When you think of your business's network, you might think of computers, telephones or electricity. There's another network that isn't technically a part of your infrastructure, but it should be.
That's your professional network, and adding to and maintaining it is one of the most cost-effective and valuable benefits to your business.
My first introduction to the power of who you know came when I was 16 and my best friend's dad had a retail space he had just rented to a startup guitar store. I asked to be introduced and, before the store even opened for business, I had a super-cool part-time job doing something I loved.
That part-time job led to a full-time job that led me to open my own guitar store which led to me opening a guitar factory that I then sold for millions.
Just about everything of professional significance in my life (venture-capital fund-raising for that factory, board appointments and more) can be attributed to knowing someone who could help me or I could help in return.
Many other important introductions have resulted from my network, including meeting my wife at a business meeting for a charity for which we were both volunteer board members.
So how do you build and keep your networking working for you?
It has to start with effort, time and faith. I am sure you are not afraid of exerting some effort, may not be not sure where you are going to find any more time, and, have no idea what faith has to do with it.
When it comes to effort, you need to be proactive, recognizing and taking advantage of the networking opportunities that present themselves to you every day. That means capitalizing on all new introductions, casually but intentionally asking questions about a person's business or career history, and exchanging business cards or simply tapping their e-mail address or phone number into your smart phone.
When I get an e-mail from a reader of one of my columns, I immediately look the person up on LinkedIn. If we can connect there, I have an instant, detailed and free resource of information about their background and expertise. Hey, it's 2012 and it seems almost too easy – you just have to do it. Building your network can be done in easy, small doses.
That's almost effortless. Time comes with staying in touch. Dropping quick notes or referencing someone when you see something in a trade newsletter or another publication that may be of interest to them or is about them is one tactic. I like to post blogs every now and then and offer meaningful updates by email or LinkedIn. All this takes time, but it keeps you connected and top of mind.
Time is also a consideration because you need to help your network, not just wait for a chance to take from it.
If you can facilitate introductions among members of your network, you are adding tremendous value for them. In more extreme cases, you can invest time in responding to questions they may pose to you or review ideas they have and brainstorm with them.
This is not as selfless as it sounds – exposure to their challenges and opportunities expands your experience and can be applied in the future in ways you may not be able to appreciate right now.
Speaking of unknown future benefits, this is where faith comes in.
Many years ago, I learned to not question in the present how a new contact could help me or I could help them in the future. Even professionally obscure connections in my network have come to benefit me, and vice versa, in ways I could not have foreseen. So, that has built my faith and my enthusiasm for the power of a professional and personal network.
You are reading this column because someone in my network recommended me to The Globe and Mail for this opportunity. I had no connections at the Globe until I got this gig.
There it goes again, my network at work. Get yours working for you.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and exited seven businesses.
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