What it takes to build a productive network — and why it matters today.
“Networking has been cited as the number one unwritten rule of success in business. Who you know impacts what you know.”
This insight, shared by Sallie Krawcheck, CEO of Ellevest, reminds us to focus on the human component of the business.
So let’s call it what it is: networking is the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business purposes. Let’s also agree that we need a simplified definition to accurately convey the power and positivity associated with effective networking practices — and yes, practice can lead to perfect results.
Personally and professionally, the art of networking relies on one essential action: picking your people!
Finding a job, searching for talent, developing partnerships, or expanding the reach of business — all of these reasons for networking are heavily influenced by forming two-way relationships with good people that share like-minded interests. In essence, an emphasis on developing meaningful connections can help anyone unlock the power and positivity hidden within their network. The following three factors offer a deeper dive into our experiences with cultivating a productive network.
The Pay-It-Forward Mindset to Cultivating a Productive Network
Networking advice from author and entrepreneur Lewis Howes accurately symbolizes the pay-it-forward mindset. He states, “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.” Ideally, on a professional level, you should make an effort to help at least one person every week; providing a recommendation or offering to introduce two people who you believe could benefit from exchanging information are examples of ways to lend a hand. You might be the catalyst for change, and will inadvertently grow your network with people who appreciate your kindness and generosity — two of the best character traits, in our book.
Supporting this mindset, Sallie Krawcheck encourages people to
“Give, give, give. You will later receive. But you are really planting these seeds. Some of them will die, and they won’t become anything. Many of them will take many, many years before they pay off for you if at all.”
Often, we hold the “golden ticket” to another person’s progress, and with a little generosity, can facilitate the realization of another person’s dreams. During the process, you will find that helping others is the most rewarding part of networking. It’s also worth reiterating, the effect associated with paying it forward is cumulative — like investing!
The more good you do, the more your bank of good credits grows; eventually, dividends payout, and others show their gratitude by returning the favor — “I call it karma,” says Barb Munro, co-founder of The Carrera Agency.
Your Network is the Link to Happiness and Success
Cultivating a productive network is a crucial step towards experiencing happiness and success, both personally and professionally. Every community (digital and physical) presents new introductions and opportunities for connecting with good people — people chosen by you. Interconnectedness. Support. Opportunity. Exposure. Everyone wants these factors, but few know where to find them. However, effective networking increases feelings of happiness and success through touching on all of these details. Let’s face it, our professional and personal lives are more intertwined than ever; levels of happiness and success bleed from one into the other and back again, further strengthening the correlation between happiness and success.
“Love, friendship, networking — these are all critical connections and the foundation of a healthy, happy life,” says Whitney Wolfe Herd, CEO of Bumble.
Similar to school and the team-sport environment, building a productive network boils down to surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals who share similar values and complementary professional goals. Essentially, choosing who receives your time and energy has a direct impact on feelings of happiness — and therefore success. Many people look for purpose, satisfaction, belonging, and friendship from their networks, bridging the gap between personal and professional life. As Barb Munro explains,
“The IT community in San Diego is relatively small; probably 1 to 2 degrees of separation for many of us who share common connections. Over time these people are introduced to one another and form relationships that develop into life-long friendships. It’s imperative to cultivate and nurture these relationships on a regular basis.”
Why are friendship and the cultivation of relationships so important, you ask? Well, as real estate mogul Steve Wynn explains, “Money doesn’t make people happy. People make people happy.” So although we often require the exchange of money to do the things that bring us joy, it’s the happiness that serves as the actual token of value.
When networking (either online or in-person), asking for help, offering help, or simply exchanging information is an opportunity to enrich the human experience, leading to a clear sense of purpose, satisfaction, and belonging. So although the networking process may be associated with ‘job hunting’ or ‘business development,’ it can also be described as positive human interaction – living!
As an award-winning author and creator of The Four Tendencies Framework, Gretchen Rubin’s perspective on success resonates among our team:
“In one of those life-isn’t-fair results, it turns out that the happy outperform the less happy. Happy people work more hours each week — and they work more in their free time, too.”
Our experiences working with both IT and digital talent and corporate clients reinforce the idea that happy people are much more willing to cultivate their network as well as help others do the same. In the realm of human interaction, happiness breeds success. And this success is made tangible through the formation of a productive network. Of course, as we have said before, you must learn to pick your people: Who you work with, who you work for — or do work for — all shape how you experience happiness and success. If you choose with intention and purpose, chances are good you will be pleased with the results in the long-run.
Building a Network Requires Dedication
We couldn’t have said it any better than Lewis Howes, “Effective networking isn’t a result of luck — it requires hard work and persistence.”
Picking your people, crafting your community, and cultivating a productive network doesn’t happen overnight — and certainly isn’t a product of sitting back and letting things happen.
It’s one thing to build a productive network; it’s another to maintain one. Practice and dedication are the glue that holds the team together in this sport. And you better believe networking is a sport. Being active is the only option if you intend to form valuable relationships with good people.
The foundation of any networking strategy: being active leads to visibility.
Whether it’s on LinkedIn, at work, or a group event, your name must get out there, and people learn about what you do or how you can help them — this includes building their brand equity through association. Of course, as we discussed with the pay-it-forward mindset, actively being at the disposal of others brings good karma, and good karma is a must for cultivating a productive network.
Similar to pruning the flowers in a garden, a network requires maintenance, providing care through identifying new areas for growth and influence. Additionally, regular audits are necessary. You won’t meet the right people if you don’t connect with others who can make new, quality introductions. And when an introduction is desired, you need the courage to get out there and make it happen. With social media, there are many opportunities to facilitate meaningful introductions that don’t feel like a selling tactic or disingenuous. As Barb recently shared while commenting on best practices,
“Be specific. When seeking an introduction or facilitating one for someone else, provide details, give context, and establish a purpose. Make it easy for the recipient to follow through, especially when the subject is employment.”
From a professional perspective, the more work you put into cultivating a network, the more likely it will have your back when you need it most. Thus, the best time to network is when gainfully employed. As actor Steve Zissis once said,
“Networking, of course, is great, but the best way to network is to do work.”
Sure, this adds work to an already busy schedule, but more importantly, it provides a consistent pipeline of networking opportunities. Think meetings, events, webinars, and social media conversations; all of these channels are facilitators for networking, especially when others see you hold a position that relates to their network.
Additionally, when you’re employed, regular check-ins on social media or professional groups are a productive way to alert others about the latest and greatest. Your extra effort will influence others to reciprocate, offering you a way to “see” into the network of others. When it comes to networking, the more you connect, the more you know, and the more you know, the more productive you can be. Keep it simple.
Networking is our business. Connecting talent with clients, and clients with talent are at the core of everything we do. What some view as an interview we see as an opportunity to get to know a person, eventually developing a bridge for them to journey across.
This is our warm welcome to career exploration. And yes, we invite you to the experience.
Join our network.