I’ve now touched on the importance of building trust and the most important factor to keep in mind when building your sphere. With this post (my 3rd and final post on “sphere building”), I wanted to explain HOW I go about networking/sphere building/relationship building on a regular basis. As I said before, networking is a hobby of mine, but I do have a strategy that I follow to a degree.
My strategy does not entail adding as many people as possible to my sphere and hope they send me business opportunities down the line. Sure, maybe friending everyone on the planet and following everyone and their mother on Twitter will produce some revenue for me down the line; it’s just not genuine. It’s not my cup of tea. To me, that approach is SPAM and taking the easy way out. Email spammers make a living contacting as many people as physically possible and hoping some of them are stupid enough to take them up on their offer, but that doesn’t justify the wasted time we all spend ignoring and deleting SPAM from our inboxes. Making money that way doesn’t appeal to me in the least. Instead, I focus on enhancing existing relationships and letting my network grow organically. The early stages of your sphere building may be tough using this approach, but it’ll get easier as you go as people seek you out instead of vice versa.
Here are some of the specifics of my ongoing sphere building activities that I engage in (some online, some offline):
1. Travel – I know not everyone has the money or opportunity to travel constantly, but when you do travel, make he most of it. While traveling, I constantly try to connect with interesting people in other cities. For instance, I made a point of meeting Nathan Richardson, a fellow fan of microfinance and volunteer for Vittana, while I was in Los Angeles a couple months ago and had an awesome discussion with him about a range of issues. Wherever I go, I’m always asking myself “who is passionate and doing great stuff” that I can go meet. Once I answer that, I figure out a way to reach out to that person, whether it be on Twitter, through a friend that knows them, or just emailing them directly. If I tried to name everyone I’ve met and interacted with in the real estate vertical using this tactic, this post would never end.
2. Go to networking events – While I resided in Seattle, I made a point to go to as many microfinance events as possible. It was at through those events that I got to know Ryan Calkins and Melisa Samuelson at SeaMO, Dylan Higgins at SaveTogether, Scott Everett at Grameen Foundation, Kushal Chakrabarti at Vittana, Samantha Rayner at Lumana, and Elisa Murray and Beth Castleberry at Global Partnerships.
3. Read other blogs and comment – You should read blogs that touch on topics or hobbies you are passionate about, or are written by individuals who you respect and can relate to. But don’t just read them, COMMENT on them and engage in the discussion by providing your thoughts on the given subject. Here are some blog commenting tips for those interested. This is essentially how I started my friendship with Sloane (among other people) after discovering her writing on the Kiva Fellows Blog when she was a Kiva Fellow.
4. Pick some social objects – Microfinance and travel are two social objects for me. For Ines, it’s mojitos. For you, it could be something else. Just pick things you are passionate about that others might relate to and make a point to talk about your social objects online.
5. Make a point to “catch up” with people – I wrote a blog post about this one on my personal blog a few months ago, but I can’t underestimate the importance of it. Chat with people on IM, Twitter, Facebook, and make a point to call people on the phone every now and then (what a concept)!
6. Blog about your passions – I know blogging is not for everyone, but for me, my personal blog has been immeasurably valuable as a networking tool over the past few years — both to give me a place for people to learn about what makes me tick and for highlighting things friends of mine are doing online.
7. Volunteer your time – Helping others improve their business or raise money is a great way to strengthen relationships. But again, volunteer your time to causes that you’re passionate about and do it because you want to help the organization succeed, not in order to build a better relationship.
8. Use Twitter – I was skeptical about the value of Twitter for quite awhile, but no longer. It’s an incredibly powerful tool to remain top of mind with a large group of people in an efficient manner.
9. Use Tweetdeck to monitor your social objects – I have columns in Tweetdeck for the search terms “microfinance”, “backpacking”, and “mariners”. Those are all topics that I can identify with, so if I see someone continually tweeting about that topic, I’ll often start following them and occasionally start engaging with them to get to know them better.
10. Use Foursquare – I already wrote a post on my reasons for using FourSquare on Virtual Results, so won’t repeat that post here in detail. At a high level, it provides a means to drive additional offline conversations with my network. You should constantly be thinking about how you can have more offline conversations with your network, as that’s the single best way to strengthen relationships.
11. Keep Your Network on Linkedin – I constantly make it a focus of mine to add the people I do business with or interact with to my Linkedin network of connections as a means to keeping them all in one place.
Building strong relationships (and hence a large sphere of influence) takes time and effort. It’s not easy, but I’m confident you’ll find it well worth the effort in the long run. But remember, you have to genuinely care about the people you are interacting with, or you’re likely to fail at sphere building. If you have other sphere building activities I’ve missed or thoughts on the ones I’ve listed, leave them in the comments!
Now, go network away (or leave a comment here and start the process)!