There’s a good chance that your network sucks. I don’t know you personally, and I haven’t gone through your contact list, but I’d be willing to bet that you’re not getting a lot out of your networking. Most people don’t.
I’m sure that you might have gotten a job offer here or there, or maybe the occasional prospect referral. That’s fantastic. Done right, though, networking should provide a steady source of opportunities and information.
There could many reasons that your network isn’t getting you what it could. The first step in fixing the problem is knowing what the problem is. Here are five reasons your network may suck:
1. It’s not big enough.
A network’s size is one of it’s defining characteristics. We can look at a network and judge whether it’s good or bad by the number of people in it. If you only knew one person, would you consider it a network?
There’s actually some math behind this. Metcalfe’s Law is an approximation of the value of a network and basically says: the more people in the network, the more valuable it is. Think of fax machines. The first person to have one didn’t get much return from their investment. But as more and more people had fax machines (and could send faxes to each other), the more useful it was.
Solution: Add connections to your network!
2. You are trying to be everyone’s best friend.
Building relationships takes time and energy. In fact, there’s a limit to how many relationships we can manage at any given time. The number isn’t as big as you think it might be. Robin Dunbar was the anthropologist who studied the maximum number of relationships we can maintain, and so we call it Dunbar’s number. And it’s only 148.
That may seem like a lot, but your relationship silos fill up quickly. If you are trying to have close relationships with your entire network, you are going to run out of time. And you’ll probably get burned out. And then you will probably stop putting effort into your networking. Which just causes your network to get stale and unhelpful.
Solution: Use technology and processes to maintain your networking relationships.
3. There isn’t enough outside information.
The value of your network depends on its structure. Mark Granovetter wrote an incredibly influential sociology paper called The Strength of Weak Ties. He discovered that people find jobs through people they know, which isn’t a surprise. The surprise was that the most common source of referral was a contact that was seen only occasionally.
Instead of just interacting with a few close friends, you want your network to be filled with contacts that spend their day focusing on different areas than you. No matter what you are looking for in your network, it’s more likely to come from people that you only “kind of” know. These are the professionals that have access to new contacts, referrals, and opportunities for you.
Solution: Make it a point to reach out to people in different industries and professions.
4. You don’t have a plan.
It’s all too common for professionals to think that networking is a spontaneous event. Many of us think (hope) that all we have to do is show up to some networking events and the opportunities will pour in. It doesn’t work that way – you end up spending a lot of time and energy and getting very little in return
Good networking takes preparation. You have to clearly define your goals: What are you trying to accomplish professionally? Who you trying to meet? And what do you bring to the party? What is the value that you bring to your networking partners, and how can you communicate that. You need to have a simple process for following up with the people in your network. Before you dive into networking, you want to have a plan that you can execute
Solution: Sit down with a piece of paper (or computer doc) and write out your networking plan.
5. Your communication skills need polish.
Because networking is based on human interaction, how you interact with others has an impact on your networking. If you want to get more value from your network, look for ways to improve how you engage with others.
That doesn’t mean you have to be the life of the party to be successful. If you’ve built a relationship with someone else in your life, you have the foundation to be a good networker. Understand that your ability to present yourself professionally, to ask great questions, and to listen to your partners is a key ingredient. If you aren’t someone that others want to interact with, no plan is going to help. Be the type of person that others want to connect with, and they will.
Solution: Give yourself an honest relationship audit: Where can your improve your communication skills?
You’ll notice that none of these challenges are terminal. In fact, you may have already moved past some of these obstacles. But now that you know the reasons your network sucks, you can do something about it.