Let’s start with an analogy.
Payday is always a great day. There’s money in the bank, and the weekend is near. You get a temporary euphoria of seeing your bank account flush with cash. But then you start to remember your bills, your debts, and your budgets (if you’re being smart), and the celebration subsides as you realize you can’t buy that life sized cut-out of Elon Musk.
But even on an average day, your finances are always just on the horizon of your conscious mind. You don’t intend to, but questions arise:
- How much is my account
- Have I been hit with any fees?
- Am I saving enough for retirement?
- How can I create better budgets to maximize my savings?
- Did I pay my bills on time?
They may not come up all the time, but they do arise. And your questions almost always fall into 2 categories: Control & Context.
To be financially adept, you need to ask questions and you need to answer them. You need to know what’s going on, what’s available and what will happen next. But you also need to save, invest, budget, and spend. If you can’t do both of those, then you’re either left saying, “I know what I should do (Context), but I can’t do it.” or “I can do all of this stuff (Control), but how?”.
Thankfully for personal finance, you rarely have those feelings. Information and tools are readily available. One of the best apps available to help you answer a TON of those questions is Mint.com. They do a phenomenal job of providing context and control. It’s why it’s one of the few non-social financial consumer applications with over 20 million users.
Now, let’s turn the tables toward networking. You realize the conversation is almost identical, but instead of money, it’s people.
- Who’s in my network?
- Am I meeting the right people?
- Are there better events I should be attending?
- Did I follow up with Jill soon enough?
But there’s no TurboTax for relationships. There’s no WellsFargo for networking. You could say you answer those questions through emails, LinkedIn & Facebook, or just “keeping it all up here.” (That was a genuine answer someone said when we asked how he managed over 1000 different relationships). These applications are great at what they do, but for true networking they’re only 1/2 the equation.
For clarity, we define networking here as “active engagement with individuals and groups of individuals in pursuit of increased personal and professional opportunities.” Each individual is seeking different opportunities (new mentors, new investments, new sales, etc…), but regardless of the what the individual is trying to attain, the questions don’t change.
Context: What the hell is going on?
For your network to really be helpful, you need to know what is happening within your network. That can be through social media, automated newsletters, or physically calling people in your network. There is a certain amount of information that is needed for your network to be useful. You need a particular volume of information exchange happening between people.
The information you gather needs to be meaningful and recent. Knowing that Alice just posted a picture of her sandwich is recent, but not meaningful. Knowing that your old boss moved to a new job 3 years ago is meaningful, but not recent.
To add to this challenge, you need to answer questions regarding individual relationships and your network as a whole. Knowing Emily just got a new job is good, but what if you also knew two people who work there and you can introduce them? That’s where meaningful & recent information meets individual & general context. It’s not easy.
Given this criteria, social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, and even Twitter do a fantastic job to provide you with context. But it’s usually only 1 type of context: individual relationships. They do it very well, and I’m a quick search away from knowing the last retweet or post from anyone I’m following. But they typically lack the ability to answer questions about whole network. (They weren’t necessarily built for it, so we can’t hold it against them.) Here are some examples of questions that need answers for the two types of context.
Questions for Context (about the whole network):
- Who is in my network?
- How has my network grown / evolved over time?
- How can I improve my networking activities?
- Where are the gaps in my network?
- Are there any events coming up near me?
Questions for Context (about individuals):
- What specifically is happening with Rachel?
- What was the last thing Rachel & I talked about?
- What are Rachel’s specific hobbies, interests, and skills?
- What is Rachel’s contact info again?
Control: Let’s do something about this.
As Derek Sivers puts it, “If more information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.” The information is utterly useless if you can’t do anything with it, or more importantly, don’t know what to do with it. This is where network control comes in.
Control also falls into both groups of control over your entire network and control over individual relationships. To simply the concept of control, it’s basically the ability to take actions. The ability to “retweet” is a control mechanism. I can “do” something with the information. Sending an email, setting a calendar event, sharing an article are others.
Most CRM systems give you a great deal of network control. You can schedule phone calls, get reminders, take notes, etc. More robust and flexible CRM’s can even give you control over both the whole network and individuals. What comes to mind first is Nudge.ai. Despite most CRM’s being very powerful tools, the companies building them have decided to focus strictly on sales management and have designed a user-experience that isn’t all that adaptable for networking.
What happens if you don’t know what to do next? This is the category most people fall into. It’s the “I know I should be networking, but I don’t know where to start or what to do.” or “I’ve tried and it didn’t really get me anywhere.” Couple this confusion with an ill-designed user interface, features you don’t need, and non-obvious next steps, and these tools give more headaches than answers. Here are some example actions for control.
Actions for Control (about the whole network):
- Aggregate all of contacts into one place BUT only see the relevant people. (My network contains well over 1500 people. I keep in touch with about 150–200 throughout the year)
- Create groups of the people in my network to navigate them easier.
- Take notes and records actions in relation to my network.
- Access my network from any device (mobile, web, Alexa)
Actions for Control (about individuals):
- Contact that specific person how they want (call, text, email)
- Easily send content (or any added value) to that person.
- Introduce them to new people in my network.
- Schedule a phone call or meeting with them.
- Scan a person’s business card.
Action Item: Apply this new knowledge
While not entirely transparent, Control & Context feed each other. The more control you have (actions you can take), the more context you have (information you can access). The more context you have, the more control you have. When you follow up with someone, you build a stronger relationship with that person. In turn, you’d have access to more meaningful and recent information.
Just like you wouldn’t use E*TRADE to create a budget, you don’t want to use a social network as your single source of information. By understanding intrinsic limitations of certain platforms you can begin to find the right tools and habits you need to start on your networking quest. And if you build the right habits (following up consistently, providing value to others, meeting new people) you quickly spiral upward into what you’re looking for most: new opportunities.
To apply this knowledge in an 80/20 fashion, do the following:
- Create a folder in your email inbox, scroll through your only your sent emails and drag anybody that you want to stay in touch with into that folder. Spend no more than 10 minutes.
- Do the same for Twitter, Facebook, & LinkedIn (you may need to do this by hand). Again, no more than 20 minutes total. If it’s not obvious, just skip them.
- Send all of those people a quick, “Thinking of you! Been on any new adventures recently?” tweet, text, or email.
- Repeat every couple of months.
Yes, this is sub-ideal, but at the heart of this you’re gathering context (who have I emailed, messaged, tweeted recently) and then you’re taking control (by doing a simple follow up). And then you’re getting more context (new adventures) that becomes fodder for your next actions.
Additionally, this article’s thought process pulled from thousands of conversations with individuals in relationship driven roles and an analysis of the current landscape of available tools and companies… with that said, I, Lucas Bazemore, could totally be missing something, so please feel free to correct me. Would love your thoughts!