Learn how to network your way to job security


by Brandt Smith

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I wasn't surprised when Don wouldn't meet my eyes. I had grown suspicious when he started passing me over earlier that week while handing out new projects. I was responsible for 40% of the workload in a three man group, so why would he do that?

My employer had been in a downward spiral for some time. Every month another group was laid off. They started with new people and slackers. Soon the cuts started to hurt. What started as 150 employees would now be 78. Unfortunately, I was employee number 79.

A Strange Twist to the Story

I was actually relieved. This may sound crazy but getting laid off was the best thing for my family. The past year had been painful as coworkers were escorted to the door. The hours got longer and the sense of despair was almost unbearable.

I knew that a layoff was imminent. I was actively searching for another job but had to be extremely discrete. If the company caught wind of my efforts, they would fire me immediately.

My Secret Weapon

For years, I actively built my network. As an application engineer, I worked closely with our customers and suppliers. Often I was far closer to them than our salespeople and purchasing group. My network gave me strength in the face of unemployment.

Seven Keys to a Strong Network

Strong networks don't just happen. They take time, effort, and patience. Here are seven tips for creating and maintaining a group of contacts:

1) Build it before you need it.

Building a network is a lifelong process because relationships take time to develop. If you wait until you need help, it may be too late. You already have a network but probably have not developed it to its full potential. Start with family and friends. Add business contacts, members of your church, club members, etc.

This is your base network. If you have weaknesses, get to work. Call up old friends from college. E-mail a buddy from your old job. Add business contacts to your Christmas card list. Attend industry events and talk to as many people as you can.

2) You must make a deposit before you have the right to withdraw.

Just because you have a name and number doesn't mean that person is part of your network. You must first help them before you can ask a favor. View it like a bank account. You can't take out money if you never make deposits. I've known people who try to do this. After about two requests, they are no longer welcome. Pretty soon they are on their own and have a reputation for being self-serving.

Something as simple as saying thank you can be a major deposit in your network bank account. If someone gives you a hand, make sure they get credit. See an article in the paper they would like? Cut it out and send it to them, or put them in touch with a resource that can help them with a problem.

3) Give more than you receive.

This goes hand-in-hand hand with number two. Strive to maintain a positive (and growing) balance. Compare this with personal finance. You must always make more than you spend.

4) Be open and genuine.

People will spot it if you are phony. Relax and be yourself. Just make sure you keep away from volatile topics like religion and politics! To make the most of a network, you must sincerely like people and enjoy helping others when you are able. Say "yes" when you can, but also know when you have to say "no."

5) Follow up and stay in touch.

Even the best contact will get old and stale. I like to view a relationship as two people tied together by delicate strands. Each time you make contact, another strand is added. If you depend on your initial meeting, the connection is tenuous. It is only when you have hundreds of these strands woven together that you have an unbreakable cable.

6) The devil is in the details.

Even experts have trouble remembering every detail. Write things down. If you get a business card, use the back and take notes after you finish your conversation. Use that pad of paper at meetings. What is their spouse's name? Do they have kids? What ages and genders? What college did she attend? What is his birthday?

7) Your network doesn't end with your contact.

Each of your contacts has their own network. Don't be afraid to call and ask, "Do you know someone who can help?" If you are doing the steps above, they will be glad to make the introduction.

Keep these tips in mind and you, too, can build a strong personal and professional network.

Brandt Smith is an expert on sales, marketing, and business. His blog is dedicated to help you achieve wealth and life balance through entrepreneurship. Visit blog.wealth-and-wisdom.com to learn more.

Take the Next Step

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