How good are your networks?
Are your connections really valuable or are they holding you back?
A strong practice requires strong referral networks. It really is that simple. But determining the quality of your networks isn’t always as easy at it seems. So, how do you tell if your networks are firing on all cylinders or holding you back altogether? Here’s how I think you tell.
1. Identify your existing networks
Every person and every professional has networks, even in today’s digital age. Sure, those networks could now be in person or online. They also could be formal, such as a referral group, or informal. They could be built around work or built around play. They could be internal or external. But they do have to exist, otherwise you wouldn’t be human, and you sure wouldn’t have a practice.
The first step is always to think about where your networks lie - both professional and personal. I find an easy way to do this is to take the time to think about the 20 people you’ve spent the most time with over the past, say, six months and to write down their names.
2. Work out how connected you really are
Now that you see what you’re dealing with, it’s time to figure out what networks the people you spend time with belong to and how the picture fits together. Generally, I think there are four types of networks you’ll probably have as a professional:
- Networks within your team and practice group
- Networks within your firm more broadly
- Professional networks outside the firm
- Personal networks outside the firm.
Even someone who’s a ‘lifer’ at a firm should generally be able to draw from each of these four sections. After all, people will have left your firm and moved in-house, giving you wider professional networks more generally. You’ll also - at least you should - have hobbies away from your desk.
So now that you have the names of the 20 people, write down what kind of network they fit into.
3. Know your role
Next, it’s time to figure out what role you play in the networks attached to each of these people. Are you central or peripheral? The answer to that will probably depend on how the networks come about and, in turn, how homogenous they are. Consider these two examples below.
In the first, the people already know each other well. There’s already shared experience and the levels of trust are high. This could be a social group, or a workplace or even a group of friends who played for a sports team.
In the second one, the contacts in the network aren’t grouped together - you become the connector. It’s more likely how a professional networking group would look, or one where, say, you know one person at another workplace well but not their colleagues.
4. Assess the value of a connection
In the best networks, there’s a degree of reciprocity - ie, people do for each other what gets done for them. This is vital because it increases the flow of opportunities through the group so that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
What’s interesting here is that this kind of high quality network doesn’t necessarily have to be the strong, shared experience type in the first diagram above. In fact, it’s more often the second type that are most productive.
That’s because more important than being close to someone is being respected. You need to be confident that the people within your network know what you do, have the influence needed to deliver you work and understand what you need from them.
So, with that in mind, I’d suggest ranking each of your 20 connections and their attendant networks out of 10 on the following points to arrive at a score out of 100 for each of them:
- Reciprocity. How confident are you that help will be repaid?
- Influence. How influential are they over the network?
- Trust. How likely are you to turn to them for advice?
- Generosity. How much do they share information with you?
- Authority. What’s their capacity to make decisions on behalf of their employer?
- Quality of information. How good is the information they share?
- Quality of referrals. What’s the quality of the people they refer to you?
- Capacity. How able are they to refer work in their current role?
- Opportunities. What is their ability to bring you opportunities?
- Understanding. How well do they know what you need?
5. Assess the effort involved
That said, quality isn’t everything. You may know the most influential person in the country, but if reaching them is difficult or if you need to go to a tremendous amount of effort to connect with them, you’re probably better off pursuing other sources of work. For that reason, I always think it’s best to allocate another 50 points to the effort involved.
So, now that you have a score out of 100 for each connection, allocate them up to another 50 points by answering these questions:
- How confident or comfortable are you asking something from them?
- How open are they to new ideas and opportunities?
- How likely are they to cooperate with you and with others?
- How much time do you need to put in to maintain the relationship?
- How much effort does it take just to contact them?
6. Compare and contrast
Now you have a 'Quality' and 'Effort' score for your 20 closest connections. That means you have a blueprint for working out where you should be putting your effort (high quality - low effort) and where you probably shouldn’t be spending so much time (low quality - high effort).
And, if you need help cultivating those connections, stay tuned. I’ll soon be showing you how to build the very best kind of business networks.
If you’d like help assessing your networks to work out where your best opportunities lie, get in touch.