After that assignment, I started to be more intentional about my network. I realized that building my network was important to move forward with my career, start my own business, grow personally and professionally, and have new and interesting experiences. Not only has this network cultivation paid off, but it’s been fun!
When’s the last time you’ve mapped out your network? Here are some tips on how to do so:
- Using the Post-It® Method: Write out names of people you know on Post-It notes (1 name per note), then try to group the notes by categories. When you’re done, you can take a picture so you have it electronically. Consider writing stronger connections on one color Post-It note, and weaker ones on another.
- Using the Spreadsheet Method: I created a networking spreadsheet tool you can use for this exercise. Simply fill it in using your brain, LinkedIn connection list, and Facebook friends list. Save a version with the current date, and compare future versions to see how your network has evolved over time. You can even take the results of your “Post-It” method if you chose that one and enter it into the spreadsheet tool.
- Using the Drawing Method: Take out pieces of paper and label each piece with a Group Name (i.e. Undergrad Alumni, Grad School Alumni, Kids’ School, Current Employer, Previous Employer, Partner’s Employer, etc.). Then start writing the names of people you know on the appropriate sheet. Consider writing strong connections in one color marker and weaker connections in another.
- Using the Techie Method: If you’re a techie, there are some online tools I discovered (Netvizz Facebook App and Gephi) that you could try. Sadly, LinkedIn no longer supports InMaps, which made mapping your LinkedIn contacts very convenient. According to their FAQs, they are working on a new tool.
Next, analyze your map:
- Identify your strongest networks: Are they at work, your child’s school, your alumni network, or some other group?
- Determine why those networks are so strong: Is it because you invest significant amounts of time there, or because you reach out in “small touches” (i.e. a group Facebook post) every day. This exercise can help you determine what outreach works best for you
- Determine what networks you need to cultivate based on your personal and professional goals: This will vary based upon where you are in your life. If you have a goal to find a new job, for example, you may want to cultivate your alumni network more. If, however, you have an goal to seek out a promotion, then you might want to focus more on cultivating your network at your current employer.
- Create a pro-active network cultivation plan: My boss had a great way to frame this (which I’ve since shared with many others), which he learned from the Admired Leadership Institute. It’s called the “Drip List”. He made a point that too many times people wait until they need something to reach out to those in their network. He suggested that instead people should reach out occasionally to their network, engaging network contacts in a series of “drips”. These drips shouldn’t be superficial (i.e. just saying “hi”), but rather they should be value-add (i.e. Hi there—I thought of you when I read this article, <then insert a link to the article>. I know you have an interest in this subject.) By engaging your network contacts with a series of value-add “drips”, my boss noted, it’s much easier to “turn on the faucet” when you have an ask of someone.
Keep in mind this isn’t a task you should do once and then never do again. Analyzing your network and modifying your plan to cultivate it should be done on a regular basis, especially if you’re anticipating some type of transition in your life. Being intentional with your network maps sets you up to achieve your goals much faster. A strong, intentional network is a key component to success.