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How Deep Is Your Network?

You have a lot of contacts, but how well do you really know them? Strengthen the relationships you already have and you'll grow a strong network you can always depend on.
February 24, 2006

Recently someone I barely knew contacted me and asked if I would promote his business service within my networking organization. I considered this person a business associate, but definitely not someone I knew very well. That request made me think about how many people assume that if they've met you, they can ask for something that only a close associate would be willing to do.

Master networkers know that having a good contact doesn't necessarily make someone a good connection. Having run an international networking organization for more than two decades, one of the most important things I've learned is that it's not "what you know," or even "who you know." It's "how well you know them" that really counts in building a powerful personal network.

This means your network must not only be broad, it must also be deep. Unfortunately, I believe most people focus on the broad aspect more than the deep aspect. In other words, they concentrate on making more and more contacts hoping to find that one special person who'll solve their business needs this month.

When developing a reliable and effective network, it's very important to keep depth in mind as much as breadth! What do I mean by this? When you need to rely on others to help you out (promote your program to their client base or cross market your products), it's critical that you've done the work of strengthening your connections well in advance of your need.

When you're considering asking someone in your personal network for a favor, ask yourself if they're a "contact" or a "connection." In this context, a contact is someone you know, but with whom you haven't fully established a strong relationship. On the other hand, a connection is someone who knows you and trusts you because you've taken the time to establish credibility with them.

Unrealistic expectations of your network come from trying to "use" your network for support that your contacts might not feel you deserve, or feel they have no obligation to provide. You really do have to earn the loyalty and engagement of your referral sources. You want your network to have very deep roots.

In Southern California, we have many huge, tall and lush eucalyptus trees that topple over fairly easily in heavy winds almost every year. When they're uprooted and blown over by the wind, you can see that their root system is broad and wide, but not very deep at all. Don't let this happen to you! The following are some tangible ways to deepen the roots of your network:

I hope you're seeing a trend in each of these points. When deepening your network, you want to focus on giving to your referral sources. It's that tried-and-true analogy of farming versus hunting when building a business through word of mouth. Give your time, give your knowledge, and give what your referral sources need to succeed. As you develop stronger networking skills, it's better to put on the farmer's overalls and cultivate the connections you need to be able to call in support for programs and products you want to promote.

We all know the best time to plant an oak tree was 25 years ago; however, the next best time is right now! It's never too late to change your focus and develop business relationships with very deep roots--as well as far-reaching breadth.