Your network matters. The ability to grow and expand an influential network is valuable in every business and industry. As a former Special Agent with the FBI, every investigation relied on my ability to create relationships and creatively network up through organizations for information. In building these relationships, I captured a common theme among top performing industry leaders, from executives and entrepreneurs to transnational organized crime bosses — they all understood how to build and maintain powerful and engaged networks in an evolving marketplace.

Your NETWORK makes your NET-WORTH, WORK. 

Today’s marketplace is noisy, and even the most talented people and businesses get lost in obscurity. You must get attention to be known. You must be memorable to stay known. Building a powerful network requires work, creativity, and patience. It means putting in the effort most people will not, to develop lasting relationships with new people, in new ways. No product or company will do this for you – it is up to you. A strong network will enhance your visibility, extend your reach, and create opportunities for you and your business in the short and long-term.

In the new era of networking, we face rapidly evolving technology and diminishing attention spans. You must stand out, and stay top of mind, in the right minds.

Boy in flight gear.

1. The Game

Networking is traditionally defined as:

the act of making contact and exchanging information with other people, groups and institutions to develop mutually beneficial relationships.

Networking today, more than ever, is driven by value-add relationships. This requires a new mindset and approach. To earn time and attention in our easy-to-access information society, we MUST be willing to provide people with VALUE, without asking for anything in return.

You need to give with zero expectation of return.
– Gary Vaynerchuk

Networking is about the long-game. Building a deep and impactful network will not happen from one or two interactions. It comes from a series of genuine value-add communications, over time, to develop trust and credibility in your space. Too many people still rely on a single meeting, business card exchange or LinkedIn connection. Your attention must be on creating and maintaining valuable relationships in lasting ways.

Attitude will determine your network’s altitude. People feed off the attitude of others around them. Think about how attitude affects your life. Do you raise your level of performance and focus when surrounded with competitive, high caliber performers? Positive attitudes attract positive and influential people. Impact players refuse to accept negativity. A positive attitude is essential when engaging in the networking and relationship building process.

Success is awarded to those willing to do the uncomfortable. 
– Darren Hardy

Get uncomfortable and stay uncomfortable. Building a powerful network of influencers requires meeting new people and reaching up. Put yourself in positions to meet positive, successful influencers obsessed with operating at high levels of productivity. Your efforts will gain traction. You will become more productive, better skilled, and more willing to continue pushing the boundaries of your networking comfort zone. 

2. The Preparation

If you intend to level up your network of connected influencers, you need to be prepared. Current technology allows us the ability to find, research, and connect with (only if we know how to execute), anyone, anywhere. 

First, determine who you need to know, and why. Identify the industries, organizations, groups, and specific people you need know, and that need to know you. Begin with reasonable to unreasonable. Who would change your life by connecting with them? Before you try to figure out how to connect with them, just focus on who and why. This will create clarity and focus with your goals and outreach plan.

Next, identify spheres of influence around the people you seek to know. One key contact in an industry or organization is not enough.

The era of employment-for-life is over.

Professionals commonly move across organizations, industries, and the world. With a strong network in place, movement is opportunity. A sphere of influential relationships will keep you known within the industries and organizations that you are networked, and expand your presence across new ones when movement occurs.

Leverage social media in your research and preparation — LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Pinterest, Periscope, etc. Nearly everyone on the planet actively engages on more than one platform daily. Each platform is unique and continues to evolve. You must keep track and understand how these tools work and who the audience is. Navigate profiles to find commonalities and understand what is important and valuable to your person of interest.

Who do you know in common? 

Who do they follow and engage with? 

What things are important to them? 

Your ability to tap into this will help you identify how you can provide them with value.

It is important to also engage across social platforms. Simply put, you cannot be the MVP if you stay on the bench. Engagement opportunities are endless. Search through shared articles from mutual friends on LinkedIn, or articles and related posts that directly relate to the people you want to be networking with — and drop in on the discussions. Comment with brief and thoughtful points from your professional perspective. Tag people you seek to network with in posts containing relevant and helpful content to them or their business. Add a simple comment to the tag, such as congratulations, or thank you (based on the content referenced). This is bold and one of my favorites. When done well, this is an effective method of creating awareness of you, while providing value to them.

People talking.

3. The Connection

Building a powerful network requires smart communication. When you meet someone new, be able to explain what you do in a 20-second (or less) and hook them with your explanation. Frame your statement to explain the value you provide others and transition back to them with a question. For example, “My team supports global partners from early stage to Fortune 100 companies with competitive intelligence. What practices do you find most effective for you in your business or industry?”

The quickest way for people to like you is for you to show genuine interest in them.
– Dale Carnegie

During your discussion, listen carefully for ways you might provide them with value during the discussion or in your follow-up contacts. When able, use a third person or mutual connection to make the introduction to enhance your credibility as a trusted resource to the person of interest.

If online, explain why you (or your mutual connection) thought it was a good idea to connect, and find a way to leave them with value, based on what you know from your research. The fundamental mistake that people make on social media is leaping into a cold ask without any context or contribution of value. This could be the cold connection request or direct message to help you with something you need.

4. The Follow-Up

The most effective networks, are built from good follow-up. The problem is most folks fail to follow up after an initial meeting or connection with someone. We make false assumptions, lack an organized system, or do not want to be perceived as pushy or desperate. The reality is, most people fail to follow up simply because they do not know how.

The intention of follow up is to progress the relationship. 70% of good follow-up is simply good entertainment (60% of statistics are made up). Distractions are everywhere and you must be memorable. Traditional follow-up by email or phone to "check in” is lazy and lacks creativity. If you were not forgotten shortly after the first time you connected and exchanged information, this boring approach will do it.

  • Thank You Notes

Time is our most valuable asset, and taking time to acknowledge and thank someone with a handwritten note creates more impact and value today than ever before. This leaves a tangible object of gratitude that can be felt and visually appreciated by the recipient. Thank-you notes resonate with people and make them feel good. The ease and efficiency of digital communication means few people actually do this. Include a brief personal note with reference to something specific from your conversation or meeting, and send it by mail within 24-48 hours.

  • 20 Second Video Text Messages

If you have the person’s mobile number, text them a short (e.g. 20-25 seconds) video to remind them who you are, ensure they have your contact information, and quickly assess their level of interest based on response behavior.

Hi Mike — great to connect with you yesterday at the event. One thing I know we both have in common, is that we meet a lot of people, so, this is a short video note to put a face to the name and make sure you have my personal cell…

If you do not have their mobile, you can often find it from an email signature, social media profile, or mutual contact. Or, just ask for it. Find a reason why it makes sense for you to have their mobile, and make the request.

Hi Susan — I will be in your area next month. I will have just enough time to drop off your favorite coffee — what number should I text when out there?

Emails get lost, deleted, ignored, forgotten, and sent to spam. Text messages get seen. When was the last time you didn’t read or open a text message that you've received?

  • Social Platform Touch Points

Integrate text messages, social media tags, and direct messages (DMs) in your follow-up. Facebook and LinkedIn will often share birthdays and updates for your contacts. Use this information to send people in your network a short happy birthday message, or note of congratulations, on one or more platforms. Pay attention for opportunities to connect people with eachother in your network and faciliate the introductions.

Stay consistent with follow-up, and don't be afraid to break it up. If you are thinking about someone, let them know. If you can provide them value, definitely let them know. The point is, maintain your follow-up, provide value, and keep it fun.

As you engage in the process of establishing, building and maintaining your network, keep in mind … 

your NETWORK is truly a reflection of your NET-WORK.