Enrich Your Network With Every Encounter

Our days (and especially our routines) offer dozens of built-in opportunities to build your relationships network.  From our daily stop at the coffee shop, to our visits to the gym to the parties we attend, we get to know dozens of people…or do we?

Networking for work has never been easier (hello Linkedin), but the people we meet when we’re not “working” tend to be categorized as social rather than business opportunities.  Maybe as a reaction to being able to have 500+ connections rather easily, we’ve learned that building actual relationships is more valuable than ever.  Every face-to-face encounter is an opportunity to form or build a relationship—a gift in and of itself.  As a management consultant, I’ve seen and heard many stories about business that resulted from “social” relationships.  Here are some of my favorites.

Dave, a friend of mine is one of the most successful business development executives in the consulting industry.  He lives in a Chicago suburb and attended his two daughters’ soccer games during their high school years.  Throughout those years, he often sat next to their teammate’s father, who happened to be the CEO of a healthcare company. When that company wanted to improve their performance, he received a call from the CEO.

I worked with a team on a consulting engagement in New York.  Midway through that project we learned the client company had been purchased by a company in Chicago. The acquiring company sent a representative to listen to our findings. We were thanked for our efforts and dismissed.  Two weeks later our team was asked to present to the buyers in Chicago, one of whom happened to be someone Dave had met at a neighborhood Christmas party.  We got the engagement.

Dave is also passionate about airplanes.  He holds a private pilot’s license, owns his own plane and is a member of multiple aerospace industry associations.  A few years ago, a pilot friend from one of those associations asked Dave to put a team together to help streamline aircraft production. That team delivered a successful project and Dave has since built a healthy aerospace consulting practice.

Dave’s success is well earned and well spent.  Anyone who knows him will tell you he and his wife share the fruits of their labor and their gratitude by giving back. When one of his former clients lost his job due to a merger, Dave hired him immediately.  He has also served on the board of a start-up company for a new aircraft that is designed for disaster relief, and quietly worked to help them secure additional funding they needed.  His genuine interest in other people shows with everyone he meets.

Great networkers like Dave are never really networking—they’re having a conversation.  Take a fresh look at all the people you meet.  Whether your Lyft driver or barista is building a startup or not, enrich your life and theirs with a conversation.  No matter where it leads.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based on Amelia Island, Florida and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  

Leveraging Our Network: Introductions

Making the effort to connect people whose relationship may be mutually beneficial is a networking habit that demonstrates to members of our network that we hold them in high regard.  Almost like match-making – when we meet someone who appears to have parallel interests with someone else in our network – we can check with them to determine if they have interest in the connection, then make the introduction.  Although nothing may ever come of the introduction we have complimented both through our effort.

When a colleague makes an introduction on our behalf it’s important we acknowledge that compliment by following up on the introduction.

I’m reminded of an accomplished executive who I added to my team on a consulting engagement.   She had a deep background as a subject matter expert in a specific field.  As I got to know her I recognized it was important to her financially to be selected for additional engagements.

With her permission, I introduced her to two former colleagues of mine.  One owns her own firm and often has work she outsources.  The other is a highly sought after consultant who is often in the position to refer subject matter experts.

I received notes from both my colleagues thanking me for the introduction but, to date, have never received any feedback about subsequent calls that took place.

The learning for me was I could have been any of the parties involved in this scenario.  In this case I made the introduction.  I’ve been the person who was introduced and the person to whom someone was introduced.

I could be left with the feeling that I wasted my time; however, making the introduction gave me the opportunity to reconnect with two colleagues I admire.  It also reminded me how important it is to acknowledge the effort when someone makes an introduction on my behalf.

There may come a day when we need to contact that person, or someone else in our network, because we’re looking for a referral, a reference, or an introduction.  If we’ve established ourselves as someone who refers, provides references and makes introductions; and, who acknowledges our colleagues when we’re referred, when a reference is provided on our behalf, or when we’re introduced, we’ll be less reticent to ask for one when we need it and more likely to be the recipient of the support we need to be successful.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  

Leveraging Our Network: References

A reference is a testimonial of someone’s suitability to fill a specific role in an organization.  When we find ourselves in a position where we’re asked to provide a reference for a colleague who’s interviewing for a position, it’s important to provide an honest assessment, particularly if that person wasn’t a top performer when we worked with them.

Although we’d all like to believe we were top performers in every position we’ve held, there are a multitude of reasons – some that might have been outside our control, this might not have been the case.  The same holds true for everyone in our network; therefore, sometimes it’s important to give them the same benefit of the doubt we’d like them to give us.

When asked to be a reference I’ve found I can serve all parties more effectively if I have the person asking for a reference send me an EMAIL.  In that EMAIL I ask for a description of the position they’re applying for, why they want this particular position, why they want to work for this company, and why they believe they’re a good fit.  Using that description, I prepare specific of examples of when I’ve observed this person doing this work successfully, being careful not to stretch the truth or fabricate any of the information.

Using what I’ve written and the information of why the individual thinks he’d be a good fit, I review this information with him so that he has a good understanding of what I’ll be sharing with his prospective employer.  This gives us both the opportunity to ask clarifying questions and allows me to not only represent him accurately but provide a reference that’s relevant to the position.

When we’re asking a colleague to provide a reference we can follow the same process.  We call the colleague and ask if he is willing to provide a reference for a specific position (or opportunity), why we want to work for this company, why we think we’re a good fit, and offer specific examples of when we’ve done similar work with him.

If our colleague is willing to be a reference, we let him know we’ll be sending him an EMAIL with the background information and, during the call, schedule the quick follow-up.  This insures we’re aligned on what the reference will contain.

It’s important to let our references know the outcome of our candidacy, regardless of whether or not we get the position.  We certainly don’t want to put ourselves in the position where the next call we make to them is to ask for another reference, referral, or introduction.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Ferndina Beach, Florida and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  

Leveraging Our Network: Referrals

Referring someone for a position is an opportunity to assist not only them, but another member of our network who’s looking for a person with that specific set of skills, talents, and knowledge.

It goes without saying, however, that referring someone or a company when we have reservations about their ability to succeed can not only contribute to their failure, but reflect poorly on the person who gave them a chance, and damage our credibility.  The good news is, when we’re called by a colleague and asked the proverbial, “Do we know anyone who is looking for a …”, if no one immediately comes to mind we can usually honestly say we don’t.

When we’re seeking a referral, we have a better chance of getting the one we want if we carefully define why we’re seeking the referral, what we have to offer, what company needs that product or service, and who in that company can make the decision.

For example, we read in our Linkedin feed that Smith’s Engines just won the contract to design and manufacture engines as a sub-contractor on a multi-billion dollar defense contract.  Our company is in the business of providing aerospace design engineers and has had success augmenting the staff for several other defense contractors.  We believe the person who can either make or influence the decision is the Vice President of Engineering.

We could certainly figure out who that individual is and place a cold call … but so could every other engineering firm in our space.  Instead, we check through the simple database we keep of the more than 500 members of our network and find a 1st Connection who knows the Vice President of Engineering at Smith’s Engines, then call that colleague for his advice on the best way to get in front of him and for his referral.

Recently I was leading a consulting engagement and two members from another team became available.  Their project lead called me and asked if I could find a place for them for a few weeks while she worked on securing another opportunity.  She wanted to be certain the two of them would be available for additional work if she was successful.  We chatted for a few minutes about each of their capabilities and figured out how they could temporarily contribute to my engagement.

They turned out to be two powerhouses who came in and after ten minutes of introduction got right to work.  Because of those two capable people we were able to exceed my clients’ expectations.

That other project lead put her reputation on the line when she referred two members of her team.  Her willingness to do so; however, said it all.  In an industry where we’re all independent practitioners, referrals are risky because while one bad referral won’t end your career, it can cost you the good will of someone who would have brought you work down the line.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Fernandina Beach, Florida and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups

Building Our Network: Professional Organizations

Building a network within our industry or profession is another method of networking.  Most industries or professions have at least one professional organization and many have a wide selection organizations who would love to have us as members.

Finding a professional organization where we fit takes some effort.  We can get online to do the research and query our peers and advisors for information about their organizations.  If there’s a local chapter we can often attend one or several meetings as a guest and consider whether the organization’s purpose and approach works for us.

There are many models for professional organizations. One model is as a business whose purpose is to provide education, training, and certification in a specific field.  These organizations work to legitimize the need for the certifications they offer and attract new members who will purchase the training to earn these certifications.  They typically have a paid professional staff that facilitates their efforts and produces conferences that are educational and offer networking opportunities for their members.

A second model is used by organizations formed to work on issues that are common to their profession or industry and advance the collective knowledge.  They often publish a periodical with articles of interest written by or of interest to their members.  Companies who are suppliers to the businesses within the industry, or of interest to the members of the profession, often sponsor annual conferences attended by hundreds of members.

A third model is an organization formed solely to allow their members to network.  These run the gamut from meet-ups open to the public to those with memberships limited to specific groups. The costs associated with membership range from a small fee to attend each meeting to an annual fee of six figures for a professionally facilitated meeting of CEO’s or business owners.

Whatever organization we choose we need to determine whether the time and price of participation has value One method is to join an organization for a year and take stock when it’s time to renew to determine if we’ve been interested in actively participating or found reasons not to attend the meetings.

If not, why not?  Is it that the organization isn’t a good fit with our goals or interests?  Are we at stage in our lives or careers where we can’t or don’t make the time to participate?

If, however, we’ve found a good fit we can renew the membership and continue to look for ways to actively participate and build our network.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in 2017.