Your Network is Your Competitive Advantage

Don’t go at it alone. People with a “team” around them are more nimble, learn faster and are happier. They are also less likely to make major mistakes by learning from those of others.

Everyone will tell you to “network,” but let’s get specific about why and how.

Why build a network?

  • Immediate Tactical Support – help identify effective campaign tactics, avoid mistakes,  select the best vendors,  and have the freedom to ask dumb questions
  • Keep Your Skills Current – learn best practices from peers and bring creative ideas into your work by seeing how others approach problems in different industries
  • Job Hunt Secret Weapon – use as a sounding board for roles and comp, plus when you are ready to move, it’s a source of intelligence and intros to other companies

In his book, “The Alliance,” LinkedIn founder, Reid Hoffman talks about the importance of external networks for individuals and how companies should encourage them so their employees learn and bring new ideas into the company.

And Keith Ferrazzi, in Never Eat Alone, shares how connecting people to each other and bringing a spirit of generosity to your networking helps you build personal and professional networks.

Your network is also a great sounding board for all the topics we’ve been covering in this series. In fact, you can draw from the questions we’ve covered as discussion topics.

Who should be in your network?

You should have a broad, “outer ring” network of people you come across at work, conferences, or your social network. With these people, you’ll exchange contact information or LinkedIn / social network connects. You can keep up with this broader network via your feeds or by serendipity.

But, we think it’s worth consciously developing and investing in a narrower “inner ring” group of people that you think of as your advisory network. This could be more on the order of 8-20 people and can fall into these 3 buckets:

  • Peers – Other people in similar roles and levels to you are a great resource. They can include people within your own company and some from outside, who bring a different perspective and allow you to be a little more candid and ask dumb questions. You should seek out some people in different roles or channels where you can each learn from each other or set up your further growth (see our RevelOne Skills Map for more)
  • Mentors/Managers – These are people senior to you, it could be a current or former boss or someone in your field you met through a conference or group. Many senior people find mentoring rewarding and an important part of their own careers. If you reach out politely and establish a cadence that is respectful of their time, you’d be surprised how often people are up for. One other trick to find people is “borrowing” your peers favorite managers.  You can also go more broad by engaging on Twitter / LinkedIn or an outreach email with thinkers or leaders you admire in your area.
  • “The people who knew you when” – this is a looser category that is less about business networking and more about perspective on your goals and mission. It might include friends from childhood, college roommates, or even more recent friends that you met in a non-work context. This group is meant to bring a broader perspective on who you are via some grounding in your past or a view of you beyond the confines of the tech/business world. This group keeps you honest on the bigger things that are important to you, and can call  BS on hype or other dumb ideas in the tech bubble.

How to keep in touch

We’re all busy, so you have to invest in keeping in touch. You should think about keeping a list of your core network and making sure you communicate every quarter or two. If you are the super-structured, planning type, you can use your calendar or tool like Asana to build a cycle of staying in touch. You can mix up how you connect over the year, it could be a coffee/lunch, a phone call, or just an update email.  You’d be surprised how just some consistency of staying in touch over a couple of years or more starts to build some shared experience and sense of helping each other out on the journey.