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Cultivating Your Network for Future Harvests

In my last article, “Strings of the Universe… How are You Connected,” I discussed the book The Elegant Universe, by Brian Green, and how the fabric of the universe, “String Theory,” and the “Theory of Everything (TOE)” can be applied to the social dynamics of the human endeavor and how we are all connected like some omnipotent game of the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” on steroids (I am three and now you are at least four).

I spoke of the need and importance for each of us to develop and tend to our own personal “fabric” to ensure its strength and to optimize its value. You see, I believe that a person’s most important asset is the people they have met, their own personal network or “fabric.”

Everyone has a network. Starting with family and friends, and moving on to co-workers and the value-chain of your company (clients, vendors, prospects), social acquaintances… both past and present. EVERYONE has a network. And the power contained in that network is enormous. (For those of you who would like to learn more about creating a network, or better understand the dynamics of a network, I would recommend that you read the book, Little Black Book of Connections, by Jeffrey Gitomer.

The most important thing to remember in establishing and maintaining your network is that it is about driving value to them! It is NOT about what is in it for you. Your rewards will come in due time. If you approach your network as if it’s all about you, then you are DOOMED.

If I think of the people who work with me presently and who I have hired in the past, there are none who were not referred to me either by my initiating the connection or someone in my network initiating the introduction.

Think about that statement… There has been almost NOBODY who has worked for me over the past 20-plus years of my being in business that was not already in my network. Even if I did not know them at the time, there was someone who acted as a “connector.” And it makes sense. The people in your network are in your network because there is an attraction… an affinity. And those people probably socialize and know like-minded individuals. The people who you know but with whom you have nothing in common, though still in your network, are marginalized. So it stands to reason that if I have a need to employ someone, I will first reach out to my network, or conversely, if someone in my network knows of a person who may be of value to my company, they will be referred to me.

However, it’s not enough to make connections and meet people. For the value of your network to be realized, you must MAINTAIN the network.

But maintaining your network requires work. So we tend to pay attention to those in our network who are IMMEDIATELY driving value to us, or who have reached out to us to satisfy some need of theirs. The others (through no fault other than the limitation of time and resources that each of us has) become more and more distanced. If you think of the investment you originally made in creating the relationship in the first place (time, effort, maybe hard dollars if it was at a trade show), and you realize how much of that investment has been squandered by not maintaining the relationship, you can become quite distressed.

For instance, I preformed a little exercise several months ago. XONITEK either participates in or hosts several events per year. We meet a great many people at these events. However, when I went back and analyzed the people who we met, I discovered that we were really only maintaining a relationship with those who were already established in our network, OR who were “hot” to engage. There was almost NO maintenance of those who were interested enough to meet us, but not ready to engage. In fact, there were several who were interested enough in meeting us SEVERAL times, but not actively maintained because they did not have an immediate need.

This is a bad thing… a waste of potential… a lost opportunity to make an indelible and positive mark… a squandering of investment and resources. With these people who we neglected, and after only three months, we have to start from scratch.

But how do we find the time? As an example, I have almost 1,000 PERSONAL contacts with whom I wish to keep in touch. They are not people on a purchased list. These are people that I have met over the years and with whom I have had conversation. It’s impossible to call them all every couple of months, and a card during the Holidays is far too infrequent to maintain familiarity with those who are not “active” in your circle.

What’s worse is calling an acquaintance and leaving a boring voicemail. “Hi, it’s Joe from XONITEK. We met a couple of months ago and I just wanted to keep in touch. Give me a call,” will NOT result in your being called and will NOT result in your even being remembered. Why should they? What’s the value in their calling you? Remember, they are busy too. And you feel you have accomplished something by leaving them a message. Well, you have not.

In my last article, I mentioned how I would suggest applying some of the principles contained in The World is Flat, by Thomas Friedman, to change your fabric from being papier mache into Tyvek.

Friedman’s basic premise is that over the span of time, leveraging the technology available facilitates the human endeavor. For instance, wooden ships gave way to steamers, which gave way to propeller aircraft, which gave way to jet aircraft to get us across the Atlantic. And the Pony Express gave way to railroads, which has ultimately given way to fax and email to get our message out. Through the advances in technology, and the leveraging of that technology to the human endeavor, we incrementally eliminate the “middle men” who add no value other than to be a courier.

So, how does one leverage the technology of today towards changing the fabric of your network from being papier mache into Tyvek?

There are “social networks” available on the internet where you can attempt to maintain your network. And there are pros and cons to each of them. But the most serious limit is that there are several of them (see short list below, with my opinion of each) and you really would have to maintain your presence in each, individually, for the entirety of your network to be maintained.

  • LinkedIn.com
    Whilst perhaps not the most popular social website, of the four, Linked-In seems to be the most oriented towards the professional as well as the easiest to use.
  •  FaceBook.com
    Second most popular amongst professionals, Facebook seems to be a hybrid of Linked-In and MySpace with a stronger social component than Linked-In.
  • Plaxo.com
    Third most popular amongst professionals and one of the original “network” sites, Plaxo has become too complex for the person who just wants to get “nose-down” in managing their network.
  •  MySpace.com
    This sight is geared much more towards the social network as opposed to the professional network.

With the sole exception of MySpace, with which I cannot formulate a unique value proposition for me, I have an account on each of the others. However, I don’t use any of these sites to communicate with my network, but rather to establish (or re-establish) connectors, or to be notified of changes to the contact information for my connections. Remember, in a “Flat World,” you want to eliminate the middle-men for your message. Get it out, directly from you to them.

What I do use is my own contact management (CRM) system. It does not really matter as much which CRM you use, so long as you use one. But, by maintaining and using my own CRM, I eliminate the “middle-man” of these other sights and have one place… and one system… from which to facilitate the maintaining of my network and generate communiques.

Other than our monthly eNewsletter, which goes out to every connection of the entirety of XONITEK, regardless of whose connection it may be or its source, I also send out what I call an ePostcard on a monthly basis.

This ePostcard is the single most important activity I perform to maintain the integrity of my contact base and to communicate with my network. It is NEVER long or “salesy.” I usually start with some quip of news or anecdote that I think has some relevance to the majority of my network (remember, there is already an affinity of similar-minded people) and them usually followed by a list of upcoming events which I will be attending (which is usually where I have met my connections in the first place).

Lastly, it ALWAYS has a picture of me at the end. Many of my connections I may see infrequently (even met only once) and a picture of your face will reconnect you to those you have met. And I am not speaking of a picture where you are far off in the distance. It must be up close and personal. And, for those of you who are camera shy, it is important that you get over it.

You have value… both direct value (what you personally have to offer) and indirect value (what the people you know have to offer). The people around you need you… they just need to know it’s YOU they need. And they will only know that of you if you are consistent so that they remember you, and empathetic so they believe you care about them (because you really do, not because it’s part of your shtick) and trust you.

 

Paris is the Founder and Chairman of the XONITEK Group of Companies; an international management consultancy firm specializing in all disciplines related to Operational Excellence, the continuous and deliberate improvement of company performance AND the circumstances of those who work there – to pursue “Operational Excellence by Design” and not by coincidence. 

He is also the Founder of the Operational Excellence Society, with hundreds of members and several Chapters located around the world, as well as the Owner of the Operational Excellence Group on Linked-In, with over 25,000 members. 

For more information on Paris, please check his Linked-In Profile at: http://de.linkedin.com/in/josephparis

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