Maximizing Your Network
Do you ever look for more personal training clients or to sell more corporate memberships? Do you think you'll ever make a job change? Much more effective than a web search, using the phone book or responding to ads is mobilizing your network. How strong is your network?
In the book Make Your Contacts Count, the authors present six types of networking relationships. Once you understand them, you will be able to assess your current network, know how to strengthen your network and how to take necessary steps to move your relationships forward. As you read through the categories, think of people you know who might fit in each one.
Types of contacts
Accidents. Everywhere you go, you run into people who could be part of your network. It's the person who is seated next to you on the plane, or standing next to you in the conference registration line. These one-time meetings are not likely repeated. Networking relationships can grow from "accidents," if you can find a reason to stay in touch.
Acquaintances. An acquaintance may be someone you meet at your friend's wedding or social/religious organization. You might see this person again,or you might not. However, you could probably track an acquaintance down if you had to. You may remember an acquaintance's name, but not much else.
Associates. An associate is someone with whom you regularly come into contact for a period of time. An associate could be someone who's in the same class you're taking. You can rely on this common bond from which to develop a trusting relationship. You have a chance to learn each other's names and reconnect often enough to learn more about each other. It is, however, still necessary to work at this relationship; otherwise, you may just chat briefly and part without providing any assistance to each other.
Actors. An actor is someone with whom you exchange valuable information, resources or leads. You have the actor's phone number and email address. You know enough about each other to be useful. When an actor finds out you are looking for a job and knows someone who could be helpful, they will offer to set you up. Actors look for character and competence in each other.
Advocates. A person who promotes you and who you promote is an advocate. Advocates come through for you, and know you'll do the same for them. You believe in their character and appreciate and understand their competence. There is a high level of trust built into this relationship. You look for ways to assist each other and feed each other opportunities. An advocate may be a vendor who you promote to others in the industry and sends new business your way. An advocate is someone you can highly recommend.
Allies. An ally is an expert on you, your business and your aspirations. Allies can talk about you in detail because they know where you've been and where you're headed, and want to help you get there. You turn to an ally for important advice like a job change, a new marketing approach or how to deal with difficult situations at work. An ally commiserates and celebrates with you.
Fitting contacts into your network
How do your contacts fit into these stages? While you can't make someone move into a different stage with you, you can say and do things that will make it more likely that the relationship will grow. If you want more associates, make strategic decisions about which organizations to join based on your career, business and life goals. If you want to move from associate to actor, listen generously so you can give ideas, resources and referrals. To move from actor to advocate, show character and competence in everything you say and do. If you want to be a strong ally, respect confidentiality, tell the truth with caring, and support your allies' success in business and life.
In networking, it is up to you to take the next step to grow and nurture your relationships. Start building your network today!
Baber, A., and L. Waymon. Make Your Contacts Count. American Management Association: New York, N.Y., 2002.
Courtney Hadden, M.S., is a personal health management coordinator for Currahee Health Benefits Solutions in Duluth, Ga.
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