Staying Connected With Your Network
Feb 28 2009

Unlike my friend Thom Singer, I’m no subject matter expert on the topic of networking by any means, but I am a strong believer in the power of building and maintaining a solid network of both personal and professional friends.  I’m an extrovert by nature and an ENTJ on the Meyer’s Briggs personality typing test (link to Wikipedia) so networking and relationship building usually comes easy for me, and I enjoy it.  According to Wikipedia, only about 2% of the  population are ENTJ’s (a.k.a. Fieldmarshals.)  When I was getting my MBA, which was when I was last tested, I think about 30% of our class were ENTJ’s.   Only about 20% of our class were women, so it’s probably an even rarer type for women.  I’ve been told by more than a few people that I exhibit some typical male characteristics.  Go figure!

I also believe the time to cultivate and reach out to your your network is not ONLY when times are tough.  I’ve been amazed at the number of people who I haven’t spoken to in years (not just one or two years but five or more) who have been contacting me to help them with their job search.  I mean, come on!  How can I put my reputation on the line and refer them when I have no idea what they’ve been up to?!

There have been people I’ve worked with who I’ve stayed connected with in one way or another over the years who I’m more than happy to help introduce to people I know, but when I don’t hear a word from someone and the first contact I get is “Can you help me find a job?” or “Can you introduce me to so-and-so?” I literally roll my eyes.  I love helping people so it pains me when people don’t get how important keeping up your network is when times are good.

Apparently no one (or no one will admit it) could have anticipated the economic state we find ourselves in worldwide, and despite the inordinate amount of angst I felt before taking on a day job, in hindsight someone (possibly the Flying Spaghetti Monster) was looking out for me and my family.  Somehow I had the foresight (a.k.a ESP) to take drugs beat the angst into partial submission and accept the job which I’m now grateful for.  I’m still trying to figure out how to get to what usually ends up being a good result without beating myself up inside to almost a bloody pulp before I realize the decision was not such a bad one, but that’s a topic for another blog post a whole novel.

There are four professional groups I meet face-to-face with fairly regularly throughout the year that mean a whole lot to me for a variety of reasons and they are:

B2C CEO/Founder Group – A small group of us meet monthly for lunch to discuss the challenges and joys of running a business that sells products to consumers (i.e. B2C), which is completely different than selling directly to businesses (i.e., B2B).  I happen to be the only woman in this group, but in my career that has typically been the norm.  The format is that we share something good and bad that has happened to us both professionally and personally since the last time we met.  I really like this format because it allows us to get to know each other as human beings…not just business people.  This month we discussed all the challenges some of us are facing with money, employees, and finding other creative ways to keep our businesses going.  One person in the group had to put his business on hold for a while due to the economy.  Sadly, he also recently discovered that one of his key technical people committed suicide which really threw him for a loop.  Most of the rest of us are just taking it a day at a time and trying to keep our businesses alive.  When I shared during our meeting last week, they all told me I shouldn’t give myself such a hard time and beat myself up for not being motivated to do some of the things I need to do after my day job and family commitments.  I really needed to hear that because I have a lot of respect for them and it gave me some room to breathe.  Last month we discussed mid-life crises since I seem to be in the middle of one (middle of my mid-life crisis sounds about right) and one guy said the way he dealt with his was to start a business!  One thought he had to be married with kids to experience one but the rest of us who were married with or without kids quickly assured him that was not the case and he then said he’s been experiencing one for most of his life. :-)

Boss Ladies Group – Another small group of only women about my age (all with small children) that meets monthly for lunch.  When one of us has a baby, we work around their schedule if we can.  We talk about our businesses and balancing our interest in building them while balancing our desires to be great mothers and wives.  One of the women who formed this group invited me to speak to them probably a year or so ago, and I liked the group so much that I asked if I could become a member!  Unlike the B2C and Web CEO groups, most of the women in this group do not have technology businesses.  The businesses range from restaurants, to event planning, to consumer packaged goods, to marketing consulting.

Web CEO Group – This is a larger group that meets probably once every other month and there are a handful of other women CEOs in that group.  We typically meet during a weekday afternoon.  The format has typically been that we pick a topic and present what we’ve learned or questions we have that we pose to the group in that topic.  Topics have ranged from internet marketing, to fund raising, to how to stay alive.  A couple of us in the group have taken on outside jobs to continue moving our businesses forward.

Tuesday Ladies Group –  This is another small group where we tried to meet bi-weekly but after a good start, many of us couldn’t make it consistently so we meet more sporadically.  This group typically meets in the evening so I have a harder time making these meetings given that I’m the only one in the group with small kids.  I’m actually the youngest one in this group with the others ranging in age from their 40’s to 70’s!   Some of the women are entrepreneurs and some of them work for larger organizations but in my mind they are all very entrepreneurially minded.  They have such wisdom to share not only in business but also in life.  I get to hear and feel their life experiences, and I get such perspective from them both personally and professionally!

I had to take a hopefully temporary break from a weekly Blog Mastermind group that I’m involved in that I mentioned in my Giving Things Up post.  Even though the calls are held over lunch I had to take some things off of my mind’s plate and that was one professional group I had to cut.

I also try to stay connected over email or phone with my family and friends when I can because without that support network, I surely would have lost it (more than I have) by now. I would do what I could to help pretty much all of the people in these groups if they needed it, and I’d like to think they would do the same for me.

So for those of you who are still employed, cultivate your network now but please be sincere.  Just like on any of the social sites (e.g., twitter, facebook, linked in, etc.), people can detect insincerity or even desparation.  If you always have a ‘what’s in it for me‘ approach, you won’t get as far as if you have a ‘how can I help you approach.’

Author: | Filed under: entrepreneurship, networking | Tags: , , | 15 Comments »

15 Comments on “Staying Connected With Your Network”

  1. 1 Isaac Barchas said at 11:02 AM on March 1st, 2009:

    Good to hear that taking the job was a good move! It certainly has been for us …

    –Isaac

  2. 2 Khürt Williams said at 11:13 AM on March 1st, 2009:

    I’m not doing a lot of in-person networking but I probably should. Leveraging facebook and twitter.

    Khürt Williamss last blog post..Dropbox and iDisk

  3. 3 thom singer said at 2:02 PM on March 1st, 2009:

    Aruni-

    Good post. Having a network is MORE important in a tough economy. The Today Show had an expert on this week who encouraged people to join Twitter if they are job searching. Wow, too late. You need to build relationships (online or in person) long before you have a need.

    Keep up the good work, you do a great job of building REAL relationships with people. (FYI…I am an ENTJ, too)

    thom

  4. 4 Aruni said at 9:11 PM on March 1st, 2009:

    @Isaac – in many ways (financially) it has been a good move. Plus, it’s great that you have been supportive in helping me create/change the role as we go.

    @Khurt – it’s oh so important to do the face-to-face networking. Social networking is good but putting ‘palm to palm’ as they say is really important!

    @thom singer – that means a whole lot…especially coming from you. :-)

  5. 5 Cindy Y. Lo said at 10:12 PM on March 1st, 2009:

    Aruni, I couldn’t agree more re: the power of your network. So when I was in undergrad business school, I didn’t realize then what I was doing back then was “technically” called networking — I was the student geek who had everyone’s birthday in her planner, and I sent annual updates to all former classmates (this was before FB was even dreamt of), and now I really work hard to stay in touch with everyone that I genuinely care about. My theory has always been to help others without expecting anything in return. And be/c I have lived both my personal and work life like this, I feel as if I owe a great deal of my business/sales success to my network of friends and business associates. And this is one of the reasons why I personally enjoy returning the favor in helping others.

  6. 6 Cindy Y. Lo said at 10:15 PM on March 1st, 2009:

    oh and I wish I could remember what my Meyer’s Briggs results were…we were actually required to take this in school during one of my business classes. Maybe I can see if my professor (who I actually still keep in touch with) remembers what I quadrants I fell in as I’m curious myself.

  7. 7 John Peltier said at 11:25 PM on March 1st, 2009:

    Hi Aruni, I’d agree with you and Thom that you should start well before need, but even when in need I’d argue that someone can still provide value to others and therefore be authentic in networking. Sometimes difficult times are a lesson to people. What’s done is done..

    John Peltiers last blog post..Interesting post about forgetting feature requests

  8. 8 Aruni said at 11:15 PM on March 2nd, 2009:

    @Cindy – It seems to me that you are probably an ENTJ. :-) I’m so glad we are in a networking group together!

    @John – It’s never too late to start networking but if you start when times are bad, you need to be more creative on how you build those connections. I believe everyone can always provide value to someone if they take the time to figure out how to.

  9. 9 Immomsdaughter said at 2:33 AM on March 3rd, 2009:

    I agree that networking is essential these days but not all are willing to help. I’ve recently encountered a woman entrepreneur who actually enquired why I wanted to be add her to my network of contacts in LinkedIn.

    I would have thought the majority of us joined LinkedIn to network. Though I explained myself, I told her she was not obligated to accept my invitation. She did not! I don’t think there’s a need to be arrogant and act like there’s always a catch somewhere.

    Immomsdaughters last blog post..Updates On Art Class

  10. 10 Aruni said at 8:39 PM on March 3rd, 2009:

    @Immomsdaughter – I think it really depends on why people are on certain networks. I won’t connect with anyone on LinkedIn who I haven’t worked with or have known for a while. So I have a handful of requests on LinkedIn that I haven’t accepted.

    I have 70 or so friend requests waiting on facebook of people I barely know who I don’t feel comfortable accepting their requests because to me facebook is for friends.

    I wouldn’t take it personally, they just might have a different frame of reference for how they connect on LinkedIn or other social sites. :-)

  11. 11 Cindy Y. Lo said at 9:04 PM on March 3rd, 2009:

    @ImMomsDaughter & @Aruni – I too wanted to comment about your Linked In comment. I personally will not accept just anyone to be my connection. My general rule of thumb is that if I can’t put a face to a name right away, it probably doesn’t make sense to have them as a true connection because when it does come time to actually do a virtual introduction, it’s embarrassing to tell the other person requesting that intro that you don’t really know that contact very well. So I agree with Aruni that you shouldn’t take it personally when someone does not accept (or ignores) your connection request. I have an even stricter rule for FB be/c that environment is definitely more “casual” than Linked In.

  12. 12 thom singer said at 5:26 AM on March 5th, 2009:

    I have a LinkedIn and Facebook personal policy that I do not accept links / friend requests from anyone I have not spent an hour or so with (or the digital equivalent). I call it the “coffee, lunch or beer rule”. Meeting someone does not make them part of your network…it makes them someone you have met. There is a HUGE difference between on quick meeting and getting to know someone and establishing cause to move forward with a relationship.

    Think about dating. If your husband or wife proposed the moment you met you would have thought them a FREAK. Same is true in business. You need to have established a true connection before making it more permanent.

    I don’t negatively judge those who want “Free Link” with everyone they meet…. but I am tired of those people thinking I am somehow WRONG for having a policy of limiting my contacts to people I know, like and trust.

    thom singers last blog post..Verbal Victory – Improving Your Public Speaking Skills

  13. 13 Aruni said at 8:39 PM on March 5th, 2009:

    @Cindy – I agree…when I can’t connect a face to a name right away, that’s a good clue I shouldn’t be connecting with them.

    @thom – love the dating analogy. :-)

  14. 14 Immomsdaughter said at 12:51 AM on March 10th, 2009:

    @Cindy and @Aruni – Perhaps I am just one of those who are not too particular about whom I network with as long as I have checked out their profiles ;)Thank you for sharing your point of view.

    Immomsdaughters last blog post..Last Week….

  15. 15 Above The Fray | entrepreMusings said at 2:40 PM on April 26th, 2009:

    [...] are doing their best to survive.  I know of one great success story that happened to someone in one of my networking groups, but it’s not public news yet.  The internet is littered with stories of companies failing [...]