I recently heard a business leader suggest that a person’s professional network is almost as valuable as their expertise.
This got me wondering, what’s the big deal with professional networks? If professional networks carry such a high intangible value, then why aren’t more professionals well “connected”?
According to Leisa Fox, senior vice president for revenue and programs for the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, “Whether sharing best practices, vetting products and services, identifying prospective employees, or finding new customers, a strong professional network provides an incredible resource for successful business leaders. A good network can also be a feedback mechanism to gain valuable insight and learn best practices.
“It can also be a good resource to learn what not to do. What a person can learn from their professional network is often worth the investment to build that network.”
Consider Six Degrees of Separation — the theory behind this is that everyone is only six connections away from any other person in the world. So while you may not be the person who can get something done, you might know someone who knows someone to get that thing done.
The strength of the ability to get things, or get things done, often rests on the quality and breadth of your professional network — one or two carefully placed calls.
Most people have the beginnings of a professional network but might not realize it. A network can start with neighbors and professional acquaintances, and extend to service organizations, religious affiliations and community groups.
Successful networkers are willing to meet, greet and maintain relationships. They have an acute ability to identify needs of others and connect those needs with people who can help.
Building a successful network requires time and conscientious effort.
The key is to listen and find out what people do, and what they need to be successful. Leisa Fox suggests that providing value to others is the best way to grow a network.
“If a person can see the world from another’s perspective, then consistently and reliably provide information and connections that benefit others, then it stands that the law of reciprocity will connect you with helpful people and services,” she said.
Networking and networking events are a particular specialty for chambers of commerce. Dee Baird, president and CEO of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, suggests that chamber members “should set a goal to establish three new connections a week. Once you make a new connection, it’s important to follow up and find ways to connect that person with appropriate people already in your network.”
Like most things, a person gets out of their network that which they put into it. Once established, the value of your connectivity comes from gaining quick access to qualified expertise, finding cost-effective resources and solutions, and getting results for yourself and for others within your network.
Yes, your professional network is valuable — to what extent is up to you.