Five Questions to Start Building and Nurturing Your Network

  • Céline Nguyen
  • October 31, 2022

Networking is about building relationships that aid your professional growth. Around 80% of professionals find networking essential to their career success, meaning it’s important to refine your networking strategies and continuously build and nurture your connections if you want to succeed. 

Professional success often depends on who you know just as much as what you know, with each networking interaction presenting a new opportunity. When you actively network, you can expect to see a myriad of benefits in the form of new contacts, future clients, and referrals. Investing in these relationships will create strong, lasting bonds that help both parties.

To start building connections and cultivating a robust network, ask yourself these five key questions, the answers to which will shape the foundation of your networking strategy. 

Question 1: What do you do?

“What you do” is a standard question for events, social gatherings, or when encountering new people, so you should be clear on what you want to say. You should answer clearly with a sincere yet prepared pitch. Vanessa Van Edwards, the lead investigator for Science of People, believes that there are three critical elements to creating the perfect pitch:

  1. Who am I? Begin by identifying yourself along with your job title or area of expertise.
  2. Who do I help, and how? Describe who your expertise impacts and how your business is carried out.
  3. Why? Explain why you are passionate about what you do, highlighting the purpose of your business and what it is solving.

The goal for your pitch is to stand out and make people curious so they are inclined to meet you a second time. The key, however, is to sound natural and not robotic. Ensure that you practice your pitch to seem convincing and relatable.

Question 2: Do you have a network?

Many people believe they don’t possess a network because they don’t know anyone important. The truth is everybody has a network, whether it’s family, friends, or a wider community. However, how do you discover who is in your network, and the ways they help you? There are several steps you can take to discover who is in your network.

Firstly, you must create a map or a list of all the people within your network, including personal and professional contacts. Then, you can evaluate how strong your relationship is with each contact, from those who are closest to you to acquaintances. To turn these networking relationships into “profits”, you can apply the “5 + 50 + 100” rule described in leading expert Judy Robinett’s book.

According to Robinett, you should create a small circle of five people from within your network that you trust and share a significantly close bond with. These are the people who you should contact daily. 

The following bracket of 50 people are those who are crucial for your business. You should get in touch with these contacts weekly. Your interactions don’t need to be long, but you should always ensure to add mutual value where possible. You can do this by arranging a coffee break, a zoom call, or messaging them on LinkedIn. 

Lastly, select 100 people who are critical for future business opportunities. Connect with these people monthly, adding a human touch and swapping value where you can.

Taking these steps will open your eyes to your personal networking map, allowing you to understand who is in your network, your relationships with each contact, and how they can help you succeed professionally. 

Question 3: What are the characteristics of a good network?

There are two fundamental characteristics of a good network. First is a mix of strong and weak ties.

Strong ties are people you have a significant connection with, for example, family, friends, and close colleagues. Weak ties mostly consist of acquaintances or people who share a common background. Weak ties are just as important as they help you connect with a wider circle and can bridge you to other networks.

The second characteristic is diversity. People are naturally hard-wired to share their time with those who have similar interests. However, to nurture your networking strategy, it is vital to connect with people who are different—an ability that is often the sign of a successful consultant. In doing so, you’ll be exposed to new perspectives and gain the ability to think outside the box.

Incorporating these two characteristics into your networking strategy will ensure that you have a wide and powerful circle that can aid your business.

Question 4: How many people should you strongly engage and build connections with?

According to the rule outlined by anthropologist Robin Dunbar, we can only maintain meaningful relationships with approximately 150 people. Building a solid networking strategy means you should get in touch with your network regularly. Therefore, if you go over this number, you will have a reduced ability to dedicate quality time when nurturing your relationships—remember the importance of quality over quantity. 

Question 5: How often do you have to engage with your network?

Returning to the rule of “5 + 50 + 100”, it is essential to keep in touch with your network daily, weekly, or monthly, depending on your relationship. However, when building and nurturing your networking strategy, this rule can be used as a base for inspiration rather than taking it at face value.

As 95% of professionals agree that face-to-face communication is vital for their business, an adaptation to Robinett’s rule will allow you to engage with your network at monthly, quarterly, or bi-annual face-to-face meetings, rather than at more frequent and perhaps less productive virtual meet-ups. Adjustments to this rule will allow you to continue to add a human touch and maintain a fresh and valued relationship while allowing you extra time to focus on other aspects of your business.

Next steps

Once you’ve answered these five questions, these are the next steps you should take. 

  1. Check your pitch. After becoming an independent consultant, you will have already practiced your pitching skills. For networking, your pitch must be clear but still sound natural. Ensure you thoroughly practice this will help you not sound too salesy or robotic.
  2. Map out your network. Once mapped, you can choose who your key contacts are and define your different contact circles. Remember that you must focus on quality over quantity when it comes to the number of contacts in your network.
  3. Create your content library. A content library should have articles or links that help you to add value to your network. Stay organized by preparing this library before you’re due to meet people to bring and share value when networking or to use when reaching out.
  4. Create a blocker in your agenda. Networking takes time, so allocate dedicated time within your calendar. Ensure you create a block of time (and stick to it) to keep on top of your networking and practice the strategies discussed.

The bottom line

Anybody can network, whether you are just starting your business or are a fully-fledged expert in your area. By following these networking strategies and asking the five questions mentioned above, you can nurture your existing network — boosting your contacts, opportunities, and potentially your business’s profit.

If you want more insights, check out my complete series on networking and relationship building here

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