There is no question that having a good network is a critical component to success in anything. Nothing great is accomplished alone. With this in mind, here are some ideas for how to grow your network. Investing in your network is something you should do constantly, because you can’t wait until you need something from someone to start focusing on those key relationships. Make these things a part of your everyday life. You will not only maintain the network you have, but grow it continually over time.
Meet new people by…
Join a professional organization.Find a group that you know is going to help you grow your network just by getting involved. Groups that are comprised of people closest to your goals are best. Getting to know and being around those who have already accomplished some of the things you seek will not only give you better insight and motivation for reaching your goals, but will also give you some key connections that might end up fast-tracking your progress. Try IMA, AICPA, your state’s CPA society, FENG, FEI to start – even some specialized groups like ACFE or your local CFA society.
Attend networking events. Whether events dedicated to networking or other professional events where networking easily takes place, find something to attend at least once a month. Preferably where a large diverse pool of participants is involved. Join Meetup.com and look at some of the local get-togethers in your area.
Adopt a true networker’s approach to life. Wherever you go you have real people around you that may lead you to the next great connection. Be friendly and open to others around you. You never know how a connection might end up being useful.
Get on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ if you aren’t already. Using these social networking sites is the bare minimum. I’ve also found huge benefits of using Reddit and StumbleUpon. These tools will really help you find others that share your interests and goals. Reach out to these people and offer any support you can. Don’t underestimate their willingness to connect or your ability to make connections online. Also, read up (post to come soon) on how each social networking site should be used to fulfill your goals based on its unique qualities and user base.
Identify the top ten people you would want to meet, given the chance, and make a written list. Think about those that you can learn the most from. Set out to meet them and connect with them in some way. If you don’t have this “wish list” defined yet, then take a look at your goals and determine who these people are. You will be surprised when this kind of intentional, targeted thinking will yield results. Share this list with others around you. People will naturally think of ways they might be able to connect you to a person on your list – or at minimum you will inspire them to be more intentional and goal oriented about their own development.
Cultivate relationships by…
Identify those in your inner circle. Some relationships transcend typical friendship. They are deep, long-lasting partnerships that you develop throughout life. Some of them last your whole life. These are very rare, but vitally important to reaching your goals as this group will be the biggest advocates and most active participants in any goal you share with them. Engage them regularly and don’t be afraid to share your goals. Solicit their criticism and take it to heart.
Schedule networking lunches. This works really well for developing new relationships or getting a little deeper with existing ones, especially professional relationships. As someone who works in Corporate America, going to lunch is something I do everyday, many times with the same exact people. Branching out and deliberately choosing different people to connect with over lunch is a great way of using that time. Lunch is also a non-threatening semi-casual way of connecting, so this is usually one of the first ways I try and connect with people (often people I’ve never met).
Help others reach their goals. Develop of list of action items based on what those in your network tell you that you can do to help them reach their goals. This will strengthen and deepen the relationship you have with them. They will naturally look for ways to reciprocate.
Find an accountability partner or mentor. Having someone that can give you advice and hold you accountable to achieving your full potential can not only play a huge role in helping you reach your goals, but also develops an important advocate for your network. Ask someone with experience who you respect if they would consider meeting with you periodically as a mentor. You might be surprised how rewarding mentors view this type of relationship as they get great satisfaction from pouring into younger folks. If you have access to an organization that offers formalized mentorships, take advantage of it – even if the relationship doesn’t last for life – it will still prove quite beneficial in the short term.
Connect via new mediums. I know that if I call someone I’m 20 times more likely to get a response than if I email them. Phone calls carry more weight because they take more effort and come across more focused and intentioned than an email. Sometimes texting can work well too. I’ve found that even for doing business with other professionals throughout the workday, text messages can be a good mode of communication, as they are less interruptive than a phone call where the communication is not crowded out with noise as in email. Don’t resort to the same old messaging you usually do. Try something different to reach out to people.
Maintain Connections by…
Write an annual letter. Maybe you send a Holiday Letter, or just a general update on your life once a year. This can be a great way of connecting with huge amounts of people and letting them know what’s going on in your life. Maybe when they hear the interesting projects your starting to get involved in they will get a renewed interest to take action and connect with you. Someone I know sends me a collage of pictures once a year that shows me everything going on in his family (even better because it takes 30 seconds to read).
Remember birthdays and holidays. These are good excuses to remind them that you are a part of their life. Think about those closer to you and things you can do to make sure you connect in some way with them around these important dates. I send my favorite book of the year to a select few people as a gift along with some type of note of encouragement. Not only do they receive a book that will help develop them, but they also get some kind words to put a smile on their face.
Share resources, books, articles, stories, connections, etc that you think help others you know reach their goals. This is likely to be short, simple communications to those around you just to touch base with them and lead them to things they might enjoy looking into. While helping them, this also helps you manage your brand by staying up-to-date on certain topics and areas of interest. Consider making a short list of contacts you think might appreciate receiving this type of information from you.
Always send thank you notes. Whenever someone does something for you, meets you for lunch, or sends you a helpful resource be sure to thank them. This is so easy, yet I think the only time it’s actually put into practice is when people receive wedding gifts or get a job interview. Saying “Thank You” is a great way to express your gratitude while also demonstrating your ability to follow through.
Do what you say you will do. Keep your word. I say this a lot, and it’s common sense, but yet it’s so rare to find someone who truly focuses on keeping their word and following through. People who keep their word build trust with those around them. Trust is ultimately the most important ingredient to any relationship. Remember that every action you take will either build or erode that trust, so how your actions matter.
Now take action…
Chances are you already employ many of these things in your everyday life regardless of if you consciously practice them as part of a networking strategy. Ask yourself, what do I know I should do more of? Chances are you know the answer, but have yet to consciously decide to make a change. What do I have a tendency to let slip by? Write these down along with three people you can impact this week by following through on these items.