Your network defines your life, it defines your potential, it defines your ceiling in life and is your vehicle to success. The late Stephen Covey, best selling author of the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, said it best when he stated that we live in an interdependent world. John Maxwell, best selling author of over 73 published books, noted, “No person has accomplished anything of significance without the help of others.” In fact, John, also jokes, “If you see a turtle sitting on top of a fence post, you know he did not get there on his own!”
I recently had the pleasure to experience my parents 50 year wedding anniversary. It was a time of great reflection for my family and it was inspiring for me to be a part of such a wonderful celebration. My parents are retired, debt free, have cash flow, money in the bank, own two beautiful homes (one on a lake in Southern Indiana and the other in Florida), and drive two beautiful high-end cars. They spend the summer months in Indiana and the winter months in Florida. They enjoy an unbelievable and satisfying life. Most would say they have lived the “American Dream” and are enjoying their golden years like all of us would hope to replicate someday. How did they get here? They both built an unbelievable network and did it by ADDING VALUE TO EVERYONE.
What is networking? It is the cultivation of productive relationships. Cultivation is the act of planting, tending, improving, and harvesting high quality relationships. When people ask me “What do you do?” I often respond, “I am a farmer of highly productive relationships.” I define productive relationships as more to what they are not, which is simply NOT hanging out with or relating with JACK ASSES. How do I define a jack ass? Anyone that makes you feel worse after you have interacted with them. I am selective with whom I keep company and so should you.
I can get a good sense of where you will be in your life over the next three to five years based on two fundamental principles, 1. The books you read, and 2. The people you hang out with, your network. Successful people are readers. Anyone that yearns to reach a new level in their life, must develop a regular reading habit and read material that will elevate and encourage them. Check out my list of books that every aspiring networker should read under the “Networking” tab of this website. The first book I recommend you read is Now Discover You Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton. This book will help you discover your strengths and how to harness your strengths to your benefit. Discovering your natural strengths is the foundation for every successful networker, so read this book first as you work to broaden your relationships.
You are who you hang out with and you attract who you are. Take stock of your life. Think about where you are now and where you thought you would be by this point in your life. Are you happy with what you have become so far? Do you want to improve your situation and do you want to expand your possibilities? When assessing your life, look no further than your core group of friends and associates within your network. I had it all when I graduated from Anderson High School in Anderson, Indiana. I was the Senior Class President, I was the Captain of the Cross-Country and Track teams, I had a great girlfriend, drove a hot sports car and had a bright future. I was very happy with my life to that point, but I knew I needed to explore a new level and needed to expand my horizons. I chose to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York with the sole purpose of expanding my ambitions and to pursue excellence. The life principles and the unbelievable relationships I developed while at West Point was life changing and one the best decisions I ever made in my life. Want to make changes in your life? Find your West Point and expand your horizons.
In order to have a strong and productive network, you must understand the laws of attraction. First you must learn to encourage people. The world belongs to the encourager, why? Because we live in a negative and critical world. Most lives are filled with negative input and excuses of why something cannot be done or why they cannot succeed. To feel encouraged is a gift that you can give people in your network that will elevate them. When you give encouragement, you will receive encouragement and you will find that over time you will develop extremely positive relationships, because you chose to be an encourager.
The second law of attraction is to control your emotions. Life is a roller coaster and everyday is fluid with “ups” and “downs”, but that does not mean that you have to emotionally respond to every conflict that life throws at you. People should never have to “walk on egg shells” around you. If you are predictable in your emotions, then people will be more at ease with you and will open up. Predictability builds trust and TRUST IS THE FOUNDATION OF A STRONG NETWORK.
The third law of attraction is to add value to people. When you add value to someone, no matter how small, you become a valuable resources to that person and he or she will likely return the favor when you are in need. But, always remember to add value without expecting anything in return. Helping others should be a foundational human principle and it will provide you with a more fulfilling life experience.
To be an effective networker you must develop a personal brand. This is how you will be perceived by the world. It is the one word people will use to describe you. It is your moniker your symbol or how you market yourself to the world. My brand is “WOW!”. I strive to provide a “wow!” experience to people when I interact with them. I want to exceed a person’s expectations when I serve them. I want people to remember me long after I interacted with them because I “wowed” them. I’m a “wow!” person, Steve Jobs was known as an “innovator”, Lance Armstrong is known as being “invincible”. What do you want to be known for?
So what is your brand? Everyone has a brand whether it is purposefully developed or the world develops it for you. You must take control of your brand, discover what it is, and then develop and market it to your network. You start to develop your brand by doing the following:
First, Discover your strengths. Read the first three chapters of Now Discover Your Strengths and take the personality test and you will be on your way. Next ask three basic questions. What excites you? What are you passionate about or what do you believe in? Finally, how do you want people to talk about you? Answer these questions and you will begin to discover your brand.
Once you begin to develop your brand I recommend you take action and stat doing the following action steps to begin to grow and expand your network:
1. Get into a reading habit. Begin by reading from my suggested networking reading list. You can find the list posted on this site titled, The Networkers Reading List. Also, I suggest you get a Twitter account. Once you are on Twitter follow Jeffrey Gitomer, King of Sales; Keith Ferrazzi, master networker; Harvey Mackay, master businessman; and ME! You will find that Twitter has a wealth of information to include articles and white papers on topics of interest. Print out these articles and take them with you on trips and read them when time permits. Get into this habit and your mind will expand to the possibilities of your true and untapped potential.
2. Become an encourager. Pick three people a day to encourage. Do this by making a phone call, writing a hand written note, or sending a thoughtful e-mail (by the way, if you want to provide more creative e-mails, I recommend you go to www.aceofsales.com and learn more about crafting better e-mails). How do you encourage someone? Tell them anything that you appreciate about them. Maybe a colleague arrived early to meeting with you and was prepared for the meeting. Write that person a note of appreciation. It is that simple and will make that person’s day. What do you think his attitude will be towards you the next time you meet?
3. Get organized. It takes effort and determination to build a network properly. Most people are busy, but not effective. Most are not effective because they lack basic organization and prioritization skills. Start by reading David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. You can also check out my article titled Want to be EFFECTIVE in your life? in the “Effectiveness” tab of my website.
4. Add value to someone, daily. You add value through your strengths. If you are an excellent editor, then offer to edit a colleague’s article next time they plan to publish some content. If you have a friend whose wife is out of town on business for the week, then invite him over to have dinner with your family. Be mindful of your brand when you add value. In this example, I would invite my friend over for dinner and make sure that my wife makes his favorite dessert. That is a “wow!” moment and stays true to my brand. Be creative, but look for ways to fill the gap in someone’s life and watch your network strengthen and grow!
5. Write! Get social media accounts with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and WordPress and begin writing daily. Spend 15 minutes a day writing based on your strengths and brand. Writing is magical in that it helps shape and organize your thoughts. Writing expands your mind and helps you become much more creative in life. Don’t waste time and start this habit immediately.
How much time should you ultimately spend on networking? As long as it takes to add value to THREE PEOPLE DAILY. That is the bottom line as you strive to properly build your network. Remember my parents are living the life you want because they spent a lifetime ADDING VALUE TO EVERYONE. So start today by adding value to three people and do it again tomorrow and the next day and keep doing that on a consistent basis and your network and success will grow beyond belief. Try it! You won’t regret it and you will feel good about helping people along the way!