Pundits call for having and utilizing your business network to stay on top of your work world. But telling you that you should use your network is one thing; how to go about doing that is another. Networking is about helping and supporting others and having your business network help and support you.
The help and support is not just about finding a job, though that is what is most written about. Instead, it is supporting each other in finding resources, helping solve problems and stay close to what is happening in your work world. In your one-on-one relationships with your business network, here are five principles to follow that will build a fanatical support business network.
Ask specifically how to help someone else
People in your business network can talk with you over lunch about some problem they are having -- but never ask for specific enough help that you can take action on to solve the problem. When your business contact goes all over the map, ask what specifically you can do to help. The answer might be something simple as to getting some perspective on the problem by talking out loud with you about it.
But, often, people either don't know how or are embarrassed to ask for help. Cubicle Warriors overcome this by asking specifically how they can help.
Ask for specific help up front when you need it from your business network
A great manager once told me that you should state what you need up front in a conversation and then provide the details. The person will then know where you are going and can ask better questions while you are getting there.
This is perfect advice for asking support from your network. If you are looking for help, ask for it up front and then describe how and why the person you are talking to would be able to help. This approach will engage this person and both of you will come away with a better approach for support. No one wants to listen to a half hour story (or read a four page e-mail) only to get to what is needed at the end.
Make sure you do what you need to protect your reputation when advocating for others
When you advocate for someone in your business network, your personal reputation (or branding) is on the line. You are going to spend your relationship capital with someone you know for someone else. Consequently, you need to make sure that your reputation is maintained.
A good example comes to mind. I have a former manager who was willing to advocate for me to someone else that he knew -- but only after I supplied a one page listing of why I thought I was qualified for what was needed and provided an updated resume. A lot of people could be offended by that because it comes across as a lot of work for a phone call, but the work needs to get done so as to preserve the reputation of my former manager.
Do what you say you will do
I had a long conversation about using transferable skills to support having the right job skills for a new position of someone else in my business network. When I talked through a few that were on his resume, he asked if I could look it over and offer suggestions. I willingly did and told him to send it to me in e-mail and I'd turn it around quickly.
That was six weeks ago.
You think I'm so willing to look it over now? Not so much.
Follow-up when support is given
Saying thanks to a person who helps you is no small thing to the person providing support. In the last couple of years I've provided job references for people that used to work for me. I always follow-up with the job candidate telling them that I got the reference and that I responded, usually through e-mail.
Of all of the people I've given references for, only one has sent a note of thanks. Just one. And this is for a job reference -- that thing that gives you a paycheck to support your family. You would think telling your job reference "thanks" for helping with getting the job would be a mandatory thing to do. But it most often isn't. Amazing, really.
Get your business network to give you rabid support
If you want to have a group of people really supporting each other, follow these five ways to effectively work your business network. All pundits will tell you that your business network is the most important business tool you can now have to stay on top of your business and help find out where openings are for jobs.
But building an effective business network takes time and effort. Get specific in what you ask for and what you can provide. Maintain your reputation when advocating for others. Do what you say you will do and give thanks to people that provide you support. Doing this over time will build a passionate support network that wins for all of you.
How else can you support your business network?