The word “network” can be intimidating. You might picture a series of wires interconnected and tangled and dusty and confusing. No fun.
What I like to picture instead is a personal community, a support group, or (as Shannon Isom of the YWCA Dayton taught me) a board of advisors. Sometimes all three! Whatever you choose to call it, it is essential to begin building a group of people advocating for you, advising you, and investing in you. You can start by asking yourself four questions.
1. What do I need?
Spend time with yourself to find aspects of your professional or business development you need or want to improve. Take a time off of work, get alone, be creative, start journaling. Anything you personally need to be introspective. Establishing your goals will help you identify the people who can help get you there.
2. Who do I already know?
Most likely, you don’t have to start from scratch when building a personal network. Think about the people in your life currently. Who do you admire? Who do you want to know more about? Who has been in a situation similar to the one you’re currently experiencing? Make a list of your friends, family, coworkers anyone else you would like work with more.
3. How can I improve my relationships?
Start evaluating your list by identifying ways you can develop those relationships. Maybe commit to a coffee date once a week with someone on your list. Look for opportunities to support the people in your network and don’t be afraid to ask them to support your endeavors as well. If someone on your list is not willing to advocate for you, they are not the right candidate to be on your board of advisors.
4. Where can you meet more people?
This is where the research happens. Find a Meetup or event where you know they types of people you want to meet will be attending. Ask your current connections if they have any recommendations for groups you can join. Is there a social or networking group you can join with your local Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau? This can include online groups too like LinkedIn or Facebook. Twitter chats are another great way to connect with people having a conversation about a topic you find engaging.
Finally, you’ll want to repeat this process regularly. Goals are shifting and people change, so be sure to regularly test yourself and the health of your list. For more information, check out this article from the Harvard Business Review.