Networking Tips for When Your Network Changes (or You Need to Change Your Network)
Your business networks are living, breathing entities made up of living, breathing humans. Like everything else in the natural world, that means they can change dramatically, suddenly, or unpredictably. Here I discuss how networks can change and what to do when they do.
When Your Network Changes
Some years ago, I was working in an industry related to construction. My network within that industry served me very well and I like to think that I served them well, too. Then the economic recession hit the U.S. Some of my contacts were now playing hopscotch with their careers, jumping from company to company to keep employed. In other cases, entire companies disappeared seemingly overnight through mergers, acquisitions or closures. My network had changed and, in some respects, collapsed.
When You Need to Change Your Network
As a result of the massive changes in my construction-centric network—plus a major change in my primary income source from that market that had nothing to do with the recession—I had a major decision to make. I could stay within that industry which would entail doing a completely different job (if a suitable one was even available!) or starting a different business to serve this market and network. With the construction industry in a down cycle due to the economic crisis, I didn't think those options had much merit. So I decided to leverage my writing, editorial, and marketing skills into serving the small business (make that micro-business) sector. And that meant I would need to change my network.
Your Ever-Changing Networking Landscape
As my story illustrates, your network can change at any moment. People may lose their jobs. An area's economy may be decimated by factors, not under its control. Demand for a product or service could explode or implode, thereby increasing or decreasing the number of people actively participating in that market.
Your own situation could change the game, too. Maybe you lost your job or had a severe downturn in business. More positively, maybe you are pursuing a new target market and your current tribe of networking chums is no longer relevant or helpful (though you may wish to remain friends).
Even if you understand this situation, it doesn't make it any easier. You may have spent a great deal of time, money, and effort building and supporting your network connections. These investments could now represent sunk costs.
What can you do to help prevent this scenario or recover from it?
Change-Proofing Your Network
Managing your network means that you'll need to be objective and effective at evaluating your connections. Here are some tips for keeping your network relevant in spite of change:
Categorize Your Networking Contacts. When making connections, evaluate if they have potential beyond your current employment or business situation. That doesn't mean they're not valuable now and that you can't continue to be forever friends! It just means that you may need to reset your expectations for these relationships at some point.
Let Them Out. As my network changed, I noticed that many of my connections started to fall away and opted out of my email update list. Instead of getting upset and feeling hurt, I realized that our relationship was no longer relevant, wished them well and moved on.
Six Degrees of Social Media. I still would like to know what some of my previous network pals are doing even if we're not currently in a working relationship. Thank goodness for social media! Though some may go through a connection audit and dump contacts, many people simply let existing social media relationships continue, even if the reason for being connected has passed. For example, what I have found helpful is subscribing to occasional email alerts on updated profiles from LinkedIn. Through these updates, I know when people have changed jobs, taken on new projects, made new connections, etc. If something sparks my attention, I can reconnect and possibly rekindle our work together, albeit doing something different than before, or ask for "six degrees of separation" type introductions to their contacts that I want to know.
Scrutinize All Networking Events. The friend factor may encourage you to attend networking events that are no longer relevant. While it's great to chat with your friends, you should soon realize how much of a time sink it is to attend events at which there is no possibility of building sales or uncovering new opportunities. Continually research new networking groups and events or ask contacts for recommendations that are relevant for your current and future endeavors.
Keep Filling Your Networking Pipeline. As you attend regular or new events—in person or online—go in with the mindset of expanding your network. Have a system for following up with valuable contacts afterwards.
Measure Your Networking Results. Because networking can easily turn into just fun and friendship, it's critical to constantly monitor your results from these activities. The number of events, conversations, etc. will need to be tracked and compared to sales and other important metrics.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2016 Heidi Thorne