Hollywood producer Jerry Weintraub recently published a great memoir called When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead that illustrates the power of the network. In it, he tells story after story about how a relationship, properly maintained, brought him further along in his business than anything else.
But people rarely tell you how to build a network, or how to maintain relationships, or what will matter on the way up. And they don't give you any shortcuts that you can follow, either. Me? I'm all about the shortcuts and the help.
Understand Dunbar's number
British anthropologist Robin Dunbar said you can maintain only 150 close social connections. This isn't a software limitation--it's a number culled from research that says we humans have a hard time keeping everyone top of mind. With technology, we are able to stretch that number, but it requires consideration and tuning to maintain your 150 and to grow.
The 150 people you spend most of your time communicating with are:
- Colleagues at the same company
- Customers or prospects served by that company
- Schoolmates from the good old days
- Geographic connections
It's easy to predict this, as most people network the same way. It's also a negative toward your potential future growth. Think about people who lost their jobs in the Detroit region. Relatives, colleagues, customers, schoolmates and geographic locals couldn't help one another, because they were all in the same boat. Let's fix that.
Be part of different 150s
There are many ways to consider whom you should stay in closest contact with. My take is that you should consider diversifying by location and by industry, for starters. One way to maintain a diverse and useful network is to branch out and then "feed" your network better. Let's start with expanding your network.
Pull out whatever you're using for contact management and look at the total sum of people you know how to reach. Can you find people via your networks who are in similar industries but different verticals? Maybe you sell houses. Find a real estate professional on the other side of the country, or maybe in another country. Start getting chummy.
Find people from different industries and connect. Our real estate professional could make friends in the local art community, then help artists place paintings in each house sold. Get the picture?
Deliver useful contact often
The best advice I can give you is to be helpful. There are two ways that I do this, and maybe you have others. First, I share useful information when I find it. If I see an article about the restaurant business, I send it to Joe Sorge in Milwaukee, who runs AJ Bombers and three other restaurants. If I've got something to share with Government 2.0 types, I'll tell Alex Howard, who covers the future of government for O'Reilly Media.
The second way I help is by connecting people together for business. Every time you can tell someone in your network that you have someone they should meet--and that meeting amounts to business value and/or money--it's a beautiful day for all. Be at the elbow of every deal.
Exercising our networks and connecting to important people are meant to be a part of our daily business rituals, not an add-on. It's work, but it's work that pays off.