smallest. A lot of folks in business envision becoming someone’s advisor and most wind up being a vendor. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s a different status of relationship. When in doubt, the members of this group are the ones to whom you will turn.
The third group is probably the largest for most of us and the most volatile. Consider the shape of your network today vs where it was this time last year. How many new faces are part of it and how many rotated out for whatever reason? The key to this group is its value for referrals, and that is referrals in both directions. At some point, you have like said “I’ve got a guy (or lady)” during a conversation. That action brings you no money but its value in priceless and it can move you into the ally circle of the person getting the referral. If nothing else, that individual will remember what you did and will find a way to repay you.
The second group represents a mix of sanity and identity. Do you want to be what you do for living or is there more to you? If so, then this group is superfluous. But most of us have interests outside the workplace and those interests tend to be easier to indulge with people who have no economic stake in your life or you in theirs. You will likely talk about work some, maybe trade a war story or two, but these relationships are built external to the office.
The top group is a reality of life; not every contact will result in a business association or a personal one, and everyone has a stack of business cards as proof. There is nothing wrong with that. About the best you can hope for from this group is that instead of being a “no” situation, it is “not now.” Either way, this is not a point worth belaboring.
The status of these groups is also a good barometer of where you are. Is one predominant? Has one been volatile or stable? Take a look at the state of your network today and map out how it changes over the course of the year. Because it will change. There are people you have not yet met who will be worth meeting. So, who do you know that I should know?