Like it or not, networking is a necessary evil. As such, most people approach it one way – they hammer away collecting as many numbers and contacts as possible. Surely, if you have a treasure trove of contacts to choose from you’ll find one or two worth their weight in gold, right? Brute force is especially effective when it comes to an activity you don’t particularly enjoy or appreciate.
There is one big problem with an approach such as the one mentioned above. Networking is about quality, not quantity. There are only a select few professions where you would need a thick contact book, at least one filled with mostly useless filler. In fact, according to Andrew Sobel in his new book “Power Relationships” you will rarely find a need for most contacts you meet through networking means. Knowing such a large group of people by name alone is superficial and will come with little benefit.
“Maybe if you’re promoting a nightclub,” says Sobel.
The way to do it is to find some very valuable contacts that can actually contribute to your cause, and you must keep the relationship personal. Of course, there are some other strategies you can adopt to keep your networking efforts efficient.
Structure your contacts into tiers of sorts – or layers if you prefer – with the most important on top. Starting at the upper most tier, you need to figure out who your most important contacts are. More importantly, what do you need from them and how can they help you? If you can’t think of any ways they can offer aid, then they don’t belong on top.
Consider these people to be the most influential, a top 20 so to speak. Once you’ve properly identified them, it is important to keep a personal relationship with them. Stay in touch, or more specifically, talk to them several times a year at the least. Don’t push them to the backburner until you need them, because by then you may have already lost their attention. Keep up appearances and make absolutely sure they stay part of your home team.
Keep Valuable Acquaintances on the Hook
Of course, right alongside your top tier, you have other valuable acquaintances that may have something to offer. These are the contacts that have helped you in the past or hold some potential for the future. Most of the time you don’t know them personally, but you don’t have to.
You should remain in contact with them less than your top tier. Check in occasionally throughout the year, and perhaps send them monthly reports and newsletters if you deem it necessary. Don’t cut them out entirely, you want to keep them on the hook for the times they can be of use.
It’s a Two-Way Street
All this talk about using your personal contacts to your advantage paints one picture. The real truth is that if you want to keep your most valuable peers around, you also need to help them in return. Networking isn’t just about receiving, it’s also about giving. What can you do for your contacts when they are in need? That is why you want to keep it confined to a select group of people. If your group of contacts is too big, you’ll never be able to focus on who’s truly important, and that means losing a valuable piece of the puzzle.
This rule also holds true for adopting new contacts. Find ways to help them, not just in their professional lives but their personal lives just as well.
"You can't operate with the thought of reciprocity in mind. If you go around with that mercenary attitude it will show, and people will think you're a self-interested schmuck." Sobel says, instead, “you have to have a generous spirit. The greatest networkers I know genuinely like to help others. They're always doing it. And if they ever do need anything, people will fall over themselves to help them."
Follow Motivated People
Sobel says that current roles matter little in the long term. "Everyone reading this knows people who are smart, ambitious, motivated, and interesting, some of those people, in eight or 10 years, are going to be influencers. They may even be CEOs."
That right there is the crucial tip that you should take from this piece, if it’s the only one. Don’t just look at the contacts you have today, look toward the future. That’s not to mean you should spend your time wondering “what if,” but instead learn to pick out the winners. You can tell by personality, drive and garnered success. Which of your contacts are really going to be something someday? If you’re looking at a new contact, how much potential do they truly have?