Monday, October 3, 2022

Heaton: How to Build a Professional Network

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Building a professional network is — well, hard work. If it was easy, Bill Gates and Hugh Freeze would be in everyone’s phone. There is an art to building a network, here are the five steps to building yours.
Step 1: The ten roles your network needs

  1. Mentor: a person who fills your knowledge gaps and allows you to ask the “stupid” questions.
  2. Coach: a person to help you through challenges with a great degree of honest assessment.
  3. Industry Insider: a member of industry (or group) that has limited (or restricted) access.
  4. Trendsetter: someone who starts trends, is an early adopter, or the catalyst for popular trends.
  5. Connector: a person who breaks down barriers by using their eclectic contacts.
  6. Idealist: someone who sets the priority of ideals and principles over career objectives.
  7. Realist: a person who is concerned primarily with the success or failure of objectives.
  8. Visionary: a person of imagination and original ideas.
  9. Partner: a friend who shares a common interest in, or participates in, achieving a common goal
  10. Aspirant: an ambitious person who strives for high career goals or recognition.

Step 2: Find the individuals to fill those ten roles LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are excellent tools for finding out who knows who and making connections. Pay special attention to Linkedin’s groups and Facebooks’s pages. Find your Alumni groups and websites. Look online for articles and use online news search features to stay updated on your target network individuals. It’s very important to use all of the media types for research. Use your connections from the list to target the unfilled roles in your network.
Like Linkedin, your connections may be broken down into three tiers:1106-connect_standard_600x400
Tier-One Contacts These are the people you know best – colleagues, alumni, people who you have befriended or done community service. Note: when you make contact, have a goal. Be brief: requesting that you would appreciate advice, assistance, recommendations or referrals. Don’t ask for a job. Don’t send a resume unless asked. If a resume is requested, make sure you include a cover letter that outlines your goals. Always send a “thank-you” note.
Tier-Two Contacts These are people you know casually. Fill in the knowledge gaps with research from Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter and web-searches. Your conversation will be more formal than with your tier-one contacts, but your objective is the same — to quickly communicate advice wanted in an informal setting. Always send a “thank-you” note.
Tier-Three Contacts Ask your tier one contacts if they can recommend someone to fill a specific role in your network. If not, use Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, other social media, and web-searches to find common interests and connections. Try reaching out one role at a time by all means: email, phone, social network and snail-mail. Find out what is important to your target person so that you may contribute to what is important to them. Set daily goals for contact, but know when to back off. Always send a “thank-you” note.
Step 3: Have a Networking Campaign Plan
As with most endeavors, you will be more successful if you have a plan, A campaign plan will also help you keep track of what you’ve promised, and what you’ve accomplished.
Some important tips:

  • The best network has both business and social connections from varied backgrounds.
  • Observe high standards of networking etiquette and manners.
  • Find the preferred contact method (phone, email, Facebook, etc) for each contact.
  • Always respect your contact’s privacy.
  • Get approval before you use a person’s name as a referral.
  • Make sure you call people at times that are convenient for them.
  • Ask your network contacts for their help or advice, not for a job.

shutterstock_94209826Managing your campaign with a network database
Don’t panic! The “database” can be a stack of index cards, but it’s vital to do this. Once you’ve developed your list of contacts and determined how to connect with each individual, set up a system to track all your calls, contacts and follow-up commitments. It can be PC-based, on paper, or a combination. Warning: you will get lost in the process and consequently lose contacts right off if you don’t have a network database. Remember that first impressions are key so that you don’t want to forget about commitments you have made.
Note: all social media have prime times. The best time to communicate with LinkedIn and Twitter is Tuesday through Thursday from noon to 2 p.m. Facebook’s prime time is the weekend, 6 to 8 a.m. and 2 to 5 p.m.
Networking is a challenge. The biggest part of it is psychological. Keep in mind that: “It can’t hurt to ask”. Most people enjoy being asked for help and are flattered to be asked for advice — if not, then it’s time to look for another person to fill that role. Easy enough!
Step 4: Making contact
Using your research, you will be able to offer your skills, expertise, and other contributions to your target connection. Share what you know and your resources. Offer insights, perspective, and feedback. Ask people in your existing network if they are aware of individuals with similar interests or who have what you are looking for, then ask if they would make an initial contact on your behalf.
Some Important Tips:
Give first, and keep giving. You should know by now what is important to your target connection, so begin reaching out to help them. This will prove that you are one of them. The people you want in your network will determinately find out how to help you too.
Be patient — it will take time to establish yourself. As you build your network of contacts make sure that you are generous with those who deserve your time. Observe high standards of networking etiquette and manners.
Pay it forward. Offer help to others and it will come back to you ten-fold. Always do your best work, even pro-Bono, because it’s your reputation. Show your contacts at every level that you are a talented and generous professional.
Project professionalism so that you will attract like-minded professionals. As you gain experience over time, you’ll quickly learn how to weed out the “takers” from the “givers.” The professionals will be the givers and the ones you want to keep as contacts.
Make it easy for people to find you. Spend the money for professional business cards. A true professional’s business card is simple and clean. No fancy icons or logos—just contact information.
Just as the people in your network have their preferred communication methods, they have preferred ways to save your contact information. Make sure you have all your contact information on all social media.
Avoid These Mistakes:
Asking for help before you need it, and not knowing what you need. Learn patience and focus on professionalism and giving. You never know where helping your contacts will lead.
Over contacting. It’s a fine line to know how much is too much. But, it helps if you make detailed notes on when / how the person prefers to be contacted by making note of the times that person got back to you. Everyone has their preferences, this is where your network database is important.
Step 5: Keep in contact
The real challenge is to take those casual relationships and build them into a network that is a strong fan base for you. Make it about others. Share other people’s stories. Promote other people’s projects. Volunteer for other people’s visions. Assist in other people’s ambition. Put other people first. Trust me – making your network about paying it forward will make it grow powerful.
Keep in mind that networking is about being genuine and authentic, building trust and relationships, and seeing how you can help others. Hold volunteer positions in organizations. Stay visible and give back to groups that have helped you. Be a powerful resource for others. When you are known as a strong resource, people remember to turn to you for suggestions, ideas, and help. This keeps you visible to a multiplier effect of people outside of your current network.
Remember that good manners, etiquette and “thank-you” go a long way. A powerful network isn’t about numbers — it’s about the relationships behind those numbers. Be a genuine, thoughtful person so that your ten networking roles are filled by your highly motivated fans.
Final Tips
It helps to have a firm handshake, good eye contact, be well-read, up on current events, curious, energetic, entrepreneurial, adept in social situations, have a positive attitude, and to know a couple of good jokes. There is one social skill that stands above the rest: the ability to empathize with whomever you’re speaking. The people you want in your network will determinately find out how to help you too. Remember the five Ups: Sign Up! Read Up! Show Up! Listen UP and Follow UP. It’s never to early to start.
Acknowledgments
Harold Burson’s wisdom on the importance of building a network was the inspiration for this article. Mr. Burson is an Ole Miss Alumni, the Founding Chairman of the Burson-Marsteller firm, and is regarded by his peers as “the most influential Public Relations figure of the 20th century.” For more of Mr. Burson’s insights, visit his blog.
Tim Heaton is a HottyToddy.com contributor and can be reached at tim.h.heaton@gmail.com.

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