We often think of networking as something that needs to be done only when you are looking for a job, but I’d argue that networking is the essential skill that enables you to perform your job.
Nobody works in a vacuum. Nobody produces alone. You are always part of a team. You are always part of an ecosystem. Understanding your role on your team and knowing your place in your ecosystem gives you clear guidelines on what it takes to be effective. Knowing the skills of your teammates and knowing how to work with your counterparts in your space allows you to accomplish your goals.
I make my living by selling gear for pro-audio manufacturers. For better or worse, that’s my specialty when you distill it down to its essence and strip away titles and brand associations. For me to be successful and to perform my roles and responsibilities, I need to manage my inside team and collaborate with all other internal divisions while being able to work with a multitude of pro-audio buyers, international distributors, MI sales professionals, online merchandising teams, marketing agencies, social media managers, artists and engineers—from all over the world and from hundreds of different companies. If I did not have a strong existing network along with the skill and ability to plug into established networks, my employers would not be getting what they pay me for. I am literally paid for who I know.
But for every one person that I know and have access to, there are still thousands of people that I haven’t yet met working at hundreds of different companies that I simply don’t know. This lack of knowledge limits my effectiveness. Yesterday, the buyer from Musical Fulfillment Services reached out to my employer. I didn’t know that they were the holding company for American Musical Supply, Zzounds, and SameDay Music. I should have known that. Knowing how companies are interrelated is part of efficient networking.
Here’s what I did: I loaded this new information into my personal CRM system. I made the mental connections. I filled in new places and spaces in my landscape map. I took the time to build out my network so that I can become more valuable.
With this in mind, here’s your homework assignment for this month: Since your effectiveness and value are directly related to who you know and who you have access to, you’d better have a dedicated list or database or system that helps you organize and remember everyone. You need a way to capture and record what’s in your head.
Start by making a list of all the companies that you work with. This is harder than it sounds, so here’s a trick to make it easier: Get a big piece of paper. Put your name in the middle of it. Draw a circle around your name. Then draw a bigger circle around your circled name. Put the name of the company or artist that you work for in this new circle. (If you freelance or if you’ve been recently separated from employment, put down the name of company or artist that you were last associated with.) Now put down all the companies that your entity associates with. Put down all the companies that you sell to on the right side of your circle and all the companies that you buy services from on the left. For each newly circled company on your page, think of one to three people that you deal with over there and place their circled names within each company bubble.
Doing the above exercise once is a good first pass, but far from complete. Come back to your bubble map each day for the next week and keep filling in more companies and people as you think of them. You can add seemingly tangential pieces, even if the bubbles don’t line up perfectly. There is no wrong way to do this exercise as long as you are capturing the people and companies that you know. It won’t all come to you at once, but by the end of the week, you’ll have something solid. When you’re done, step back and take a look. That’s your first tier Networking Ecosystem.
Next month, we’ll build on this exercise and add some meat to the bones. In the meantime, send me photos of your networking maps and reach out if you have any questions or need additional guidance.
Mike Dias writes and speaks about What Entertainers Can Teach Executives and Why Nobody Likes Networking. He is the executive director for the In-Ear Monitor International Trade Organization and the vice president of sales for Earthworks Audio. He loves to trade stories, to talk shop, and to hear about your networking successes and failures! firstname.lastname@example.org.