Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Building Your Network

I find myself spending more and more time on LinkedIn lately.  Not because I am looking for a job, which is one of main uses of the platform by it’s 50+ million subscribers, but because of a book I recently read, "Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship At A Time."   Although it was written in 2005 when Linkedin was just a glimmer of it’s future self, (and barely registers a mention in any of the chapters) today there is no better tool to act on the book’s powerful message.

The problem with most books in the motivation/self-improvement aisle is they feel great while reading, but rarely have any real long-term impact.  Reading them, I tend to say to myself, “yeah – I do all that already.” Invariably, the book’s core messages “go in one ear and out the other,” as my mother used to say.

"Never Eat Alone” is different.  The book is based on a simple message: our network of friends, family, colleagues, associates, mentors and mentees are the foundation of all our success and happiness in life.  And the more we build and nurture this network through genuine relationship building and mutually beneficial interactions, the more happy and successful we will be.  The author emphasizes that our approach has to be in a spirit of generosity, not "what’s in it for me."

(Although I highly recommend the book, it is a bit marred by celebrity name dropping including an almost deal-breaking, reverential reference to Donald Trump.)

Some of the tactics:
  • Look for mentors: Link up with people who can help guide your career and can introduce you to the people you need to know. Then become a mentor yourself.
  •  Be interesting: Develop the style, knowledge, and expertise that will draw others to you.
  • Build it before you need it: Create lists of people you know—and those you want to know—and maintain ongoing contacts with them throughout your life and career—not just when you need a favor.
  •  Never eat alone: Avoid the fate of "invisibility"—use potential social settings to constantly reach out to colleagues and future contacts.

So after zipping through the book last month, I was inspired to find some digital tools to act on the book’s message and better grow and tie my network together.  (As mentioned earlier, the book was written 5 years ago before the explosive growth of social media, leaving current readers on their own to find the best tools and platforms.)

LinkedIn immediately fit the bill.  They have done a great job powering the platform with tools that provide much of the real time immediacy of Facebook.  Status updating, commenting and liking, forming groups and linking to Twitter and blog feeds are now standard features, along with an increasingly intuitive "People You May Know" engine.  

With a little exploring, I found additional features that immediately enabled me to to accomplish my goals.  (All included in the free version.) 

The first thing I did was go through my Outlook address book and invite everyone I was not yet connected to on LinkedIn to connect. More often than not, I replaced the generic LinkedIn message with a more personal one. (For the few people who don’t have an account yet, LinkedIn invites them to join the service.)

It quickly became apparent how irrelevant contact software like Outlook is becoming. With people changing jobs and positions so frequently, their contact information is often out-of-date, and the task of cutting and pasting new updated information seems archaic with so much now stored in the cloud.  And people are quite diligent about keeping their info on LinkedIn current.

Next I used LinkedIn’s tagging tool to categorize all my contacts - Friend, Colleague, City, Type of Business, etc.

Finally, I made sure my personal information was up-to-date and interesting, including new tools to link to this blog and my Twitter feed.

I am sure there is a lot more I can do.  I will keep you posted on my progress.

It was recently reported that LinkedIn is valued at over $2 billion.  Seems justified if they can become the hub for everyone's network.