Don’t go 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 others.
Everyone will tell you to “network,” but let’s get specific about why and how.
Why Build a Network?
- Immediate Tactical Support – your network can be used for timely feedback on key decisions such as reviewing new campaign tactics, avoiding common mistakes, selecting the best vendors, and, in general, creating a space where you have the freedom to ask “dumb” questions.
- Skill Development – learn best practices from peers and bring creative ideas into your work by seeing how other professionals approach problems in different industries.
- Secret Weapon for Job Hunting – your network can also be used as a sounding board for roles and comp. Plus, when you are ready to move, your network can be 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 networking will help you build real and authentic relationships.
Who Should Be in Your Network?
You should have a broad, “outer ring” of people in your network that you meet at work, conferences, and through your professional network. You can easily keep up with this broader group via social media.
We think it’s also worth consciously developing and investing in a narrower “inner ring” of people that you think of as your advisory network. This generally includes up to 20 people that fall into one of 3 buckets:
- Peers – People in similar roles and professional levels are a great resource. They can include colleagues 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 also seek out contacts in different roles or channels where you can learn from each other or identify new areas or skills of personal interest that you want to develop (see our Marketing Skills Map for ideas).
- Mentors/Managers – These are professionals that are senior to you and may include a former boss or someone in your field that you met through a conference. Many senior professionals 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 it. You can also go a bit broader by engaging on LinkedIn / Twitter or an outreach email with thinkers or leaders you admire in your area.
- “The people who knew you when” – This is a broader category that is less about business networking and more about perspective on your personal goals and mission. It might include friends from childhood, college roommates, or even more recent friends that you met in a non-work related context. This group is meant to bring wide-ranging perspectives on who you are via some grounding in your past or a view of who you are beyond the confines of the tech/business world. They keep you honest about bigger issues that are important to you, and they are more likely to call ‘bullshit’ when they see it. (Read our article on What Really Matters to You in Your Career for more on how you can leverage your “inner ring” to help you make important career decisions.)
How to Keep in Touch
We’re all busy, so we 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 type, you can use your calendar or a tool like Asana to build a cycle of staying in touch. Mix up your contact strategy with coffee meetings, a phone call, or just an email update. Over time, you’ll be surprised how a little consistency in communication can start to build a shared experience and desire to help each other out along the way.