… but what’s the difference between a ‘good’ network and a ‘bad’ network.
It’s probably more accurate to look at the difference between a ‘strong’ network and a ‘weak’ network.
How Your Network Becomes Weak
Simply put: Networks become ‘weak’ when they are not looked after.
When you fail to nurture your network, it will suffer. Your network is a bit like a living organism, it needs to be regularly fed and watered.
You need to take care of the parts of your network that you haven’t tended to in a while or they will stagnate. They will weaken, and eventually they will drop off altogether.
What does this mean in practical terms?
Ties generally weaken or strengthen depending upon how often you are in touch – that’s just the natural way of things. This also depends of course upon the people involved and the type of relationship, but in general the less you communicate, the further you will drift apart.
People also move and change, their situations change, their employment changes, their health, wealth and family situations change. They move address and their contact details change.
If you have a friend or contact and you only have one number for them and no mutual friends that you’re in touch with, be prepared to lose that contact completely if you don’t make a point of getting more details or at least keeping in touch regularly so that if they do change their number, they’ll think of you and let you know.
Looking After Your Network
Now, obviously we don’t want anything like that.
We want your network to be strong.
First of all, don’t beat yourself up if you do lose a few connections here and there, it can happen and sometimes is even for the best (explained below). What you don’t want to happen is that you lose contacts you didn’t want to lose – and that is why we need to look after our networks.
In addition to stopping bits from falling off, we also want our network to have the right ‘shape’ and contacts, that we want our network to be thriving and active and we want our network to be easy to access.
3 Ways To Look After Our Network (and Make It Strong)
There are 3 ways that we need to look after our network. To make it easy to remember these, we’ll use words that begin with R for each, so we have The 3 R’s of Looking After Our Network:
1. Respecting our Network
First and foremost we need to RESPECT our network. We need to treat our network well and not abuse it in any way. This means treating everyone in our network with respect.
People who have great networks are generally more ‘givers’ than ‘takers’, they aim to help people first and always consider the other person.
One way of respecting your network for example would be to respect people’s privacy and email in-boxes, but also to respect their time and preferences. Here are some specific areas to consider:
- Sharing Contacts: seek permission before sharing someone’s contact details unless you are 100% sure that they would be happy for you to do so
- Avoiding Costly Mistakes: avoid accidentally giving away contact details with things like ‘Reply All’ or mass emails (this is very easy to do these days with some of our modern technological conveniences via email & social media – just be careful which buttons you’re pressing and before hitting ‘Send’!!)
- Handling Introductions: deal with introductions correctly finding the right balance between adding value and showing respect for your contacts – we will explore this topic in more detail in the next article (and I’ll come back and put a link to that here)
- Following Up: make sure you follow-up with people but do so in the right way – again, being respectful of people’s time. Try using the 2-phase email technique which is covered in this article: The Art Of The Follow-Up: The 2-Phrase Email
2. Revisiting our Network
So what we started with and the obvious way to look after your network, is to keep in touch with people.
The best way to do this, especially as your network gets bigger is to have your network stored or documented somewhere. In reality your network is almost certainly in more than one place – it’s probably a collection of your email contacts, your phonebook contacts, your friends and relatives, your work colleagues and your social media contacts – and perhaps a few more – probably with lots of overlaps between these places.
It wouldn’t hurt to have them all in one place or at least decide on a ‘main location’ where you keep details for all your network contacts – this could be an existing platform or something you put together yourself.
Revisiting your network then means looking at this list regularly and deciding who you need to get back in touch with.
Having all of your contacts in few places (ideally one) and easily accessible means that at a glance you can see your network and make decisions about it.
This is your main strategy for keeping your network’s strength up, for nourishing it and preventing it becoming weak.
i.e. Check through your contacts and pro-actively do something about it if you think you’re in danger of losing touch with people you care about.
It’s very simple – from time to time, just take a look through your list of contacts, pick a few people you haven’t been in touch with for a while but whom you value as contacts and drop them a brief note to tell them you’re thinking about them and asking how they are.
3. Refining our Network
The third step in having a strong network is to REFINE that network.
This means adding people to your network appropriately and in some cases removing people too.
It could be that you have people in your network that are a drain on your resources, that are just a number (e.g. a social media contact you connected with but you don’t really know and who spams you with lots of ‘come to my event’ reminder – particularly if these are not related to what you do) or that are a negative influence. That can happen, so in this case it’s OK to remove them from your network. This could mean just removing their details from your list, creating an email filter so their emails are sent to a ‘special’ folder (e.g. Trash) or actually ‘blocking’ them via whichever channels you’re connected to them with.
Your network is your network. If you fill it with people you have very little in common with, you don’t really know and who add little value to your life or business, you may have a large number of people in your network, but it won’t be very effective (or very easy to revisit – see point 2).
That being said, if you are managing your network right n the first place, being genuine and truly respecting your network, then there should be little cause to remove anyone – at least not often – because even people you have very little in common with – weak ties – can remain in your network and could be valuable contacts one day simply because you never know what might happen or where life may lead you.
It’s up to you to decide if you want to be an open networker, open to new connections, with your network being a mixture of strong, medium and weak ties or whether you want to have a very small and protected, trusted network – but either way, you will need to refine this network to make sure it has the people in it you want and doesn’t have the people you don’t.
So I have to be honest with you here, I have no schedule for it yet, but I’m sure we will be covering this general area, along with anything else to do with managing your network (because there’s quite a lot we could get our teeth into here) in future articles.
Who was it who said “Your network is your net worth”?
Anyway, whoever said it, they’ve got a point. A strong network is a really powerful thing, but only if you look after it well, otherwise it won’t be a strong network for long.
Look after your network and it will look after you.