Recently, I’ve been talking to dozens of people about career insurance - how working out loud can help them shape their reputation and control their career. In almost every conversation, people were unsure of how to build a purposeful network. Where do you start? How do you find the right people? What’s the best way to get to know them?
In each case, though, it turned out they already had access to several existing networks. They just weren’t leveraging them.
Here are the 5 examples we discussed that can help you amplify your contribution, build relationships, and discover more possibilities.
Leading with generosity
As Keith Ferrazzi says, “the currency of networking isn’t greed, it’s generosity.” And so the best way to build relationships is to lead with generosity - to think of how you can contribute to the network and thus gain access and gradually build trust.
That starts with listening. Before you can contribute to any individual or network, you want to listen first and develop a sense of what they might value. Once you have that, there’s a wide spectrum of ways to contribute:
- Showing appreciation by Like-ing, commenting on, or re-posting the work of key individuals.
- Asking questions. (This includes asking for help - being vulnerable and letting others help you is a type of gift.)
- Sharing your network by introducing people you know .
- Sharing content others might value - what you’re reading, what you’re working on, lessons you’ve learned.
These are all elements of working out loud - narrating your work and making it observable.
Where’s the best place to make these contributions? Trying to build meaningful, relevant connections on the large public networks is difficult and takes a long time. Ideally, you could tap into existing networks of people that are relevant to you.
5 examples of leveraging other networks
When I used these 5 examples in my career insurance discussions, each person came up with their own specific networks they could leverage right away.
Internal employee networks: Some people used a social collaboration platform at work. There, they could access role-based communities or even start one for their own role. In a large company, that’s an extraordinarily convenient way to connects with hundreds of people who do what you do.
Professional associations: Meeting people with similar jobs or interests at other companies is also easy. One person interested in small start-ups talked about ways to contribute to the NY Tech Meetup. For another, it was a LinkedIn group for communications professionals that also held in-person meetings in London. For another it was a network of commercial real estate professionals.
Industry groups: For the people I spoke with in financial services (and this is true for most industries), there are numerous networks formed to bring firms together around specific topics - from IT infrastructure to operations to social media marketing.
Vendors: This is perhaps the most common set of networks. Everyone I talked with used a product or service related to their job. And the salespeople of those vendors are eager to introduce customers to other customers or to prospects. In some cases, the vendor also hosted an online customer community making it even easier to contribute.
Key individuals: Finally, getting to know influencers in your field is a way to connect to people with similar interests. For the person in learning and development, for example, he'd want to know people like Harold Jarche, Nick Milton, and Kevin Jones. By reading their work and appreciating it in public, he'd discover other experts and have a platform for connecting with them.
All of these groups are eager to have people contribute. The individuals want interaction with their audience. The vendors want to connect customers. The internal communities, industry groups, and professional associations are desperate for authentic stories from their members.
How to begin
One of the best reactions I heard was “This is something I can do right now!”
But they probably won’t. Because they’re already busy. Because they’re afraid to make a mistake or unsure of their writing or speaking skills. Because they’re simply not used to working this way.
For these people I offer some very simple advice: Schedule time in your calendar for working out loud. Start with simple contributions. Keep shipping.
Over time, you’ll develop the skills you need to be effective and the habits you need to do it regularly.