We hear the dieting tips; we read what the self-help experts teach us about growing our nails, hair, and lifespan through discipline, focus, and healthy living. But what about our business? Can we grow a happier, healthier, and more effective personal and professional development strategy through similar healthy tips? You bet!
Your personal brand is your reputation, your legacy, and your most valuable asset. In today’s global economy, it is critical that you direct and manage your reputation online, and live your core values in person (walk the talk). The value people assign to you is directly tied to how they feel about you – and perception is often created by your behavior, image, and positioning. Imagine if an important contact perceives you as lazy, unmotivated, and unfocused? Would they want to refer you to a key opportunity? Probably not. Is their perception real? It is to them!
Personal branding is not an overly complicated, highly formulaic process. You can start taking control of your reputation and directing the way others perceive you, assign you value, and create opportunities for you today!
Building an Intentional Network
Whether you are looking for a job, clients, or more interesting projects, a network will always be a critical part of your professional toolkit. Throughout my career, I have used intentional networking strategies to gain introductions, leads, referrals, references, insights, and relationships with stakeholders whom I deem important to my success. My intentional network is based on mutual benefit (always!), and my circles of influence continue to influence and grow my business and my career.
A network of viable contacts is critical in today’s competitive business climate. Your network serves not only as lead sources for new business but also as a sounding board, support system, and news source. Your network will guide you through your career, if carefully planned and managed.
While each of us has family, friends, and people we associate with—personally and professionally, an Intentional Network is that group of contacts you specifically recruit, maintain, and nurture a relationship with to benefit from and with whom you will reciprocate. Intentional networks are win-win relationships based on rapport, trust, and mutual benefit.
Benefits of an Intentional Network
As we all know, our roles change over time: Our jobs change, our capacity and competency in our work change, and our professional goals can change. An intentional network provides focus, a support system, information, and referrals. I have landed jobs because of contacts in my network. I’ve gained client insight and won client engagements because of my network. An intentional network can provide valuable news and information. We all know that in today’s market, this can give us a competitive advantage—the more information we have, the more power we have.
In a global environment, we have a new opportunity to expand our positioning and market in international networks. What if you want to open an office or pursue clients in Beijing, Mexico City, or Paris? Having global connections and contacts around the world can be a valuable resource to you.
Who Should Be in Your Network?
When considering who to add to your network, I advise you to look beyond just those people who can hire or contract with you. While it’s tempting to see decision makers as the most attractive contacts, there are others who add value as well. Here’s a breakdown of the three main categories of contacts for a vibrant and effective Intentional Network:
These are the contacts who can provide you with direct leads, direct work, or bridge you to contacts who can. For example, these might be hiring managers, procurement personnel, clients, customers, and agents who can transact with and buy from you. We all need to meet decision-makers who can hire us, connect us to someone who might hire us, or refer us directly. There is no question that meeting decision-makers is valuable.
People who can provide valuable insight into companies, industries, trends, and people about whom you need to know are called Information Sources. They may or may not ever be decision makers, but they provide great value! For example, you might meet someone with a deep knowledge of marketing, human resources, or technology who can be helpful as you position yourself for a new job or a promotion.
You will surely meet individuals who don’t have decision-making capability and maybe don’t even have unique information for you, but their personality, energy, and spirit lifts you up! These are your cheerleaders, and they will provide references and testimonials and will vouch for you and your abilities when you need support. They might be a friend from your past or a colleague at your current job who is upbeat and optimistic in times of stress.
5 Days to a Healthy Network!
To get your network healthy and fit, follow my 5-day plan (one task per day) to see immediate and sustainable results!
Organize your network. Start by listing out the people you already know. Consider: the men and women with whom you’ve worked; alumni from high school, college, grad school; colleagues and co-workers from current and past employment; and people you’ve met at events, functions, and gatherings for whom you have contact information (business phone number, email). Start putting these names into a database, such as Excel or Outlook, so you can refer to them.
Then, categorize these contacts by the type of contact they are (cheerleader, decision maker, information source).
On the following Mondays, commit the time to filling in as much information and details as you can about each source. Hopefully you are tracking your network in a CRM or database (that makes this part easier!). Having your network organized will allow you to sort, scan, and keep in contact with each person in a meaningful and intentional way.
Become a resource. Find ways to help the contacts in your network. Consider sending news articles, books, or blogs of relevance. Refer a colleague to them if you think a relationship could be mutually beneficial. When you are seen as a resourceful person who is connected to people and information, your perceived value to your network goes up. Being a resource is a low cost way to make a huge impact.
Stay in touch. Connect in person or online (on LinkedIn, for instance), and stay in touch. Even when you don’t need something or they don’t need something from you, let your network know how you’re doing, what you’re up to, and what you might have to offer. Online, you might send an “Update” on LinkedIn or make a post on Facebook, letting your contacts know what’s going on in your business or your life. Typically, we only hear from people when they need something (a job, advice, a place to stay). Be the person who stays in touch to let your network know the good things happening in your life, too.
Assess your potential network: Surely you don’t know everyone. On Thursdays, look at your business, your marketing, and your network and ask yourself: Who do I need to know? Who is my target audience? If my network is more information sources than decision makers, who are the decision makers I need to know?
If there’s a prospect you don’t know, but you should know, write that person’s name down.Then, identify how you can reach out to that person: do you know someone who knows him? Are you connected somehow on LinkedIn? Do you attend the same industry events? Create a strategy to meet that person after you’ve identified the gaps in your network.
Reciprocate. For every favor you ask (e.g., introduction to a job lead, connection on LinkedIn, or referral), be sure to return with something of greater perceived value (e.g., return a lead, make a more direct and valuable introduction, or at least send a hand-written note of gratitude). A key to Intentional Networking is that you should over-deliver whenever you can.
Having a clear strategy and focus for intentional marketing and focusing on reciprocity in building your relationships allows you to assume responsibility for finding and forming rewarding networking relationships. At all points in the networking process—in person and online—it is crucial to keep your personal brand, reputation, and vision in check. Having this clarity will allow you to act with generosity, and you will make a positive impression about your personal brand.
Photo credit: Sleepyjeanie (Lauren Hammond)