Build Your Networks Before You Need Them

We are creatures that seek shortcuts. The fastest path to what we want.

And yet, the things that are the most valuable require cultivation. Relationships, trust, advocacy, investment. They’re not just-add-water things.

In business and in life in general, investment comes first. Returns come after. Familiarly, we put that in terms of “give to get” or the like, but rarely if ever do we really think about that until we actually want something and find ourselves desperate for attention, lacking resources, or wondering where to turn for support. And then suddenly we realize we’re asking for a withdrawal against an account that’s been sitting empty.

This is why it’s so important to invest the time and effort in continually building your network and relationships long before you need them.

Here are a couple of examples of this in action that happen all the time.

Job Searching

You want a new gig. Perhaps you’d even like to break into a new industry, a new role, or a new company. So you get on LinkedIn or your pile of business and start digging through your contacts. What happens?

If you’ve spent time cultivating relationships simply for the sake of having them – as opposed to angling for what they can net you in the short term – you likely have a rich network of people to draw from. They have networks of their own. They have their ear to the ground. They may have the inside track on an interview, or working knowledge of a company or a role. They may know you well enough to recommend you or be a reference. And if you’ve valued that relationship on its own merits, those folks are more than likely delighted to have a hand in finding you the gig that’s the perfect fit for you.

But if the first time you’re reaching out to someone is to talk to them about how they can help you get a job? Best case, they’ll be polite but not particularly interested. Worst case they’ll find you rude or presumptuous. No one wants to feel like they’re being used simply as a lever or a convenient stepping stone.

Sharing Your Stuff

Crappy email pitches about your press release are awful. Unsolicited links in DMs from strangers are the bane of most Twitter users. Your completely irrelevant link drop on my Facebook wall is tacky. Why? Because they’re at minimum intrusive and self-centered, and can border on annoying and presumptuous. If you’ve never had a word to say to me until such time as I can be your marketing vehicle? Not so much interested.

But if I at least know you casually? Better yet, if I like you? I’ll want to support YOU, even if your news doesn’t directly apply to me. If I’m enthusiastic about what you’re doing, you may even get more out of me than you asked for and I’ll relish the chance to help you do something great.

Good PR professionals spend YEARS building their media lists and networks of people that are likely to want to write or share an interesting story, long before they ever have the story itself. Why? Because the relationship is what opens the door to the pitch. In reverse, it doesn’t work well, if at all.

The Elusive Return

You want to know what the return is on your investment?

The trick is that you may not know yet. Not for some time. You see, you may not be able to quantify the return until the serendipitous moment where all that time, effort, and investment on principle actually pays off in practice. You may not be able to predict it, or the circumstances, because they haven’t happened yet.

Return is a trailing measure. You know what you got out of something only after you’ve put something into it in the first place.

Networks are the most powerful medium we have at our disposal, and they’re as old as time itself. The internet has dramatically reduced the degrees of separation between us, yet dramatically increased how easy it is to presume trust “relationships” that are founded only a click or a follow.

But we humans still thrive, breathe, and live within the interpersonal threads that truly connect us – not the connection mechanisms – and those connections can transcend geography, circumstance, or situation in the very best ways.

Will you always have the perfect connection at hand? Maybe not. But therein lies the magic.

If you’ve spent the time genuinely investing, building, and contributing to the networks that surround you, those connections may just make themselves known. The ones you do have will help make the ones you don’t. We remember and invest in kind in the connections that are made with us through genuine – and mutual – means.

So. That network that you’ve taken the time to nurture, cultivate, and build when you didn’t need it at all?

May just give you a shining example later on of why that effort was so very, very worthwhile.

  • http://rickcaffeinated.com Rick Stilwell

    I have multiple instances of telling folks “these are the networks & tools you need before you need them”, then having them stare blankly in unbelief, and then needing them when it’s too late. I’m a walking case study of how spot on you are. Problem: the folks I would want to read this won’t (still staring blankly, still unbelief).

  • http://twitter.com/momcommblog Melissa Culbertson

    I love how you say “return is a trailing measure.” SO true. Years ago, I read a book called Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. It really taught me how to network. Not that I was ever a “me me me” kinda person but I really figured out that the more I gave, the more I got. I started Momcomm to pass along my marketing knowledge to blogging moms, many of whom want to start working with brands, growing their audience and/or build a brand but don’t know how. I’m giving but I’m also now starting to get marketing consulting opps because of it. 

    In addition, I lost my job at the beginning of the year and turned to freelancing. So far, all the opportunities have come to ME. I think it’s partly because I’ve given to others in the past. Then when I needed help, I humbly asked my network and they came through. Gotta love that.Great post!

  • http://twitter.com/ChaseBC85 Chase Cornett

     I’m a pretty green PR professional, and when I say green, I am literally 3 weeks out of school. Fortunately, I landed myself a great job out the gates with an up-and-coming creative advertising agency based out of Salt Lake City. 

    Part of my job is to reach out and create buzz about my agency. Naturally I want shortcuts to my end goals. Not gonna happen.  You are absolutely right Amber- relationships must be fostered first in order for any pitch that I make for JCCRANE to fall upon listening ears. 

    I enjoyed the post.  It helps to hear that the long term goals are achievable as long as the dirty work gets done in the trenches now. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rachael-Smith/500310253 Rachael Smith

     Thank you for your post. I am a graphic designer just starting to get my feet wet in the Social Media Realm. So far I feel that I have put a ton of work into newsletters, blogs and growing my online network. It’s been super fun but I was getting a bit worried about how it will pay off in the long term. It’s nice to keep in perspective that it’s not the destination, it’s the journey and the people I will meet along the way–and the rest falls into place.

  • http://twitter.com/onwardsearch Onward Search

    Excellent advice for job seekers here. You mentioned all the best reasons to fortify your network BEFORE searching for a job. I think of properly maintained networks as personal armies. If they’re maintained well, you can cover more ground and promote your personal brand more extensively than if you set out on the job search battlefield alone. 

    I saw a great article yesterday (Forbes, I believe) that listed super quick ways to support your career, and spending 5 minutes a day on fortifying network relationships was on there. It doesn’t take much investment, but the effort pays off big time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jamie-Favreau/712406420 Jamie Favreau

     Great advice.  I know a year or two I had no network but I have volunteered at conferences and networked my tail off both on and off line.  I know I had been picky about the dream job but I have come to my senses since than.  I hope to use my network because you never know who is listening.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jamie-Favreau/712406420 Jamie Favreau

     Great advice.  I know a year or two I had no network but I have volunteered at conferences and networked my tail off both on and off line.  I know I had been picky about the dream job but I have come to my senses since than.  I hope to use my network because you never know who is listening.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jamie-Favreau/712406420 Jamie Favreau

     Great advice.  I know a year or two I had no network but I have volunteered at conferences and networked my tail off both on and off line.  I know I had been picky about the dream job but I have come to my senses since than.  I hope to use my network because you never know who is listening.  

  • http://millerlittlejohnmedia.com Amanda Littlejohn

    Thanks for these thoughts, Amber. I am reminded time and time again when it comes to making things happen in PR, in business, when looking for a job or clients, RELATIONSHIPS ARE EVERYTHING. And mutually beneficial relationships are the best kind. Thanks for writing.

  • http://www.insightcreativetech.com/ Zack Czengoldi

    I really appreciate this article. It couldn’t have appeared at a better time. I’m in the process of writing a training manual of sorts for clients about using new media tools. I’m finding a lot folks using old-school paradigms with the new tools and it’s the reason, I think, for a lot of (inadvertent in most cases) spamming.

    So here’s a question/thought. You mentioned that if someone you don’t know spams you with DMs on Twitter, or posts self-serving links on your FB wall, it’s annoying at the very least. However, if you know them, you might be more than happy to help out. 

    But consider this scenario: A friend/business associate posts a request to recommend them on your FB wall for you and everyone to see and it uses the same generic message that everyone else also gets when they post on everyone else’s walls (e.g. the Stik app on FB). Consider the possibility that this is someone you’ve known for a long time, but haven’t heard from for a while and suddenly they’ve posted a generic request on your FB wall. Or perhaps you’re an old client of theirs who hasn’t used their services for some time, but you love their work and like them as a person plus you like their business overall.

    Do you feel that receiving unsolicited, generic social requests is OK, or not OK when a friend or business partner is behind the request? I have my own thoughts about this, namely that it’s tacky and not an appropriate way to ask for a recommendation, but perhaps I’m being unreasonable (or plain silly, which is not unprecedented! :) ). I’d love to hear any and all thoughts about it! 

    And I look forward to reading many more of your posts. :)

    Thanks much!

  • http://www.youintegrate.com Kneale Mann

    For years, I would have account managers begging me to bend for a “client” when they were really a prospect. They were prepared to make every concession and compromise simply to get the sale. We must think like providers AND customers because we are both. If you don’t want to be hounded with unsolicited information, why do you think others would? You wouldn’t let a stranger tend to your child, so why would you expect they will trust you simply because you sent them an email or made a sales pitch? The social web has given many the impression of the quick fix or easy win and that is simply not the case and it is certainly not scalable. 

  • http://twitter.com/RyanCritchett Ryan Critchett

     Very cool. This is literally taking over, (human connection) and I’m fascinated by it. Great points as usual. Never thought of it quite like this before. 

  • http://twitter.com/DomCrincoli Dom Crincoli

    Thank you, Amber. Your call to genuine selflessness on social networks is worth heeding. Strong networks are built on a core commitment to give back to others. We, in turn, are enriched by doing so. As always, a thoughtful and excellent post.

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  • Nkoutsopoulos81

    I agree with all comments.  I’m in a relationship business and it’s easy to glaze over the etiquette. Great article! 

  • Jendavisjd

    Amber, great sage advice, which applies to personal and work.  Thanks for sharing! 

  • http://aks-blog.com Ashvini Saxena

    Hi Amber,

     That is a great thought. Though I hate the word called Networking , because I think some people do just that and nothing else, I like the concept of sharing the stuff. As you rightly said we cannot leverage the network before we actually give something. I think I have come across a number of people who talk like this
    “Boss you need to develop your network”. It is fine but in the longer run people remember you for how you helped them and not how much you networked.

    Thanks for sharing.
    Ashvini

  • http://authenticabundance.com Monica / Authentic Abundance

    I certainly believe that communication is really about relationships, and having a network makes everything easier. But now that Twitter and Facebook are king, I think it’s easy to confuse the tools for networking with the act of building a social network. You can spend a lot of hours on Facebook without really making a genuine connection with anyone. I think it’s a good idea to make sure your relationships are genuine and meaningful, not just opportunistic.

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  • Anonymous

    Doing just one effective thing a day to build a network (or anything) is very productive.  People make the mistake of trying to get on the first page of Google in 3 months.  

    I like this advice: “Crappy email pitches about your press release are awful.”

  • http://www.extremejohn.com Extreme John

    I totally agree with you Amber. ROI is indeed a matter of give and take. When it comes to ROI, you have to have a long term projection of your business as well as your returns. You’re actually so right in saying that investments come first and returns come after. You can never expect to have your returns overnight. It has to come along with great efforts and careful planning and analysis. 

    Thanks for sharing this post. Keep up the good work Amber! :)

  • http://twitter.com/SMMagic SocialMediaMagic

    How many of us have been involved in marketing campaigns that are pressed against the wall, with firm dates but almost impossible expectations? Unfortunately many don’t realize the power of having a network of your peers around you can be. Creating the strong network way in advance of needing it – is definitely a best practice! Thank you so much Amber for your excellent article. I hope to network with you in the near future! 

    Kimberly 
    Social Media Magic 

  • http://twitter.com/SMMagic SocialMediaMagic

    How many of us have been involved in marketing campaigns that are pressed against the wall, with firm dates but almost impossible expectations? Unfortunately many don’t realize the power of having a network of your peers around you can be. Creating the strong network way in advance of needing it – is definitely a best practice! Thank you so much Amber for your excellent article. I hope to network with you in the near future! 

    Kimberly 
    Social Media Magic 

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  • http://www.mynotetakingnerd.com/blog Lewis LaLanne aka Nerd #2

    You’re so right Amber about being valuable so you can attract what you want continuously.

    For anyone who’s interested in getting all geek and deep space nine on this topic, I cannot recommend Eben Pagan’s “Connected” program.

    Eben is that guy, through mastering this networking via bringing value to relationships process, went from being invisible on the map of information marketers to being a somebody in a crowded ass niche “marketing advice”.

    His strategies he discusses in this course allowed him to sell seats for his first seminar for $10k a pop and he got some of the most famous names in internet marketing to mail for him.

    I own this course and absolutely LOVE IT!!! I don’t know when he’s gonna launch it again but when he does, get it. You won’t be sorry. :)

  • Peter Zmijewski

    Yup I agree this for making network more before we need them, they can be very useful for anytime…get in touch with http://peterzmijewski.wordpress.com/

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  • http://www.socialmeteor.com Troy Janisch

    Social Networks are a lot like muscles — we need to build them up and work them out regularly. You can’t just collect contacts like baseball cards.  It’s about engaging. Doing favors. asking for small favors. making introductions.  Then, when you REALLY NEED the network, you can depend on it.

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  • http://www.beachcombercommunications.com Angela Crocker

    You say it perfectly with this, Amber: “the things that are the most valuable require cultivation. Relationships, trust, advocacy, investment. They’re not just-add-water things.”  This is a fundamental truth that must be understood at the deepest level.
    (BTW Great to meet you in Victoria at Social Media Camp. Hopefully we’ll have more time to chat next time our paths cross.)

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