I am an entrepreneur. By nature, entrepreneurs are resourceful and relationship driven. We know that new ideas, resources, and opportunities seem to expand and contract in equal measure with the care and feeding of our network. The word entrepreneur may be singular, but entrepreneurial success is built with the help of many. That‘s why networking should be a crucial component of any professional’s daily routine. My networks are not limited to the professional side of my life. I am a mother of two, a wife and the oldest of ten siblings, which creates a large network of friends, family, and colleagues. All of these seemingly separate social circles overlap and intersect in so many ways that make my life richer. Though we have immediate information at our fingertips with 24-hour access to news, information and social media, there is no replacement for the network of relationships we build through experience and time. Nothing can replace personal connection and the sharing of ideas. Over the years, I have found seven tenets that hold true for networking:
1. Networks provide greater access to expertise. When I come across a problem or have a specific goal I need to accomplish, my first step is to figure out the best person to help – and this person isn’t always another executive. My network expands the footprint of my resources. The best person to ask for help doesn’t necessarily have the highest title, but the right expertise.
2. My network provides perspective. At the top of an organization, gatekeepers often keep contact with others too limited. Executives need an unfiltered view into the information buzzing throughout the company. Checking in with my network keeps me grounded in the realities of my organization and beyond.
3. Don’t network just to network. In this digital world, people often seek networks en masse – gathering followers, likes, connections and so on. Networking should have a purpose. When we network with specific goals and relationships in mind, we see greater ROI on the time we invest.
4. Reciprocate. As an avid networker, I am not suggesting that all help is a quid pro quo. But if we expect others to take the time to assist us – whether it is making an introduction, sharing a business lead or providing advice – it is important to extend the same courtesy. Over time, an active and healthy network is equal parts give and get.
5. Be patient. Networks are built on reputation and trust – and both take time. Introductions will bring us to the threshold of a new network relationship… reputation will walk you through the door…and trust will cement that relationship. Shared experience builds trust but this does not happen overnight.
6. Three degrees of separation. When I don’t know the right person to help, I may know someone who does. I often consult with others to help me find the right person to help me solve my problem. Likewise, people in my network reach out to consult with me. The Northridge business model is built on procuring the right expertise to solve the right problems – which means finding the right talent. My personal network and the networks built into our company can ultimately lead me to the ideal person I need.
7. Networking is personal. There is no one way to do it and everyone does it a little differently. Opportunities and needs ebb and flow, so focus on the situations that work best for you and your family. Make the time. Networking isn’t just lunches or multi-day conferences. I do most of my connecting through phone calls, email or over a quick cup of coffee. Do what works for you.
Regardless of the myriad advancements in communications technology that we will see in our lifetimes, there is no replacement for networking. The exchange of ideas, the sharing of advice, the opportunity to advance – and to give back – happens best through the interconnectedness of people and relationships. Have you fed your network today?