When people ask how I build my Network

Somehow I have gotten a reputation as a person with a large network and someone people can come to when they are looking for referrals to talented people.  As a result, I am often asked how I came to have this large and rich network. The funny thing is that 10 years ago, I didn't.  In fact, I was fairly anonymous. By nature, I am very shy and introverted although most people do not know that because I can be gregarious when necessary. Ten years ago, I also didn't think having a network was important.

At the time, I was Managing Director for PeopleSoft Global Services Canada. My partner on the sales side was Andy Aicklen.  In many ways, Andy and I are polar opposites, which is why we made such a great team. Andy used to schedule coffee meetings into this calendar a few times a month. These would be meetings with basically anyone who asked him for a meeting. The person might be someone looking for a job, someone from a consulting company looking to partner with PeopleSoft or some like a recruiter or other consultant looking to provide services to PeopleSoft.

I viewed these types of meetings as a waste of time. Why spend half an hour talking with someone when I didn't have an immediate need for them? I asked Andy why he bothered with these meetings and he told me that this is how he builds his network. As I watched him for a couple of years, I warmed to the idea because it seemed everyone I met in the high tech community in Toronto knew and liked Andy.

So I started opening my calendar to these meetings. This was also about the same time that LinkedIn was first launched. I started combining my networking activities by using LinkedIn as my database to keep track of people. It became my practice to invite anyone I met, either face to face, by phone or by email exchange, to "link" to me on LinkedIn.  I also started mining my past. Seventeen years at IBM and ten years at PeopleSoft adds up to a lot of business contacts. I uploaded my Outlook contact list into LinkedIn and as I discovered past contacts already on LinkedIn, I invited them to "link" to me.  

I also downloaded LinkedIn's Outlook Toolbar. If you are a LinkedIn user and haven't done this, I recommend that you do so immediately. There are three features that I love:

  1. "Grab" allows me to highlight a signature block in an email and make it into a Outlook contact. No more scanning or keying in someone's business card
  2. The "Info" icon now appears on every incoming email in my Inbox. By hovering over "Info", I can see if the person is on LinkedIn and how they are related to me. With a click, I can invite the person to "link" directly from Outlook
  3. "Dashboard" allows me to synchronize my Outlook contacts with my LinkedIn contacts. As someone changes jobs and updates their LinkedIn, these changes will be captured in my Outlook contacts. It isn't perfect but it is pretty good.

Soon, my networking process was rocking and rolling. My roles as Group Vice President of a 1400 person division at PeopleSoft and a year long stint leading a 250 person division at the Symphony/IRI Group in Chicago allowed me to expand my network geographically as well as across many professional disciplines.

That said, the key to networking is not just building your network. You also have to maintain it and this requires a lot of work. Early Saturday or Sunday morning, before the house is awake, is my favourite time for managing my network. I constantly review my network of good friends and key contacts to ensure that I am not falling out of touch with them. When a person changes jobs, I send a congratulations email and include a paragraph describing what I am up to and a request for an update on what's new with them. You have to "give to get". Often I will write 10 or 15 similar emails to people just to catch-up. Often, this will result in a 15 minute catch-up phone call. If the person is local, I will set up a breakfast, coffee meeting or lunch (I probably do five or more of these a month).  There is no planned business agenda for these meetings, just a catch-up (but often a business to-do results from the meeting).

The other part of "giving to get" is connecting people together who would otherwise not discover each other. I spend a lot of time helping colleagues that I respect and trust, to find their next job or find something that they were looking for to solve a current business problem.

So is it worth it? I think so. I am constantly being invited into the middle of interesting stuff because of my network. Not only does this keep me employed but it gives me a great sense of satisfaction being able to help others out by connecting them.

For a shy and introverted person, it has been quite a ride.

© 2010 Meaford Group

Built by parallel.