Do you need a support network? The typical reader of this blog is a busy professional, and when you are busy, the last thing that crosses your mind is spending more time away from your home and family than really necessary.
Networking is one of the most underrated activities you can engage in. A solid support network can help you advance in life and business personally and professionally. The challenge is obviously building that network. Building a quality network takes time, some money and a lot of ongoing effort. Remember, nothing worthwhile having is free.
You may already have some type of a support network. After all, as long as you don’t stay locked up in your house all day, you will come across people through the course of day to day life. You might meet someone in your neighborhood, at work, meetings, parties, softball games, etc. However, you can expand your network significantly when you proactively seek your network out. This is called targeted networking.
You target individuals that you are interested in, not ones who you just happen to stumble across randomly in day to day life. For example, if you are a CPA and you are interested in building a network of like minded professionals you can bounce ideas off occasionally, you are better off attending a local CPA networking meeting rather than your school’s Alumni event where they may or may not be other CPAs.
When I first got involved with internet entrepreneurship, I knew I needed to build a support network of individuals who were successful online. I already had a strong network of finance, accounting, real estate, legal and investment professionals because I was actively involved in those endeavors.
However, making money on the Internet was new to me and I knew I needed like minded individuals around me who I could reach out to when in need. I was working long hours and traveling more than a missionary. So how did I do it?
I leveraged the tools we have today to target my networking efforts. I used Facebook to target specific individuals in specific cities. Back then, Facebook had a “looser” search feature which I am not sure they do today. The feature allowed me to search for people who were not in my support network.
These days, I heavily leverage LinkedIn and Twitter, although there is only so much networking you can do when limited to 140 characters. The most effective tool for me was and even today is Craigslist. On Craigslist, I did not/do not have to spend time searching for who I want to network with. I can simply post a description of what I am looking for and emails come flowing.
This was really convenient when I was traveling. For example, if I knew I was getting done with work at 7, then instead of heading back to the hotel, I could just as easily schedule a date with someone for dinner or drinks. If I wanted to hit the gym, I could schedule a late dinner all with just one detailed post. A post on Craigslist is active for 30 days and the responses keep trickling in. It could be a great time saver.
I still use social networks and Craigslist to post updates on my travel so that I can connect with individuals across the world. That said, use caution and common sense when using online tools to meet strangers. There is no shortage of unfortunate incidents resulting from meeting strangers met online. We are exposed to them everyday through media.
I am a big advocate of leveraging technology to network in today’s fast changing world. The internet is a great place to start locating your ideal network and facilitating the initial introduction. I am a very strong believer however in personal touch.
No matter how much you use the internet for social networking, nothing beats the human touch even today. Meeting someone even once and putting a face to the name goes a very long way. I can assure you that you will automatically build a stronger and more effective connection any time you have a phone conversation or an email exchange with that person.
Even if you are an introvert, getting out of your comfort zone to extend an invite to meet in person is very much worthwhile. In fact, I recommend you read the book “Never Eat Alone”. This is one of my favorite reads of all time, and really does a great job of driving a very important and often ignored lesson home.
Even if you are working in the office, always ask a colleague to go grab lunch together. Not only will you build and hone relationships, but you might end up learning a thing or two. Like I said, phone and email conversations are great, but nothing beats the human touch, especially when establishing a support network to rely on when in need.
Some of the best investments I have ever made include paying for networking lunches and dinners. No matter how rich someone is, everyone loves getting stuff for free. Inviting folks for meals pays off greatly, as does spending valuable time and gasoline driving distances to meet people to build and hone your support network. There is no doubt, it pays off really well. Today, I have others inviting me all the time and taking me out for meals on their dime because they are trying to do exactly the same thing.
Seeking out your network is one thing, keeping it is another. Maintaining relationships is definitely the more difficult task here. The best advice I can dish out on successfully maintaining your network is to consistently and genuinely give. Genuinely wanting to help someone is the best way to earn credibility and friendship in networking.
Not everyone is good at everything, so offer your skills and what you are good at. You will be surprised how many out there need what you have to offer. Always remember to give. Look for ways to help your support network. The good will come back to you, at least I can say so from my experience.
Watch out for the desperate however. There are people out there who just want to take take and take. When it comes time to give, they make any excuse they can think of to get out of having to help someone. While it is important to genuinely give and help others, it is equally as important to remain cognizant of maintaining a healthy balance.
A relationship has to be mutually beneficial to be worthwhile. This is not your dream gal or guy who you are going to love unconditionally, this is a business relationship. Sure, business relationships can develop into long lasting friendships too, but that’s for later. For now, focus on building a solid support network, continue to hone it and grow it, and watch how it impacts your business in a positive way.
Readers: How have you managed to build your support network? Is it effective? Do you have any tips for those wanting to do the same?
Read how you can leverage an online support network to expedite your success.