More and more, we need to be connected to a network of resources for mutual benefit and growth.
Tom Peters says, "It's loyalty to peers in your industry and not to a hierarchy. You have to develop a Rolodex obsession, building and deliberately managing an ever-growing network of professional contacts."
And although you need these contacts to support your success, the approach to building a valuable network involves giving—not taking. The more you give to your network colleagues, the more they will be there when you truly need them.
You need to be networking continuously. According to Keith Ferrazzi, one of the world's most connected individuals and youngest-ever Chief Marketing Officer, "When someone comes to me for advice on how to build a network because they need a job now, I tell them it's useless. People can tell the difference between desperation and an earnest attempt to create a relationship."
When you approach networking from the perspective of giving, you build long-lasting relationships. People like people who look out for them. One key to success is to go through your mental Rolodex every time you meet someone new, thinking about whom they should meet and how you could add value by connecting them to others in your network.
Be a leader among your peers
Taking a leadership role in a professional organization is a great way to connect with likeminded professionals. Do you belong to the AMA or Chartered Institute of Marketing? Do you contact authors of marketing articles you find insightful? Do you belong to a virtual network like linkedin? Are you a contributor to MarketingProf's Know-How Exchange? Do you connect with your marketing colleagues in your industry?
Remember, taking a leadership role in one or two associations is much more valuable than just being a member in several. Having a leadership position increases your visibility among all members and gives you the mandate to connect with them. It also gives you an opportunity to demonstrate your unique promise of value and your leadership skills.
Volunteering also provides an excellent way to connect with people you might not otherwise have a chance to meet. Using some of your marketing prowess to support an organization that you believe in will give you a deep sense of fulfillment while adding to the heft of your Rolodex. There are countless organizations that would do almost anything to have someone with your marketing expertise supporting their cause.
Often, belonging to these types of organizations gives you the excuse to contact people you would like to have in your network without it being all about you.
Get out from behind your desk
Networking isn't just an external activity. Connect with your peers inside the walls of your organization—in your own marketing group and the other functions. Being a marketing executive gives you to opportunity to connect with people throughout the company. Marketing connects with virtually every organization and often requires the buy-in and commitment of most.
Remember what Roy Young (of the MarketingProfs management team) says: "Marketers must recognize that it's the equity [they] build within the organization that often makes the difference between gaining a seat at the strategy table on the one hand and powerlessness and marginality on the other."
Since the average tenure of a job right now is about four years, your network contacts from your current employer will soon be working somewhere else. This gives you contacts in a new companies and an opportunity to include their replacements in your internal professional network.
Try a network nurturing exercise
Try this: on a sheet of paper, draw a circle in the middle of the page. Picture yourself in the center of this circle. Around you are all the people in your close professional network (you know them well and could call them at any time). Write in the name of those members of your close professional network randomly so that they are surrounding you.
Now look at each name individually and think about those in your network they would benefit most from knowing. Draw lines connecting these contacts. Then, over the next week, make a plan to introduce or otherwise connect these people for mutual value. They will be thrilled that you did and will be there for you when you need to make a connection. (To learn how strong your network is now, take this quiz: www.reachcc.com/networkquiz.)
The best networkers do a little bit of networking each day, forging new relationships while staying connected to their existing network. So make a plan to build and nurture your network... and watch the opportunities emerge.
Remember: ask not what your network can do for you, ask what you can do for your network!
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