Frank Agin, founder and president of AmSpirit Business Connections and host of Networking Rx, interview Rodney Miller, a real estate investor who uses networking to piece together all aspects of his deals.
“It’s Not What You Know, But Who You Know.” Chances are you’ve heard that once or twice in your life from a well-meaning parent, a mentor, or supportive colleague. But how much truth is there to this?
Who you know IS more important than what you know…in some regards. The world has more than its share of brilliant people that don’t reach their true potential because they work in a vacuum with limited contact with other people. At the same time, far less brilliant people rise to great heights merely on the connections they have. Bill Gates is not the smartest computer person. He is simply a smart computer mind with a plethora of connections.
But as much as WHO you know is important, the world also has more than its share of individuals that seemingly know lots of people but gain very little from this network. How is this possible? Quite simply, it is more than just WHO you know.
Effective networking is not just about knowing lots of people, making dozens of phone calls, posting on LinkedIn, and attending events. Nor is effective networking just about connecting with and being connected to others. Effective networking is about having meaningful relationships with those you are connected to.
Success will not come from filling your database with the names of thousands of people but from creating relationships with a reasonable number of those people. Which people?
- Existing contacts and centers of influence, such as bankers, attorneys, accountants, and outplacement professionals.
- A wide variety of people whose businesses are directly related, indirectly related, and even seemingly unrelated to what you do.
Whatever the case, the important thing is to build a solid RELATIONSHIP with them.
Networking opportunities fall into three distinct categories: Face To Face … Electronic Encounters … and, Social Media.
FACE TO FACE networking opportunities including, various activities when you are out and about with people. These include:
• Structured Networking, including Toastmasters, Rotary, Lions Club, or organizations like AmSpirit Business Connections.
• Networking Events, including trade shows, volunteer activities, business after-hours, Chamber events, seminars, and even social events like tailgates.
• Free-Form Networking, including perhaps a round of golf, meeting over a cup of coffee, or just getting together.
With respect to networking in the modern age, much of what you can do face to face, you can accomplish via ELECTRONIC ENCOUNTERS. More specifically, you network over the telephone, over e-mail and through texting. Remember networking is more than selling and prospecting. It is two or more people working towards their mutual benefit – sharing referrals or contacts, passing on information, being encouraging and supportive.
Finally, in the 21st century, technological innovation has given way to SOCIAL MEDIA websites. These are nothing more than virtual venues where you can network – again, share referrals or contacts, pass on information, being encouraging and supportive.
The main three social media applications are LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, but beyond these are dozens and dozens of others. If used properly, social media will allow you to network on a massive scale, on a worldwide basis, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, and do so with incredible information about your networking partner before you even make contact.
Once you realize that networking builds value in your life, the natural reaction is, “How much value do I have?”
Certainly, this is not as simple as counting change or tallying hours worked. And while there are complicated formulas for assessing one’s social capital, there are three rather simplistic means of making a thumbnail measurement. Let’s touch on each of these.
Assessment #1 is Connectivity. Answer this, “Who do I know?” Stop and think about it. Take an inventory of the people you know. High School. College. Neighbors. Community. Church. The gym. And the list goes on. You likely know lots of people, and as you meet more your social capital grows.
Assessment #2 is Density. Think about it. If you knew ten people and those ten people all knew each other, your network is so dense (or interconnected) that the social capital is nowhere near as great as if you knew ten people and none of those people knew each other. So it is not just how many people you know that is important, but how many of those people know each other. Certainly, it is not reasonable to think that no one in your network knows anyone else, but you do want to have a broad, diverse network where you know lots of people and they are relatively disconnected from one another.
Assessment #3 is Potential. It is important how many people you know. And it is important how many of those people you know, know each other. But another means of assessing your network is to look through the people you know and see the people they know that you do not currently know. If you know ten people and they have relatively poor networks themselves, you are worse off than if you know only five people, but those five are extremely well connected.
Take a moment now and then to assess the value of your network. In these moments, ask yourself, “How can I increase my network Connectivity, lessen its Density, as well as enhance its Potential?”
Networking Works. It may not work exactly how you want … It may not work exactly when you want … It may not work exactly where you want. But it works.
The first step to making it work for you, however, is understanding what it really is. A working definition for networking is
“Two or more people working towards their mutual benefit.”
Networking is helping and being helped by others, and nothing more.
Given that definition, the universe of potential networking is very broad. The universe does include prospecting and selling, but it is much bigger than that. It also includes, servicing clients, attending events, volunteering, and even socializing.
In fact, successful networking is something you need to focus on every waking moment. It is not something born out of the 80s, 90s or new millennium… It has been part of life since the human existence.
It has been part of everything in your life. Not just finding jobs or getting clients, more than getting promotions. It is also (but not limited to) finding a golf league, spouse, and babysitter (and not always in that order). Networking is nothing more than humans interacting and somehow working together to survive and prosper.
Social Media: What Can It Do For Me?
Social media is a tool to help you network but it is not a replacement for networking. It is best analogized as a giant, ongoing, searchable networking event. Great! But the $64,000 question is “What Can It Do For Me?”
First, social media is an effective means of networking THROUGH to people. You can meet attorneys, bankers and those associated with employment transition. In short, social media is a great way to find and work through strategic partners who can lead you to clients. It is not geared for selling. Again, remember, it is just like a networking event and you would not dream of overtly hawking goods or services there, so do not do it here.
Second, social media is a wonderful way to position yourself in the hearts and minds of others, especially if you are new to a profession. Many of the people who know you, know you as someone else. Even if you have been in a particular profession for a long time, your online network might not fully appreciate what it means. LinkedIn provides you a platform to brand yourself as a knowledgeable and committed person in your profession (someone to know, like and trust). It will not do this over night, but in time you can create an expert of yourself on LinkedIn.
Finally, and likely of most interest, social media is a great means of creating opportunity. Through it, you can connect with people that can lead you to clients. Through it, you can find events that can lead you to clients. Through it, you can get information that can connect you to clients. Through it, clients can become aware of you and connect with you directly. It will not provide a windfall immediately; some days will be better than others. But over time the opportunities will be there.
In the tale, Stone Soup, stingy villagers have no interest in sharing their food with anyone but their own. However, when a peddler offers to share some stone soup with them (essentially rocks in a pot of boiling water), one by one the villagers begin to share – a head of cabbage here, some salt beef there – and before long a pot of delicious “stone” soup awaits them.
This tale suggests that generosity and altruism are contagious. Nicholas A. Christakis, M.D., Ph.D. and James H. Fowler, Ph.D tested this assertion and shared their results in their book Connected.
120 students were put into groups of four. Each group member was given some money to perform a series of tasks. Members both profited and lost in this capitalistic exercise. After each round, members had the option to give some funds to others at their own expense.
The exercise was repeated, with different group configurations. In the first few rounds, no money was gifted.
Unbeknownst to the participants, one of them was a plant — someone in on the experiment. This person was the “Stone Soup Peddler.” At some point, the Stone Soup Peddler started to give away some of his money to others.
In the exercises that followed this exhibition of generosity, the people who benefited from the gift gave more. Even people who had only witnessed the gifting began giving more. These altruistic gestures began to spread through the group.
In business, you depend on others giving to you. You look for people to give you information, and to share referrals, insights, and ideas with you.
But people don’t just give; they are somehow moved and inspired to do so.
As the tale and the study illustrate, you have the power to inspire generosity through your own generosity. Any simple gesture can be contagious – a simple referral, an introduction, or just sharing valuable information. This will inspire your network to give to you and to others.
The United Kingdom has had a longstanding milk distribution system. Milkmen in small trucks bring the milk in bottles to each country house. Early in the 20th century, these bottles had no top, giving birds easy access to the cream on top.
The titmice and the robins capitalized most on this opportunity, quickly learning to siphon off the cream from the bottles.
In the 1940s dairies began to install aluminum seals on milk bottles, effectively preventing the birds from gaining access.
Other than an occasional few, the robins as a species never learned how to get around the bottle cap and were foiled (no pun intended) from getting at the milky cream.
Why? After all, robins and titmice are similar in size and physical characteristics. The difference was in how the birds interacted within their own species.
Robins are individualistic, self-serving and territorial birds. Rather than cooperate, they chase each other off when approached.
Titmice, on the other hand, are communal birds, relying heavily on other titmice for survival. Through this mutual dependency, they cooperate and collaborate, quickly learning from each other and adapting accordingly.
In short, the titmice won the battle against the aluminum caps because they learned from one another, while the self-serving robins, unwilling to share information, found themselves denied access to the sweet cream.
The lesson here is simple: Birds that flock, like titmice, learn faster, evolve more quickly, and increase their chances of survival. This is true for you as well. When you interact with others, you learn – new information, new techniques, and new ways of helping others succeed.
So, in short, build a network of titmice, not robins.
In addition to the types of people in your network, you need to consider the extent to which you know people in your network.
In Getting A Job, author and sociologist Mark Granovetter found that 56% of people found jobs through personal contacts. Not surprising. After all, it is not what you know, but who you know.”
The surprise was that the personal contacts used to obtain these jobs were not family or friends – “close ties”. Rather, most could be classified as “weak ties”. 55.6% reported that they saw their “job-producing” contact only occasionally and 27.8% saw their contact only rarely.
So, when it comes to job hunting – or finding clients – weak ties tend to be more important than strong ties.
Why? Because close ties tend to occupy the same world as you do. A spouse or close friend may share many of the same network contacts as you and is likely to only refer or connect you to people you already know.
Mere acquaintances, or “weak ties”, on the other hand, are much more likely to know people that you do not. While you might share a small overlap in networks, most of the people they know are completely unknown to you.
The take-away? Do NOT rely solely on close ties to fortify your network. A better means is to associate with people you don’t know well – the person from work that you know casually from meetings or trips on the elevator; the person you see every week at church but, beyond a name, you know little else about.
From a networking perspective, the most valuable people aren’t those closest to you. In fact, the more people you know who aren’t close to you, the stronger your position becomes.
In summary, the quality of your relationships matters and one measure of quality is the strength or weakness of the tie. Having lunch with your long-time best buddy can be fun but does little to build your network. If you want to build your network, have lunch with someone you know … but not that well.
Kevin Bacon is a popular American actor. The idea behind the Kevin Bacon game is to link any actor or actress to Kevin Bacon through the movies they’ve been in.
For example: Mary Pickford was in “Screen Snapshots” with Clark Gable, who was in “Combat America” with Tony Romano who, 35 years later, was in “Starting Over” with Kevin Bacon. Three Steps.
In the 1990s, computer scientist Brett Tjaden determined that Kevin Bacon was on average 2.8312 steps from any actor or actress, which placed him 668th of all actors and actresses. Then he determined the overall connectivity of a host of other actors and actresses. Among the top 50 were names such as Martin Sheen, Robert Mitchum, Gene Hackman, Donald Sutherland, Rod Steiger, and Shelly Winters.
Duncan Watts and Steven Strogatz further attempted to determine why actor Burgess Meredith, who appeared in 114 films, ranked in the top 20 when Gary Cooper, with a similar number of films, ranked 878th, and John Wayne, with 183 films to his credit, only ranked 160th.
They concluded that while Gary Cooper and John Wayne appeared in a significantly greater number of movies, the movies were of a similar type. In fact, over 50% of John Wayne’s movies were westerns.
Burgess Meredith, on the other hand, appeared in fewer but a greater variety of films: 42 dramas, 22 comedies, 8 adventures, as well as action, documentary, science fiction, horror, western, thrillers, crime, children, romance, mysteries, and even a musical and one animated film.
What can you take away from the Kevin Bacon game? If your network looks like Burgess Meredith’s career, with lots of variety and diversity, you’re probably doing great! But if your network resembles John Wayne’s career – lots of connections but from relatively few sources – you need to diversify.
To explore the real potential of your network, you need to live in lots of worlds – work, church, PTA, youth sports, trade association outside your profession, etc.