Networking and the Asparagus Farmer

In some ways networking is like asparagus farming, where the instruction book begins "dig a trench, two years ago". Occasionally you can go to a networking event, meet someone and the next day you benefit in some way from the connection. This is the exception rather than the rule. Most networking efforts pay back months or even years after you have done them -- another reason why I always teach people in networking workshops to start early and take a long-term view.

Taking a long-term view sounds reasonable enough to most people, but the devil as always is in the details; how exactly do you build a long-term networking strategy? The short answer is to follow three general principles that will ensure that the tactical activities you are doing now will support your long term goals.

1. Meet a more diverse population. In many situations you are likely to meet mostly people who are all from similar backgrounds. If you are a doctor you probably know many other people in the business, if you are a footballer you probably meet many footballers and if you are a quality engineer you probably meet many quality engineers. The downside of this is that you tend to build a lop-sided network with huge gaps. Since you don't know where you will be in a few years and can't predict what will be important this lack of diversity is a problem. For this reason any long term networking plan has to include some opportunities for meeting people from different backgrounds. If you are an accountant don't just hang out with fellow accountants but try to participate in activities where there are people from very different fields -- perhaps in a theater group, a motorcycle club or a veteran car club.

2. Build a solid networking capital. You will get more from your network if you are widely known as a generous contributor to your network. Help people when they ask, help people proactively, accept help and be generous with your time. At the same time build a reputation for being dependable. If you promise to do something write down that promise and make sure that you deliver. Most people actually don't deliver all the things they promise so this is a great way to stand out, building social capital that will one day be useful when you need help.

3. Create a real-life reputation platform. Since the invention of social media the focus of reputation management shifted towards creating an online footprint based on user-created profiles on social sites. Anyone can do this so a reputation based on independent sources has much more value. That is why today to build a strong reputation you need to build a solid platform that gives you credibility. It could be that you have some achievement like founding a startup, or perhaps you play a leadership role in some non-profit organization, perhaps you have written a book or perhaps you teach in a prestigious school. All of these will help you to build a "platform", a reputation that will open doors and make networking easier. Anybody can attempt to connect with an influential person, but the chance of success is much higher when you have a platform.

Some of these methods will not yield any measurable benefits this month, but a year or more into the future one day you will meet people thanks to these efforts and you will be very glad that you made the effort.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about networking and other topics you can contact Andrew Hennigan by email at, by phone on 0046 730 894 475.


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