Most people have a fuzzy sense of what it means to have an active network. A network is not simply your contact list or address book, your Facebook friends, your former colleagues, your college classmates, or the members of your union, guild, or professional association. The fact that you know them and can reach them doesn’t necessarily make them part of an active network.
An active network consists of people who can make a strategic contribution that will serve to advance your career goals. It can help you not only to get a job or to start a business but also to maintain a successful job or business. Your active network funnels new ideas, new people, and new business opportunities to you. An active network takes managing – it’s a two-way street. Not only are you seeking help from the people who support you, you are also providing support for them in whatever they are doing. In giving you will receive. In fact, I encourage you to engage with your network primarily as a giver of encouragement, expertise, empathy, insight, support, and information, and only secondarily as a receiver of help (including job referrals). If you are perceived as someone who is giving of their time, energy, knowledge, and other resources, people will look forward to hearing from you because you will usually be offering them something: an article you just read, a valuable experience you wanted to share, a suggestion based on a conversation with a colleague, or an introduction to someone they might enjoy connecting with.
Contrast that with someone who only gets in touch when they need something: they want to know if you’ve heard of any job openings; they are looking for the names of people who might have open positions and want you to refer them. It’s all one way—their way. They never have anything to offer. Their attitude is a bit desperate. They come across as needy. So when you network, don’t lead with your need.
This may be challenging for you to do, but it is essential in order to maintain the positive flow of information from your network. When you communicate with people in a positive way, focusing on what you can give rather than what you hope to receive, they will be uplifted when they hear from you. They will also be inspired to return the favor when they come across an appropriate job opening or another way they can help you.
Over time, your active network can serve as a lead generation system that is very similar to a classic marketing funnel.
Here’s how it works: start by dividing all the contacts in your database into three groups—Platinum, Gold, and Silver.
In this methodology, networking contacts start out as Silver, progress to Gold, and in a few special cases wind up as Platinum. Your life and career are fluid, so your network will be, too. Your Gold and Platinum contacts may change when you get a new job or start a new business and need to develop a different set of resources. Equally as important, you will also participate as a Silver, Gold, or Platinum member of other people’s networks.
This three-level funnel helps you to find and develop relationships with people who think as you do, appreciate what you have to offer, are grateful for the assistance and support you provide for them, and are willing to connect you to job openings, people who can hire you, or people who will help you launch your own business. Building and continually nurturing this funnel is the best way of bypassing the frustrating process of chasing after job postings and never getting a response. In a business climate increasingly built on referrals, successfully activating your network is the only viable strategy.