Networking. This is a word that we throw around regularly, as in, “I’m going to a networking meeting.”, or “I need to network more.”, or “I wish I had a network.”
Have you ever stopped to think about what a network really is? Everyone seems to have their own idea of what that word means.
Some people imagine that their net is more like a spider web, strategically placed, and covered with a sticky substance that will capture their prey (read client), and gives the client no other choice but then to work with them. Once the client is caught, a new net must be built in a strategic place to catch the next client. This is an extremely transactional network. Think of most retailers.
Some people imagine their net is more like a fisherman’s net. One that is thrown out into the seas (read meetings and cocktail parties) to catch any fish (read potential client) that happens to swim buy and again gives that client no other choice then to work with them. The only way anyone will get into the net is when the fisherman throws it out and traps them, and getting out is a bit problematic. Think of utility companies, cell phone carriers, cable companies, etc.
Some people imagine their network is more like a solar system with themselves as the sun and the people they find to work with revolving around them like planets, but the planets never interact with each other. This net is gravitational, invisible to the eye, but yet has somehow kept the planets (read clients) from wandering off into deep space. If the gravitational force weakens the clients will wander off to a new solar system. Think of doctors, and coaches.
I like to imagine my network as more like a highway system. It exists for the benefit of anyone I chooses to let on it. It’s purpose is to propell everyone to the place they want to go as quickly as possible. It works best when everyone on it is co-operating with each other and looking out for each other. A well built highway system will get the drivers anywhere they want to go, more efficiantly then they could have gotten there using any other road system.
My highway system network is built for more then just clients. I also want my friends, family, mentors, potential clients, past clients, anyone whom I believe would find benefit to using my system, to have access to it.
The catch is that I must give someone access to my highway system. Not just anyone can hop on. Once I give someone access they must treat the system and the other people on the highway with respect. They may not throw trash out of their car windows, they may not run over those whom they percieve to be in their way.
If along the route they find someone who needs help and they have the skills to help them, they can expect to be asked to use those skills for their benefit. The same will be expected of the person they’ve helped.
This system only works when the drivers understand that generosity and reciprocity will keep this highway working at the highest level.
That is the network that I am striving to maintain for myself. Like our national highway system, my network is in a constant state of construction. That’s how it should be.
You might wish that you could build a network once and those people would be your go to people forever, but that’s not life.
Life is all about change and movement. As I grow and change and move, the people whom I have and would like to have in my network are growing and changing and moving. Sometimes we just go in different directions, and sometimes I need to ask someone to choose another route. I am always looking for new people with whom I would love to build relationships, especially those whom are traveling the same road I’m traveling and who see a relationship with me as a way to propell us both forword at a much higher speed.
I believe we can build stronger networks by using our nets as tools to move everyone in our system forwad in the direction they choose to travel, not nets to capture just our clients for one transaction.
A well built network will support you for a lifetime, not just a transaction.