More Than WE Know

Women Entrepreneurs sharing Information, Inspiration and Support

What to Do When Net Working is Not Working Part 3 of 3

Posted by Liz Fuller on August 10, 2007

writing.jpgIn Part I of this series, we discussed a painless method of building a network and in Part II,  we discussed an efficient method of maintaining the network you have already built. In Part III, we will address the third biggest concern about networking – making it pay off. To do that we have to get a little more cold-blooded, as we analyze your network and find the best ways to leverage it.  In other words, not all those contacts you’ve been making are created equal.  

Now, please don’t misunderstand – if you have met a truly lovely person through your networking – you laugh at the same jokes, cry at the same hallmark commercials, lust after the same movie stars, and share an intense caffeine and chocolate addiction, I’m genuinely happy for you. But if that same person never refers any clients to you, and only knows the same people you do and shares the same interests as you –then don’t kid yourself – you are not networking – you are hanging out with a friend.  

Friends are wonderful and necessary and part of what makes living worthwhile.  

But friends don’t always bring you new clients, or contacts, or fresh ideas 

Networks on the other hand are a way to get to know people you might not otherwise be friends with.  That’s not to say that they are unpleasant or immoral, just that they may run in different circles than you do.  Networking is an opportunity to broaden your horizons and your contacts and expose yourself to new ideas.  

So, how do you know whether the network you are putting so much time and energy into is a true solid network or strictly a social circle?  The best way is to use a technique called network mapping, as identified by Uzzi and Dunlap in their Harvard Business Review article,  How to Build Your Network.  This tool enables you to evaluate your network and come up with a strategic plan to leverage it.  

First, make a list of all the people you have met in the past three months. If you can’t think of any, then you already have your answer. You are strictly socializing within your comfort zone. Go back and re-read Part I.  Start meeting some new people before you move on to this activity.  

If, however, you do have a list of new acquaintances, then create a second column that identifies who introduced you to these contacts.  Take special note if a few names pop up repeatedly. Also, pay close attention if your own name pops up a lot.  That will be important in a moment.  

Now let’s say you list ten people you have met in the past three months.  Of those ten people, your realize that your friend Anya introduced you to four of them.  Three you met yourself and the other three were introduced by various other friends.  

That means that 40 % of the people you met in the past month came from one person – Anya.  Most likely she is what researchers call a “connector” – someone who knows a lot of people and gets pleasure out of  connecting them together.   By actively ensuring that you maintain close connections with Anya, you can increase the return on the time you spend networking.  Anya is out there meeting people and connecting them with each other all the time – it’s part of her personality and what she does for fun. So, by being close to her, you automatically increase your chances of meeting new and different people 

Now, as you recall, three of the people on your list, you met directly.  While there is nothing wrong with this, it obviously took more time and effort on your part than having Anya introduce you to her latest friends. In addition, the people you met yourself are probably very similar to you – in attitudes, occupation, location, etc.  This is due to several theories Uzzi and Dunlap call the self-similarity principle and the proximity principle. 

These two principles state that people tend to build social networks around people that are similar to them and live near them.  While this can be fun from a social perspective, it limits your exposure to different social circles and different ideas.  

The self-similarity and proximity principles also play themselves out on the internet.  People gravitate to blogs, listservs and online communities of people with similar worldviews and experiences.  Communities such as these can be comforting and enlightening (like this one!) but it is also good to stretch yourself occasionally and look for communities that you wouldn’t normally be drawn to – from technical infoshares to websites with funny pictures of cats.  At the very least, you’ll gain fresh perspectives and creative ideas.

But the hands-down, most powerful way to get to know new people quickly and deeply is to work together on a common goal, particularly one you feel passionate about.  Researchers call this the shared activities principle.  If there is a local cause you feel strongly about – an election campaign, a charity drive, an intense travel or learning experience, get involved.

Get really involved. It’s not sufficient to give money. You have to give time, effort and preferably sweat.  In the best case, you will find yourself building strong bonds quickly with people you would never otherwise have had a chance to meet.  And in the worst case, you won’t meet anyone – but you’ve spent time contributing to a worthwhile cause, learned some new skills and gained a new story to share in your next networking event!

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