Building a network has been cited as the number one unwritten rule of success in business. “Whom” you know clearly impacts “what” you know.
Doors of opportunity open most often for those who know where and how to knock.
But the process requires much more than merely racking up followers, friends, and connections on social media. It requires strategy and reciprocity.
Nobody understands this better than Molly Beck, author of the bestselling Reach Out: The Simple Strategy You Need to Expand Your Network and Increase Your Influence. Molly, founder of the podcast creation site Messy.fm, offers excellent advice on building your brand, your network, and your career. And if “meet and greet” events turn you off, she shows you how to expand your network in ways that don’t give you the hives.
Rodger Dean Duncan: Early in your book you say “network” is a noun, not a verb. Why do you emphasize that?
Molly Beck: Yes! Remembering back to second grade: a noun is a person, place, or thing—something tangible. Your network is tangible and you’re building your network by meeting other people, not meeting other people by networking. The former is friendly and attainable. The latter conjures up images of a stressful cocktail party. A stressful cocktail party is the opposite of what Reach Out strategy is: it’s digital connecting with people you want to meet by being a joy in their inbox.
Duncan: What kind of digital presence does a person need in starting a serious Reach Out effort?
Beck: You need only three things to have a digital presence before starting to Reach Out online:
1. a professional email address, not tied to work or school
2. a LinkedIn profile
3. a second social media profile where you share professional-ish content (a Facebook profile where you share only family pictures doesn’t count; a Twitter feed where you share articles related to the industry you are in does).
Duncan: Many people apparently think LinkedIn is just for job seekers. How do you disabuse them of that notion?
Beck: One of the biggest benefits of LinkedIn beyond job hunting is its value in search results. Everyone googles everyone these days. Depending on how common your name is, LinkedIn profiles usually appear near the top of online search results when someone searches for various combinations of your name, city, and/or current company. (If you just created a LinkedIn page, your new profile should start appearing in search results a few weeks later.) The easy-to-find nature of your LinkedIn profile provides credibility that you are who you say you are, on the internet and in real life.
Duncan: You say the real power of Reaching Out is at the edge of a person’s existing network. What does that mean?
Beck: The people in the immediate circle around you (your family, friends, and close co-workers) are valuable because they know you well and can give you advice on what works well for you knowing your personality. They are at the center of the circle of your network. Yet because they are so close to you, they know many of the same people and see many of the same opportunities you do. But if you go one level out—to acquaintances or friends of friends—these people have different vantage points and are seeing other opportunities you don’t see that may help you get to the next place. The edge of your network is where the winds of change and new projects come from.
Duncan: When Reaching Out to a stranger, what should a person share in terms of “gifts” and content?
Beck: Follow this email template when writing a Reach Out email:
· Step One: Decide whether to send from your personal or work email.
· Step Two: Make your subject line awesome.
· Step Three: Use a simple greeting and the person’s name.
· Step Four: Introduce yourself and give the world’s shortest bio.
· Step Five: Offer your Gift. This would be:
– Gift #1: A compliment (this a must), plus—
– Gift #2: An article or book recommendation your Target might like
– Gift #3: Knowledge you have access to that they don’t or something special only you can create
– Gift #4: A press opportunity
– Gift #5: Free advice on a skill you have that would benefit them
· Step Six: If applicable, add your favor.
· Step Seven: Write your closing and add your email signature.
· Step Eight: Double-check everything, add their email address, and press send!
Duncan: Like many things, expanding one’s network requires a well-conceived strategy. What strategy or “action plan” do you recommend?
Beck: One Reach Out to someone every weekday is the only action plan you need. One Reach Out each weekday is enough to make significant progress over a year. One Reach Out a day means you are sending about 260 Reach Outs in a calendar year. If 40% reply, that’s 104 new or strengthened connections you don’t have in your network right now.
Duncan: Earlier you mentioned “favor.”What steps should one take before requesting a favor from a stranger in a Reach Out interaction?
Beck: Not every Reach Out email needs to include a favor. Sometimes you’re just opening a line of communication with the other person, perhaps because you anticipate needing a favor down the road. If you do want a favor, ask a non-Googleable question that can be answered easily via email.
Bad questions to waste a favor on include “Can I pick your brain?” (too vague, and insulting to ask someone for their expertise for free); “What open jobs does your company have?” (go to the careers page and look for yourself); and “Can you mentor me?” (mentoring is a relationship that develops over time. You can ask for specific advice to start, but asking someone to be your mentor when you don’t know the person well is too much to start with).
Good questions to spend a favor on include: “What industry conferences or events do you think are worth the time and money to attend?” or “What trends in our field do you think I should be paying attention to?” or “Are there any books that you wish you’d read earlier in your career that I should read now?”
Duncan: With so many people on high alert for privacy invasions these days, what’s your advice for building confidence that it’s safe to respond to your Reach Out?
Beck: Never attach anything, including a resume, unless asked for, in a first email. That’s overly forward and can often get your email sent to their spam folder.
Duncan: A key to Reaching Out success, you suggest, is making it a daily practice. What can people do to make that discipline part of their regular routine?
Beck: Right now, put “RO,” short for “Reach Out,” every weekday at the same time for fifteen minutes on your calendar. When that calendar invite comes up, write your Reach Out email to the person you want to connect with today. Then you’re done. It’s really that easy!