We all have a network of people who stand ready to help us, if only we will ask. We may not be in touch with most of them. We may not even realize how many folks are out there ready to lend a hand. But they are there.
How can you tend your network so it is more ready to help when you need it? When you need a hand, what are some keys to asking effectively? Once you get the help you need, how do you follow up?
Read on for tips on growing a lush network, and harvesting a bountiful crop of help from it.
Nurture your network long before you need it
If you don't plant and water seeds in the spring, you won't have any veggies to harvest in the fall. It's the same with a network of people - if you don't nurture it now, you won't be able to call on that network for help later.
Look for ways to help the people in the network. Set a goal of finding one thing to do for one member of your network every day of the week.
Introduce two people in your network to each other. Think through why it makes sense for them to get to know each other, and tell them what you were thinking when you decided to introduce them.
Keep your network up to date on what you are doing. Call folks and send regular update emails. You might even consider sending a formal update email using a service like Constant Contact.
Tend to your network using all forms of social media - websites, email, phone calls AND face to face.
Remember birthdays and other significant facts about your network and celebrate with cards or notes.
Track your network. Consider on line tools like JibberJobber, or offline tools like Act. Or use a paper system if that works better. You want to keep track of address and job changes, awards received - anything that could be significant to them.
Ask in a way that makes it easy for people to lend a hand
Prepare your request thoughtfully. Figure out specifically what help you need. Do whatever research you can to minimize the time your contacts will need to spend helping you.
For example, let's say you are charged with expanding sales of your company's Widget 3000 into the Frammer Jammer industry. Decide specifically how your network might help. Perhaps some people in your network will be good sources of information on the Frammer Jammer industry itself. Don't plan to call them and ask them to tell you all about the industry. First do on-line and library research to learn all you can on your own. Then craft questions that will fill in the gaps.
Others might know key people in your target companies. Don't plan to call and ask who they know in the industry. First get on LinkedIn and find folks in your target companies. Then talk to the folks in your network who are linked to your targets and ask for specific introductions.
When you ask, ask directly. Don't beat around the bush. Be specific.
Help people see how important their assistance is to you - put it into context so they can see how their help is part of you reaching a bigger goal.
Explain what the next steps are. If you are asking for a referral, for example, tell your contact how that referral will be treated. (E.g., "If you are able to introduce me to Joe my plan is to arrange for a 20 minute conversation to get his opinion on the future of the Frammer Jammer industry.")
Don't forget to ask your contact how you can return the favor.
Whether or not a contact is able to help, don't forget to say thank you - and mean it - before you hang up the phone.
After you receive any assistance from your network
Send a thank you note. Email is fine and handwritten is even better. Who gets snail mail that makes them smile anymore? A thank you note can make someone's day.
Keep your contacts up to date on how their help is panning out. If Sue introduced you to Bill, let Sue know when you and Bill have spoken and how it worked out. Never let Sue forget that you appreciate the introduction.
Look for ways to "pay it forward." If you can't immediately return the favor to the person who helped you, find someone else to help instead. Keep the giving alive!
Return to the top of the page and continue nurturing your network for the next time you might need it.