In the early 90s, a film called Six Degrees of Separation built its story around the idea that we are all separated by six degrees from everybody else on the whole planet. Everybody is an open door into another world and knows the people you are looking to meet or companies you want to work with. Everybody is connected on this planet by a trail of only six people, whether you are famous or not. If you find the right people to make the connection with, distance vanishes and the right opportunities will come your way.
In thinking about this I decided to look on YouTube to remind myself of the key ideas in this film and whether it really does have any relevance to our business life today. To my surprise and delight, I found a documentary on scientists who have studied and written an algorithm to prove this “network theory, which they worked on for years. It shows that nature has this hidden blue print and structure that connects us all. The scientists mapped it out and tested it on people by taking parcels across the world and asking 27 people to only use their social networks to get the package to a person on the other side of the world. It was amazing how quickly the parcels moved closer to the addressee, who was a scientist working at Harvard University in Boston.
This is an idea worth experimenting with in our daily business lives. I apply it in my own business strategy by making my business networks help with word-of-mouth marketing and create the connections and opportunities I seek with particular companies. There is no better example of the power of networks than the latest Web 2.0 social media networks. If you test the theory within your own social circle, you will find very quickly that people have connections that can open doors for you. Many of your connections within your business circle either know each other or have a contact into a client or employer that you may be looking to meet.
Looking at our own economy and applying this to our client-building strategy or job search, makes me think that the traditional ways of building businesses and finding jobs is far too slow. In this day and age, you need to be tapping into your personal, social and professional networks, if you want to get faster results. Systematically searching for the right people through your networks, using a plan, will yield faster results every time than a traditional approach of throwing out a blanket of hopeful letters and calls. In human nature, people will always respond faster to people they know than to strangers.
You may be asking yourself, “How is that in any way relevant to me?” If you are looking grow your practice or find new opportunities, it is very relevant. My suggestion to you is to take it out and test the theory yourself.
Here are six steps to help you in your own Six Degrees experiment:
Step 1: Connect into the network hub
The scientists tell us that in every network there is a traceable hub, where the core activity takes place. It is the place where people gather and take information about you back into their world. Even more interesting is that within each hub, you will find the “human hub”, the person with the highest degree of influence and connectivity. They are important people to know and start building relationships with. What they do for a living is irrelevant, their social currency is what you really want to tap into! Identify this person within your networks. This includes your family and friend networks, professional networks, membership organisations, and most importantly your on-line networks. Ask yourself, “Who are the people gathering around me with the most influential links?” Make sure you set up your social media accounts (LinkedIn, Facebook , Inquisix and Twitter) to build your on-line treasure chest.
Step 2: Have a networking plan
Key to getting the results you want is deciding or naming the companies and roles of people you wish to meet through your network, whether at networking events or through your on-line contacts. Then identify a very good reason why they would want to meet you. Human nature is designed to act principally from self-interest, which is driven by the reptilian part of our brains. So people will always unconsciously ask “What’s in this for me?” Give your network and potential contacts a worthwhile reason to want to meet you. Perhaps it’s to share some information, opportunities, save them money or help them use your networks.
Following on from that, it is important to have something to share about you that’s of value to them, and sets you apart. Direct them to your website, literature, testimonials or information that you think they would benefit from. Ask them to do you a favour. Most people like doing favours for others and help their own business contacts. It helps cement relationships.
Step 3: Authenticity at networking events
There is no end of opportunities to attend networking events as we go into the autumn. Networking is not just about getting into a room to break the world record for the largest business card collection. Nor is it a popularity contest on social media. The most valuable asset you can bring to a networking event is your authentic self. Be real, be present, engage and listen to people as you would if you were at a social gathering. And avoid talking about yourself all the time. Ask great questions. They don’t have to be about business. Get to know people, because relationships are built on this. Even if you only meet 3-4 quality contacts and have agreement to follow up and meet, you will have done a great job. Set a goal of having at least 2 meetings come out of a networking event.
Step 4: The Follow-Up
The downfall of people’s networking strategy is either poor follow-up, no follow-up or the full-blown sales pitch in an email. Think of your follow-up as a “getting-to-know-you” phase of your relationship. It must happen within 24 hours to reinforce the connection you made. Acknowledge the meeting, the event and create the invitation to connect on LinkedIn, Inquisix or Twitter. You will need to explore which of these ones suits your business needs. And ignoring emails is a poor reflection on your business, so avoid it at all costs. Arrange a follow-up meeting, even if it’s for a coffee to learn more about each other’s business, in anticipation of opportunities down the line. This is always a great starting point.
Step 5: The Power of Reciprocity
Give without expecting something back demonstrate how powerful reciprocity can be. If you see an opportunity to share some information or introduce a contact to your contacts, “Just Do It.” This is building some credit for reciprocal behaviour from others in the future. I saw this recently when I did a favour for a business contact. In return, an out of the blue opportunity came my way through the person I did the favour for. I was the first person that came to mind. This is the power of reciprocity.
Step 6: Build it and they will come
People often give up before they reach the momentum that makes them a network hub in their own right. They are inconsistent or dismiss people as not being of value. I suggest a rule of thumb is to treat everybody you meet for like your clients, even your “so-called” competition, as they may be a vital link for a joint venture in the future.
It’s far too easy to assume people in your network as not worth knowing, because they wouldn’t understand your business of have the right kind of contacts. The business people I have met are very intelligent so give them your time! And don’t be a dabbler by attending networking events, gathering cards, connecting on social media sites and then abandon ship. Use your 20:20 vision. See the value in everybody you meet as a chain in your network and a part of your most valuable asset: your contact database.
To truly understand the power of networking, read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, who writes brilliantly about Connectors, Mavens and Salespeople. These are the people turning their businesses around, making money and finding great jobs, when the masses are doing things the old way. Be a pioneer in your business or profession and tap in that that rich reservoir. Your best client or the perfect job is only six handshakes away.