“Your network is your net worth”. It’s not just a cliché line used by entrepreneurs, gurus, and jet-setting sales executives. It’s the real deal.
Networking is everything.
We are living in a world that is arguably the most connected it’s ever been. You have social media platforms for everything. You can make business connections, post political rants, or share the banana pancakes you ate for breakfast. But are you really harnessing all that power to its full potential?
In the new, golden age of networking, most people aren’t really making any real connections.
Building and maintaining your network will be a key component in creating your success. The bigger your goals are, the more high-quality connections you need in your network.
When it comes to making money, your connections matter.
As a lifelong introvert and career-long computer nerd, I can tell you that building your network isn’t going to be easy for everyone at first.
Luckily, with a little effort, it can be systematized.
Your Ability to Achieve Success and Build Wealth Can Be Measured in Your Network
“The richest people in the world look for and build networks, everyone else looks for work. Marinate on that for a minute.” -Robert Kiyosaki
I first began to see and harness the power of networking in college, where I studied animation. Sitting in the computer lab for 12 hours stints, it was easy to spot who the top students were. Their work stood out far above the rest.
I knew I needed to get into that circle.
I would always try and make conversation, help them with whatever they needed, bought them lunch and eventually, I became friends with a few of them. This lead to me becoming friends with many more and soon I was moving freely within that circle.
As the quality of my network changed, everything changed. The opportunities I had and the money I made were just a few of the benefits. It’s hard to actually attach a dollar value to a good network and that’s because the ROI (return on investment) is quite possibly infinite.
The job opportunities I’ve gotten from friends have been truly amazing.
I’ve had other contacts get me into real estate deals and several businesses, which we founded together. One of my friends got me into journaling, which was life-changing. Another got me into meditation and a healthier lifestyle.
The benefits from my network are endless.
Sometimes the networking benefit is not straightforward at all. I’ll go to coffee with a brand new contact I just met by way of another contact, who recommends a book to me, which I then read. That knowledge gives me an idea for an investment that leads to hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit. No joke.
The coffee was $10 (for two) and the book was bought used for $4. I probably would never have read that book on my own.
Upwardly Mobile, Inc. and Pepperdine University did a study on 600 high earning professionals and confirmed that, “networking is a key driver behind higher salaries and career advancement.”
The level of your success and your net worth has a very direct correlation with the quality of your network. It’s definitely not the only factor, but it’s a big one.
Dynamic Networks Have Been Building Wealth Since, Ever Since
“You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” -Zig Ziglar
In the 1100s, before Genghis Khan could conquer the step, he needed to build a vast network with other tribal leaders. Those close relationships enabled him to not only conquer but also rule, what became the largest contiguous empire in history.
Unlike many other leaders of the time, he shared the spoils of war, making himself, and those around him quite wealthy.
In the 1600s, long before modern “social media”, England had coffee houses. Popping up in Oxford around the 1650s, these coffee houses weren’t just for drinking the tasty dark import. People went there to read and talk about the latest news and gossip.
Some coffee houses actually specialized in certain topics like science or politics. Patrons were from all walks of life and social classes and they all mingled and conversed. This gave rise to new connections, businesses, business models and opportunities for profit.
In this way, these coffee houses were like the Facebook’s and LinkedIn’s of their day, and they were central to success in business.
In modern times, networking has given rise to some powerful partnerships:
- Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google)
- Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (Apple)
- Bill Gates and Paul Allen (Microsoft)
- Evan Williams and Biz Stone (Twitter, Medium)
- Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard (Hewlett Packard)
- Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield (Ben and Jerry’s)
- Gordon Moore and Bob Noyce (Intel)
- Jerry Yang and David Filo (Yahoo!)
- And many more.
Steve Jobs famously cold called Bill Hewlett when he was 12 and struck up a conversation, landing him a summer job at Hewlett Packard. That event helped solidify his focus on tech as a career and his eventual rise to billionaire status.
Elements of a High ROI Network
“Personal relationships are always the key to good business. You can buy networking; you can’t buy friendships.” -Lindsay Fox
The most important elements of a good network are:
- Quality of Individuals
- Quality of Connection
- Activity Levels
A large network of people in your contact list is like the law of large numbers. As your network grows in size, your connections can produce more opportunities. As you make new connections up and down the chain and nurture them, you keep unlocking more and more potential opportunities.
As the quality of the people you have in the network improves, the quality of those opportunities also improves. To some degree, you need to tailor your network to the type of opportunities you are looking for.
For example, if you have a startup and will need to scale soon, you might want to know more growth hackers/marketers. But obviously, you don’t want it weighted too much in one area. Diversity is a good thing.
A diverse network has many benefits. Being able to pick up a phone and call someone in your contact list for whatever it is you might need is huge.
Also, people outside of your primary industry may know even more connections outside of your industry that could help you.
Case in point, I’m currently working in the startup space and also in AR/VR development. But I also invest in real estate on the side.
My architect, whom I was contracting to draw up some plans for a new investment project, got very sick and couldn’t complete the work.
I contacted someone in my network that works in a completely different industry from mine. He was able to refer me to an excellent architect who completed the job on spec and under budget.
A network of diverse worldviews can also be huge for personal growth. It allows you to see things from new perspectives, giving you new, creative ideas and better ways of doing things.
Quality of Connection
You obviously want good, talented, well-connected people in your network, but you also need to have a good connection with them.
Just because you get a business card and add someone to your contact list doesn’t mean you’re “connected”- Far from it actually.
A real connection with someone is nurtured and developed over time. You need to put in the work. If not, you’ll end up with tons of useless contacts that won’t even remember your name when you call them.
You can have a lot of contacts in your network but if there is no activity they may as well be strangers. You want to be constantly reaching out to your network but ideally, you also want contacts that are actively reaching out to you.
Calls, emails, letters, meetups, events and more- keep your network alive and kicking. Activity gives your network what it needs to produce.
For Love of the Game
High-quality contacts, those with money and influence, know how the networking game is played. This is part of what makes it work so well.
There is a deep understanding of reciprocation, mutual needs, and mutual benefit. It’s how the wealthy became wealthy in the first place. They not only know how to play the game, they know it must be played, to become successful.
They also know that to receive the fruits of the network, you first must give.
How to Build a Dynamic Network
“One of the most powerful networking practices is to provide immediate value to a new connection. This means the moment you identify a way to help someone, take action.” -Lewis Howes
You want to build your network before you need something. If you go to someone wanting something right off the bat, not only is it bad form, they will be able to smell your desperation. You want to come to people with value first. More on that later.
To make network building easier, it pays to systematize it as much as possible.
- Who do you want in your network?
- What connections, talents, money or other value can they bring to the table?
- What are their strengths? Weaknesses?
- What are they working on right now?
- What might they need help with?
You need to know the right people for the right reasons. Don’t just plan to hand out business cards to everyone you meet.
Make a list of names for people you would like to meet and research your desired contacts. This prioritized list will be the high-value contacts you try to engage with.
Get to know them. By knowing more about them you not only have things to talk about but you also know how you can add value to their lives.
Always try to get a strategic introduction. Whenever I am trying to meet someone, especially people that roll in much higher circles than I do, I always try to get an introduction from someone they know. This makes it much easier to actually land the meeting.
If you’re an extrovert, networking comes a little more naturally. But if you’re an introvert like me, then it takes some practice. Parties and functions are natural training grounds. But, life presents endless opportunities to practice the craft.
In Toastmasters (the public speaking club) there is an exercise called “Table Topics”. It’s a fantastic way to practice speaking on the fly. You pull a pre-written topic out of a jar and you have to talk about it, even if you don’t actually know anything about it, for up to 5 minutes.
You can easily do this same exercise in public: Bank tellers, in the supermarket checkout line or even the DMV. Anyone you come into contact with where starting up a short conversation would not be out of the ordinary, is an opportunity.
Schedule Your Networking Activities
Whether you’re networking in person or online, schedule it to make sure it happens. You can schedule a certain day or days of the week to do the heavy lifting of social media, sending emails and making calls.
Another thing I do when I plan out my week is to schedule my days into “time blocks”. So for an hour or so a day, I’m taking care of my networking. I would be calling, emailing, and also networking on social media.
If you are going to be networking in person, it’s usually events that you go to, or that you put on. You would schedule those like any other calendar event. You would drum up these appointments with the activities you are doing throughout the week in your time blocks.
Scheduling makes sure that you are putting in the time and that it’s consistent and systematized. It also helps you avoid getting overwhelmed by the process.
If you know you are only going to be doing a bunch of networking activities on Wednesdays from 1pm — 2pm, it’s easy to prepare and bang it out.
I admit it. I committed the cardinal sin of networking. I would ask people to meet up for coffee or lunch and in my meeting request I would say “…and I’d love to pick your brain!”
In other words, I was saying “let’s meet up for coffee and the conversation is gonna be all about what I can get from you.”
Doesn’t sound like much fun for the guy on the other end and probably why my conversion rate was so low.
You always want to be adding value for the other person.
If someone is taking time out to meet you, that’s a big deal. Time is priceless, especially for busy, heavy hitters.
Because of this, in order to not only get more meetings but also just to be respectful, we want to be adding value, constantly.
Dr. Stephen Covey, in his book “7 Habits of Highly Successful People” wrote about relationships and the “Emotional Bank Account.” Basically, you are filling up this bank account with good deeds and building up good credit in the relationship. But if the bank account ever runs out, the relationship is on the rocks.
Networking utilizes the same principle.
When you try to connect with someone for the first time, your bank account is at $0. In fact it might be negative because they have no time and no reason to see you. They might be avoiding unnecessary meetings with strangers to conserve their precious time.
You need to put some money into that bank account. You do this by adding value.
Through your research, you should know quite a bit about your desired contact. You will already have some ideas about what they might want or need and you can propose that as something you are bringing to the table.
For example, your desired contact is an entrepreneur and you know they are looking for talent to fill the ranks of their startup. You may know some talent you can recommend and introduce to them.
You might know some investors for a real estate deal someone is putting together. You might have some key insight or skills yourself that you could lend.
Start adding value right away.
You can’t take any money out of the bank account until it has a sufficient balance. Give, give, give and keep giving without expecting anything in return. That’s the secret.
Following up is magic and when you don’t do it; it’s a deal killer. I try to follow up in some small way right after any meeting.
Send an email or a text thanking the person for the meeting and mention a key tidbit from the conversation. You can also ask a well thought out question or send a related link to an article they might enjoy.
The main thing is to make contact again to solidify yourself in their mind and to thank them for their time or contribution.
The Art of Maintaining an Active Network
“One of the challenges in networking is everybody thinks it’s making cold calls to strangers. Actually, it’s the people who already have strong trust relationships with you, who know you’re dedicated, smart, a team player, who can help you.” — Reid Hoffman
Maintaining a network is not easy, but it’s extremely important. It mostly comes down to activity.
ABP (“Always Be Pinging”)
The more active your network is the more productive it will be for you and everyone in it. You need to be reaching out to your network and contacting them. Keith Ferrazzi, in his book “Never Eat Alone”, calls these little touches, “Pings”.
You want to find out how your contacts prefer to be contacted. You can often do this just by communicating and over time you will start to see their preferred methods.
I am communicating with people through calls, text, Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, LinkedIn, Telegram, What’sApp and good old-fashioned snail mail. The list seems to grow each year, but it’s not because I like using all those methods, it’s because my contacts do.
Handwritten letters or even typed ones can actually be a highly effective way to make an impact because nobody does it anymore. People love receiving letters in the mail now because it’s so rare.
Just as I mentioned in the scheduling section above, I schedule my “Pings”. I also prioritize them based on the grouping the person is in.
Even though I have always grouped my contacts to some extent, Ferrazzi’s book gave me the idea to take it a step further.
Using Apps to Categorize and Filter
Using an app, I group my contacts into many different categories. Here are some:
- Priority: people that I want to connect with or people I am working with on something. These people will be contacted more often.
- Friends and business contacts: this group is contacted less but still often enough to maintain close relationships.
- Acquaintances: I typically contact these people once or twice a year. They are people I definitely want to keep in my network, but they are not close friends I see often and are not critical business contacts.
- Activities: I have people grouped into activities. For example, surfing. I will often send out a message to everyone I know that surfs when I am going surfing. It’s a way of connecting more people and also for me to network while I’m doing something I always enjoy anyway.
- Geography: I have friends all over the world and whenever I am in a different city, like Tokyo or Barcelona, I make sure to hit up my contacts there. I either do a simple call with them or a face-to-face meet up.
- Birthdays are something I always try to contact everyone for using different platforms.
You can get creative and really filter your contacts so you are being highly efficient with your networking systems.
If this sounds like a cold way to treat your relationships, rest assured, if you do it right, it’s not.
Life is short and you don’t have much time. The window for making money in your life is also rather small. A focus on networking priority helps you maximize the ROI on your time.
You want to prioritize your business and professional contacts. Make sure you’re spending time with people who will actually help you achieve your goals, financial or otherwise.
As for your friends, family, and other close contacts, because you are scheduling it, communication tends to happen more.
Relationships can actually benefit from this system. Many of my clients find they contact people they care about even more this way than they did before.
There are many apps designed to help you do this, called Contact Managers. They all work a little differently with their own strengths and weaknesses so you might have to try out a few.
The key is you want something that allows you to categorize and filter your contacts into the different buckets you want (geography, industry, friend/family/acquaintances etc.). Here are a few you can try:
- Ready Contacts+
- Full Contact
- Simpler Pro
- Contacts Optimizer Pro
Your network is the most important factor in you achieving all your biggest goals. When it comes to making money, your network really is your net worth.
Most of the biggest wins of my life happened because of my network. I didn’t start to achieve real success until I started reaching out to people and adding value to their lives.
Your network is not just a collection of people you know and socialize with occasionally. Whether it’s career, business or investment opportunities, a network is also more than just a contact list that you can use to “get what you need” when you need it. It’s far more than that. Your network is made up of real people.
Your network is a living, breathing organism. It can provide you with a lot, but only if you give of yourself and feed it value- constantly.
Build it, nurture it, and cherish the amazing people you meet on your journey to success.
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Originally published at medium.com