I believe in the value of a good network, and I know that success in life is all about people. Today, my personal and professional network is amazing and growing more valuable to me every day. But, I didn’t get to the point of having a valuable network by networking. This is how it happened and what I learned.
Why I Quit Networking
There was a time when I used to do a lot of networking, but it never seemed to get me anywhere. I liked people, but the truth was I didn’t like networking at all.
- I didn’t like talking about myself.
- I didn’t like meeting strangers or asking strangers to connect with me online.
- I didn’t like the thought of constantly posting everything I’m thinking, doing, eating, reading, watching, or learning.
- I didn’t like getting invites from strangers who want to connect with me.
- I didn’t like trying to talk to people in loud crowded rooms.
- I didn’t like always eating and drinking at every networking event or meeting.
- I didn’t like practicing my ‘elevator pitch’ and worrying about what I say.
- I didn’t like most coffee shops.
- Most of all, I didn’t like following up and staying in touch with people when I didn’t feel like I had made an authentic connection with them in the first place.
I liked people, but the truth was I didn’t like networking at all.
So, about a year ago I decided I had to take a break and I quit networking. I made my LinkedIn profile private. I closed my Twitter account. I quit Facebook. I stopped attending meetups. I quit going to coffee with people. I stopped going to mixers at events. I stopped following up and keeping in touch with people. (All of that turned out to be a mistake, but I had to go through all of that or my network wouldn’t be nearly as valuable as it is today.)
What I Discovered After I Quit Networking
All I had left were the address book contacts in my phone and my email accounts. So, I set out to clean up my contacts and delete anyone who didn’t seem to matter to me.
And, that’s when it hit me. The people in my own address book were different. I felt connected to almost everyone in my own address book. I thought about it, and realized that I felt connected to almost everyone in my address book because I connected with what mattered to them, not what mattered to me.
I realized that building a network isn’t about networking, or how many followers I have, or how many people I meet, or how I meet them, or where I meet them, or who they are, or who they know, or what their job title is, or how I can follow up with them, or even whether we share some common ground. Building a network is about finding out what matters to people and responding in an authentic and meaningful way.
I felt connected to almost everyone in my own address book.
At that point, I knew I needed to connect more meaningfully with my contacts, but I didn’t know how to do it and I didn’t know if I could maintain a big business network that way. During this time, I started working for FullContact. That’s when I learned that there’s a better way than networking to build a valuable network and maintain quality relationships with a lot of people.
FullContact’s CEO Bart Lorang and many of FullContact’s investors, board members, employees, and customers were already masters at building extraordinary networks. Some of them were into networking, and some of them weren’t, but they all shared a powerful attitude. FullContact taught me that the best way for me to build a valuable network was to get better at being awesome with people – starting with the core relationships in my own address book.
Once I learned how to focus on being awesome with people instead of networking, I stopped spinning my wheels and my network started to grow more valuable each day. Since then, I’ve learned that being awesome with people is stage three in a three-stage personal development process that anyone can follow to build a personal and professional network with extraordinary value.
Stage 1: Fully connect with everyone you meet (whether you’re networking or not)
Fully connecting means being genuinely interested in the people you meet in your everyday life in order to find out what matters to them, find meaning in the connection, and respond to what matters to them in an authentic and meaningful way – even if that means moving on and not investing in a relationship at all.
It doesn’t matter where or how you fully connect. It just matters that you focus on fully connecting instead of just meeting someone and talking business or engaging in small talk. The best place to start fully connecting is with the people closest to you – the people in your own address book. But, you can fully connect with people anywhere from there. If you like networking, fully connect with people while networking. If you like social media, fully connect with people through social media. If you like going to events, fully connect with people at events.
I connected with what mattered to them, not what mattered to me.
This was very hard for me to learn because I’m very introverted. In order to fully connect with people, you need to be willing to share your true self with others. You need to be comfortable in your own skin. You need to be honest with yourself and others about who you are and what kind of person you want to be. You need to be willing to work hard on yourself to make yourself a better person. You need to be able to admit mistakes and right your wrongs with people. You need to be empathetic. You need to be willing to forgive people. You need to be willing to forgive yourself. You need to care about others as much as you care about yourself. If you’re like me, you might need to work with a counselor or coach to sort out all your strange and wonderful personal issues before you can go around fully connecting with people. But, the end result is worth it.
Fully connecting with people is so much better than just meeting people because your life is enriched by the stories you hear, the memories you keep, and the types of people you end up adding to your personal and professional network.
Stage 2: Master your contacts
Once you’ve started fully connecting with people, you need to get good at managing your contacts. In fact, you need to get so good at contact management that you actually transcend the technical and procedural aspects of contact management and move on to mastery. That way, you can focus on the relationships instead of focusing on a method, process, or technology.
I used to use email and social media sites to manage my contacts. I used to type the contact information on business cards I collected into my phone or email address book. I used to thank people for following me or connecting on a social network. I used to share articles and content I thought people would like. I used to follow up on every meeting and phone conversation with emails, hand written cards, and automated communications to make sure I stayed top of mind.
I learned that all of that activity was a big waste of time if I hadn’t fully connected with those contacts in the first place. And, all of that activity represented a huge opportunity cost because the more time I spent on contact management activities, the less time I spent staying fully connected to the people I cared about the most.
Focus on the relationships instead of focusing on a method, process, or technology.
I needed to master my contacts so I could focus more time on the relationships. I needed to let technology do what technology does best. I needed more than a system or a platform. I needed an address book that was smarter than I was and didn’t need much of my time to keep my contacts in sync with my life, up to date, and at my fingertips everywhere. I also needed a better way to keep track of what’s going on with my contacts, and I needed all the information to be in one place and everywhere at the same time. Thanks to FullContact, technology is now allowing me to master my contacts and focus on core relationships.
The method of mastering your contacts with FullContact is simple.
- Try to fully connect with everyone you meet by finding out what’s most important to them and responding genuinely.
- Add people to your address book when you fully connect. Don’t rely only on social media connections to build a great network and stay in touch.
- Get as much contact information as you can and fill out a complete profile. (FullContact can pull in social profile information, photos, and other public information so you don’t have to ask. You can also scan a business card and a human will type the information into your address book for you.) If someone isn’t willing to share their full contact information, you probably haven’t fully connected with them.
- Tag all your contacts with the date you met them, how you met them, who introduced you, and what matters to them, so you never forget what makes them special.
- Put your contacts into groups and categories so you can find them when you need to introduce them to someone you think they should know.
- Review all your contacts once a week and think about how you can be awesome with them. Use the rule of 150 to keep things manageable.
Stage 3: Be awesome with people
Being awesome with people isn’t easy to define, but you know it when it happens. We created an acronym we follow at FullContact that you can also use as a guide to be awesome with people when you’re making connections.
- Be Authentic: Be real and transparent with people.
- Be Worldly: Face reality and educate yourself to overcome the hard stuff people have to deal with in life.
- Be Empathetic: Understand why people act the way they do before you act.
- Be Supportive: Be willing to help people and don’t expect them to help you in return.
- Be Original: You are already original, just be yourself instead of trying to be something you’re not to impress people.
- Be Meaningful: Your intentions should be focused on what matters to others.
- Be Ethical: Do the right thing all the time.
How I Use Social Networks and Meetups Today
Now that I know building a valuable network doesn’t depend on networking, I engage with people in a whole new way. I made my LinkedIn profile public again. I use it to stay current in my industry so I’m a valuable resource to people in my network, and I use it to share information related to my company and my career. I reopened my Twitter account. I use it to learn about what matters to people and to follow a few people I admire. I also share stuff about FullContact and building a network with whomever will listen. I’m still not on Facebook, but I’ll rejoin soon. I started attending meetups again. I don’t think of it as networking anymore. Meetups are some of the best places to fully connect with people, as long as you attend meetups with topics you’re genuinely interested in. I started going to coffee with people, if that’s what they like. I go to a lot more mixers at events. I look forward to fully connecting and finding out what matters to the people I meet.