How valuable is your network? When was the last time a longstanding connection resulted in something tangible or a sociable connection into a business opportunity? When was the last time you connected two friends/associates proactively? Most importantly: when was the last time you asked for something?
Here is a common misconception with networking (ie. the use of your network):
- Person A has a problem
- Person A connects with Person B who has the solution
- The end (and both live happily ever after)
These are ‘quick wins’. Of course quick wins should be employed wherever possible, and every person can identify a ‘quick win’ where a simple connection leads to a simple solution. The issue is not that these examples exist, moreso that they are merely a fraction of your network’s capabilities.
Ultimately, using your network requires a lot of time and effort. These are the two underlying reasons as to why total dependency on the ‘quick win’ approach doesn’t work.
- Re-engagement & Better engagement
1) Re-engagement & Better engagement
Person A connects with Person B who solves/fails to solve Problem C. The End.
‘The End’. How true is that for the majority of your connections? Take LinkedIn. The epicentre of online networking. The majority of our connections remain dormant, rarely contacted again after an initial spike in activity. How often have you reconnected (eg. through messaging) with them on the platform? If persistence is key to making connections, then commitment is crucial to utilising that connection. Making a new connection for the purpose of adding another dormant contact to your 500+ list of followers isn’t a source of value.
Re-engagement should also be tailored so you understand just who in your network forms part of your ‘inner circle’. For your high profile contacts, monthly communication should form a regular part of your emails. If you had to cull your LinkedIn contacts to 20 people, who would they be? Nurture and protect those relationships. As expert VC and networking Chris Fralic says: ‘Keep your ‘dream contact list’ at the ready’.
Harnessing the true potential of your network comes from re-engaging in the right way: understanding better your network/contacts’ objectives, interests, needs and wants, and especially important: how they develop over time.
As expert networker Keith Ferrazzi suggested:
‘The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity’. Ultimately, it takes time to build trust and nurture those relationships, and the more you give, the more you get back.
Be proactive. Recently, a friend of mine conducted a social experiment on Facebook. He put his status as ‘For the next 4 hours I’m willing to help anyone on anything that I can, big or small’. Regardless of incoming requests ranging from (‘walk the dog?’) to the philosophical (‘the meaning of life?’) he started a number of conversations where they simply addressed their needs, rather than checking in. A lot of these requests came from unlikely sources such as friends so ask yourself: how well do you really know your contacts and their pain points?
The second underlying reason why ‘Quick Wins’ are only a small percentage of your network is the complexity in which most problems arise. Most ‘quick wins’ can be found online in our hyper-connected age. Looking for funding? Stalk investors on LinkedIn. Looking for jobs/recruitment? Check out angel.co. Meet other startups? Social media is paramount.
The issue is that a lot of the time, people do not have clearly defined problems and corresponding solutions. In other words, they don’t know what they need exactly, nor what they want, so there’s nothing to ask. It is a self-defeating process, especially when you combine it with the mindset of wanting a solution instantaneously.
But plainly this isn’t how the world works. For entrepreneurs, it takes enough time for them to truly understand their own business (and pain points), let alone a 20 min coffee/Skype resulting in a clear outcome with a newcomer.
Only by multiple back-and-forth emails, calls, coffees and various offerings, counter-offerings etc do we really reach the point where parties can align to create something truly unique and impactful. Sometimes it even needs a change in personnel, circumstance, mindset or simply approach can finally break the deadlock. Do not look for the Quick Win every time.
How to use your Network
Using your network means using it regularly, constructively and proactively, allocating time to both solving your problems and those of your contacts. At Seedstars, the strength is in our network. But we are still trying to harness the full power of our best asset.
This year we are changing this with:
- Focused workshops at our events based on specific pain points and sectors. Too often events are seen as non-participatory, with 1 person speaking and 200 people diving in and out of the content vs social media. These workshops are set up to encourage active participation on complex issues. The feedback at the Seedstars Summit from our leading partners suggested that having a focussed group allowed participants to dive right in.
- Setting up an Online Community for stakeholders to connect and engage in a meaningful way on a variety of topics. Providing content and the platform for more regular connections over time.
Nick Feneck is the Regional Manager for Asia at Seedstars World. Connecting startups, investors, mentors, corporates and ecosystem enablers from 70+ emerging markets is in our DNA.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org