At the start of the year, I decided to try an experiment (see A geek "gets" networking: The strange magic of connecting with others): I was going to grow my personal network by three people per week for a year, a goal that seemed both audacious and possible, given a bit of stretching (which Alvin says is The Most Important Thing to Do).
In the last ten weeks I've connected with about 50 new people, which actually exceeds my goal of three per week (30 at this point). Even this early in the experiment, I've had a number of lessons and questions come up, which follow. However, the short story is 1) it's fun, 2) it's work, 3) it's personally challenging and rewarding, and 4) I don't know where it's going!
Growing and managing a personal network takes work. For example, I take notes at almost every meeting, which means I collect lots of notes that need processing (see Dealing with Meeting Notes - GTD to the Rescue!). It also means talking at night with folks from other time zones when I'm tired, managing appointments and cancellations, etc. I definitely enjoy it, but it was a bit of a wake-up call.
I've made a surprising number of connections via people reading my blog (see the upper-left portion of the network above), and my comments on others' blogs. Some recent examples: Bob Walsh, Joe McCarthy, Michelle Crane, Chris Brogan, Pascal Venier, Pamela Stewart, and a host of others. All very wonderful people.
Another surprise was an attitude change I had about what I considered a persistent problem: Years ago I transcribed a bunch of pop tunes and put them up on the net, way back before SPAM was a problem. This might excuse the fact that I included my "real" email address in them at the bottom where I asked for corrections. Well, I keep getting corrections (and SPAM) as a result. However, since I began thinking about networking, I've had a mental shift from from annoyance to opportunity. And this shift applies to everything in my life.
I'm using a combination of FreeMind and a plain text log file (see My Big-Arse Text File - a Poor Man's Wiki+Blog+PIM) to help manage the growing network. I've uploaded a shrunken version of the map here. Also, Skype is very helpful, esp. when talking with people overseas (I've called the UK, Australia, and Jordan, so far).
(As an aside, I've created a "like to know" section of the network, which I use to set goals. It's a kind of "visualize wild success" thing, which as already started panning out. (Currently, the list partially includes: Merlin Mann, David Allen, Steve Pavlina, Sally McGhee, Stephen Covey, Larry Burdick, and a bunch of local people including my University's Chancellor.)
Doing this made me ask early on "What's the point?" I'm still not clear, but I still feel networking is a crucial part of my process. However, there are times when I can't confidently explain my purpose to others. The issue sometimes arises because I'm doing this for multiple reasons: to meet people (anyone interesting, really), to practice networking and listening, to be open to new directions/opportunities (esp. my effort to become a productivity coach, to find information/work in productivity, and to learn about related/other fields.
Also, I'm focusing more on deciding who I should talk to - what's the use to them, and to me? I want to retain the "wild" quality of my initial vision, which means being open to meeting anyone. (My good friend David Marshall called it "following scents," which is, if unfair, at least graphic! BTW - check out my favorite painting of his: Tangerines and Kisses!) However, I'm now putting the most energy into meeting people in which there's a clearer mutual benefit.
I've found it invaluable to prepare before talking with people. As Ferrazzi says in Never Eat Alone, with Google there's no excuse to not read up on someone you're going to meet with. And these days, given the folks I want to talk to, they almost always have some information available on-line. Preparing gives me starting points for understanding and listening to them, and helps me think of ways to help them.
I've also found it useful to have a backup list of questions in case conversations stall. For example, in my case: life/career changes, networking, reading for education, and personal productivity. Questions like: "Have you ever initiated a major career change?" and "Do you have a book that changed your life?" are always fun to hear answered.
Lastly, to help ensure I don't forget something, I use the following post-networking checklist:
- Send a thank you email within 12-24 hours. mention specifics, genuine praise, etc.
- Send a thank-you to referrer (the person who made the referral or introduction). This is one place where good mapping comes in handy.
- Set a reminder in one month to check-in again with the person.
- Record the event in my FreeMind network and text file diary/journal (see above).
- And of course, follow-up on any commitments you made - offers to introduce or help the person are a gem.
Here are some other networking-related posts:
- From No Time to Network, Keith Ferrazzi says:
If you're stressed out because you can't fit in any time for networking, my advice is this: Don't.
That's right. Don't even try to squeeze it in. Instead, focus on meeting people more often during the things you already have to do. That way, you can relax and let networking time come to you.
- As Ian Ybarra says in The best way to prepare for your career:
The best way to knock the dust off your skills or tame your nerves...the best way to prepare for your career...is to start doing the work you want. Now.
- On having courage and being audacious (something I find necessary when reaching out), Jason Womack says his aunt's passed along this advice:
Until you ask, the answer's "No."
- In Networking surprises - Some recent unexpected (but successful) outcomes I talk about dealing with surprises when talking with folks.
- See my post The most important networking question for what you should always remember to ask.