The secret to a healthy network

Next summer I will be celebrating 30 years in the workplace. I’m going to try not to dwell on that number too much, for obvious reasons, but the last few months have got me thinking about the wonderful network of colleagues, clients and associates that has grown, as I have grown, throughout my career.
When I launched Gunpowder late last year, I was overwhelmed by the unsolicited offers of help, referrals and recommendations that came my way.  Consequently, the tricky (branding, website) and dull (legal, financial) stuff was dealt with swiftly and expertly, leaving me to focus on my offer just in time for the new business referrals that followed.
A good friend who has just given up an executive position at a large corporation to take a six month sabbatical before, well, who knows what, has experienced the same tidal wave of “network love”.
So what, we pondered, were the secrets to network Nirvana? Here are our tips on growing and maintaining a healthy black book:
1.     Size isn’t everything
A 500+ LinkedIn network has become the bulging Rolodex of today. But size isn’t necessarily the right measure. Just like a marketer trying to figure out the value of a Facebook ‘Like’ – the focus needs to be on engagement. Yes, LinkedIn is a convenient way to keep track of those you meet and do business with, but you would be far better to have a smaller number of contacts with whom you engage rather than striving to hit that 500+ marker without keeping in touch.
2.     Show up
Turn off your computer and get out from behind your desk. The more people you meet, the more people you get introduced to and the more events you get invited to. Be the person who RSVPs on time and once you have accepted an invitation, don’t cancel unless it is absolutely unavoidable. A reputation as a ‘no-show’ won’t help you. Turning up to the event that you’d almost forgotten about at the end of long day almost always rewards you with an interesting new contact.
3.     Be curious
Ask questions and show your interest. Most importantly listen to the answers. If you don’t have a fantastic memory – keep notes. You’ll find out all kinds of nuggets that will be useful later on.
4.     Give selflessly
This is the Big One. Now your network is growing nicely and you have a clear idea about the individuals, their businesses, challenges and motivations, get stuck in. Offer help, make introductions, refer business, give advice, write testimonials, share useful articles, give up your time. Do all of these things without any thought to what’s in it for you.  The more you give to your network, the more you get back. Author Adam Grant explores this in more depth in his new book Give & Take
5.     Say thank you
This may sound obvious, but is so often overlooked. When the time comes that you need to call on your network, for a referral, a new job, for help or advice, you may be surprised who comes to your  aid. Whatever you do, remember to follow up and say thanks. It’ll go a long way.