The most important aspect to gaining advantage from your network, is to never miss an opportunity to use it. To do this you must manage your network, just as you would any other project in your professional life. It will not just “be there” for you when you need it. To do this you need the right tools, an over-all plan, and personal commitment. For me, until a few years ago, the right tool was an ever- growing table top of business-card rolodexes. Business cards broken down by category, frequency of use, and cross-indexed by alphabet. Each with notes jotted on the back of the cards, or in a corresponding index file. It was cumbersome, labor intensive, and all I knew. That’s how it was done in the dark ages. It ultimately consisted of seven rolodex files and a small fortune investment in plastic card sleeves. But for the front 12 years of my career it served me well. I began, and to some extent still am in the process, of converting all this data to Microsoft Outlook. It was a product I was comfortable using and had some exposure to through work. It gave me the flexibility I needed. Other products exist of equal value. It is what you are comfortable with that make the tool good. I am not endorsing one over the other. But the key elements of an effective automated personal network support tool are:
- Ease of use on the Internet.
- Compatible with a sophisticated Word Processing software package.
- Ability to use with you phone.
- Compatible with a fax machine.
- Allows you to structure your “recall” system to your needs.
If a networking tool is to be useful, you need to be able to recall information as you use it. Be able to e-mail, fax, phone, or mail as the circumstances require. You must be able to update information quickly. If you travel, you may always want to be able to bring all, or part, of your network with you. So the need to download to a compatible lap top or palm pilot is also a consideration. The fifth item on the above list refers to a “recall” system. The essence of a personal network is volumes of information, stored across the country in the networks and minds of your “co-networkers.” But to take advantage of that data, you need to be able to remember who is who; who knows what; where they are, and what they need to know from you. If your phone were to ring, right now and a client in Chicago has a sudden need to hire a new technology product sales representative in Los Angeles immediately, you can tell him, “No sweat, I have contacts all over the country. I’ve got favors owed to me from Maine to Hong Kong.” That’s great, the client comments, “But who do you know in technical sales in Los Angeles?” The world’s greatest network provides little advantage if it does not allow you to capture the data you want, the way, or ways, you may need to recall it. Let us pretend that two months ago you were speaking to one of your information pals on your personal network. He or she called to thank you for the leads you gave them for sales representatives in the Southwest. They are based in Los Angles and are just moving in that direction to market their line of digital, based-home security systems. But, did you have the discipline to log the call on their “file”? If your network is small, and the number of calls you make and receive are few, then remembering this person should not be difficult. Making a living may be difficult, but not remembering this call. But, there is always hope that in your online network file you logged this person as a:
- Staffing Person
- West Coast
- Sales and Marketing
- Level 1
Because as soon as you hung up with your client, you plugged in a search and seven names pop-up. Your search was for a staffing contact on the West Coast with connections in technical sales. You check your log for the contact you gave a name to a few months ago, dial the phone, call in a debt, get some leads, make a fee. As important, you added this client to your network, they have to be impressed with your “connections.” You have re-reinforced your relationship with a “co-networker.” Plus, you have given yourself another good reason not to listen to your lazy side the next time you decide not to invest your time in networking or logging bits and pieces of information. So make sure your network tool allows you to develop a recall system that matches your work. The key elements to effectively recall date includes the following elements:
- What the “co-networker” does and what they can do for you.
- Where they are located.
- Industry Specialty – Engineering, Software, Banking/Finance.
- Level of Relationship.
Make sure you create a hard copy of your criteria and be consistent in it’s use. Recall is only effective if uniform. Under the first level: “what my co-networkers do,” I have the following sub-categories:
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- Staffing Professional.
- Third Party Staffing Professional (Contractor or Consultant).
- Agency Contact.
- Employment web-site Contacts.
- Job Fair and Career Event Contacts .
- Advertising Agency and Media Contacts.
- Educators and Area Leaders.
- Contacts by Professional Specialty .
- MISC. (Of course, what is a list without Misc.).
There are other categories, but space is limited – you get the idea. What would you do if a “co-networker” asked you if you knew anybody in the trade show business. Well, you do not know anybody. But, if in your network you have Media contacts (Who does the advertising for trade shows) and you have friends in the Job Fair business, sharing the name of one key person in each area should help your “co-networker.” So you need not cross reference areas of specialty down to two pages of codes. Under location, item #2 on my search list, I use the largest city within that market (Boston, New York, Los Angles, etc.). Or, if a market is spread out over a large area and not easily identified by one city, then I use an area identifier. A friend of mine working Manchester New Hampshire may be under “Manchester” or “New England.” The determination is based on how large my network is in the region. If I am in New England, then I must have a lot of names to log, so in the New England area I will go by state. If I am in New Mexico, with little Northeast business and few contacts, then New England will suffice. The location of a contact has been made less important with the information age. The Internet has made us all capable of having contacts in any community we choose. An agency in Los Angeles recently sent me more qualified local candidates for an opening in Boston, than the Boston based agencies. But there are still times where recalling where your “co-networkers” are located may come in handy. You have a several “co-networkers” in the San Francisco area and you have never been able to meet any of them. Next time you are traveling to San Francisco, do a geographic search to see if any of your network buddies deserve a meal at Fisherman’s Wharf. The piece of information you have to share would only be useful to someone actually in the area the information refers to. There are still reasons, even in the Cyber-Age, for geography to matter. Logging a person’s specialty helps prevent wasted calls on your network to “apples” when you are looking for “oranges.” Remember, that you are logging a person’s specialty for what they can access for you, not for what it is they do themselves. A senior account who loves to give you the names of the sales representatives who call on him is not logged as a CPA only. This is a Sales/Marketing contact. Use multiples in this category. As your “co-networker” proves their layers of knowledge have expanded, expand their rating. Level of relationship refers to the depth of contact, Closeness, and how frequently you should call them. In my network the levels work out like this:
- Level One: long-term business and personal friendship. Well-connected and respected. Always has good data (industry gossip). Call bi-weekly, unless he or she calls during that period.
- Level Two: short-term business friendship. Appears well connected, has exchanged or received some information. But, no actual results as of yet. Contact monthly.
- Level Three: a name that is worth calling as needed. Does have useful information, but not really a “networker.” Does not work at assisting yet. Call as needed.
- Level Four: a new name. Recently harvested from networking. No actual purpose for call. Waiting on a valid reason to make first call. Start sharing and see if can be grow to a higher level. Contact within six months.
Again, you may find the need for other levels, with different definitions. But to grow your network you must be aware of it’s population, the level of contact within that population, and the rate of that population’s growth. You may have 300 contacts. But, if only 12 are really Level 1 and rest are Level 4, then all you really have is a pile of names. Work them! But the levels allow you to take an hour a day and check up on your most important contacts to insure you call them all routinely. Invest an hour a week on your mid-levels and a couple of hours a month searching and refining new contacts to keep your network growing. After each call, you should have some comment to add to this persons network history. Either professional (Active Member of MIT Alumni Association – good contact names), or personal (Married in May – Say, don’t you have an anniversary coming up soon?). Always check a contact log before calling anybody on your network. Nothing worse than calling a Level 1 contact for information, only to discover that he or she has been waiting for your call back for three weeks regarding a name they asked you to dig up. Maybe you are back down to Level 3 in their log. So now you have pick a software tool, have labored long and hard adding all these names, contact information, personal and professional information. You are calling on a routine basis and you are starting to feel connected. Well, now that you are a Networker, how would you like to become an Information Broker?