Few people have made it on their own, attributing their rise to the highest rungs of success, based solely on personal merit. Success it seems, is owed to one’s network. 

However, managing a successful network requires effort and emotional intelligence exerted at different stages. The networking lifecycle begins with the kindling of a connection that is then nurtured and developed over the years. If this sounds a bit maternal, it should. 

Experts highlight that ‘networking’ is not just about collecting business cards - rather the focus should be on building deep relationships. With the rise of social media, communication tools and platforms that virtually link people together, professionals are under the impression that they have a wide, expansive and diverse network. Yet, a good exercise is to assess your networks and how many of your connections are actually engaged and communicated with.

We will explore the network lifecycle here. 

1: Building your network - Let’s start with shared interests 

Welcoming valuable individuals into your network can take place at any stage in your life. From childhood friends, peers at school, the workplace or in extracurricular activities and social settings. However, as you grow older, expanding your network genuinely and organically becomes a little trickier. 

To build solid connections that last, figure out what your interests are, and mingle in those settings. Attend events and gatherings where like-minded individuals will be present. It could be an art show, a conference, a play, a think tank, sporting events or a TED talk – you will have the advantage of already having something in common which you can build on. Shared activities give you topics to start conversations. But make sure you do a lot of active listening. 

As Dale Carnegie puts it, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” 

2: Then, diversify your network 

You have a big network, but is it diverse and thriving? Who you surround yourself with is key to your success, whether indirectly or directly playing a role. Look to connect with people from different backgrounds, industries and age groups – this will enrich your personal and professional endeavors.

3: Now, engage your network, genuinely 

Communicating with your connections should be a frequent endeavor. All relationships need nurturing to grow, and those within your extended network are no different. Some ideas…

  • Check in every now and then with former colleagues and friends. 
  • Stay up to date with their news. 
  • Drop an email. 
  • Like and comment on a post. 

4: When asking for a favor

With the rise of platforms to connect with others, knowing where to drop the ‘ask’ is integral. Do you use Facebook, Linkedin, Whatsapp, a phone call, an email? This all depends on the nature of the relationship with your connection, as well as the formality of the request. 

  • Picking up the phone and calling the other person is always a great idea.
  • If you’re on a casual talking basis, then using Whatsapp or social media is accepted. 
  • If the relationship is more formal, or you have not connected in a while, best to call, email or use Linkedin. 

Wording your request is key. The ‘ask’ should always sound like an optional exploration of one’s willingness to help. Use phrases such as:

  • “You came to mind when I was working on this” 
  • “I was wondering if you knew anyone…” 
  • “Would it be too much to ask...” 

5: Reciprocate 

As the law of reciprocity goes, when someone does something nice for you, there is a deep-seated urge to return the favor. But always give without expectation. To quote Deepak Chopra: “Giving connects two people, the giver and the receiver, and this connection gives birth to a new sense of belonging.”

Cue emotional intelligence. First and foremost, drop all expectations when a connection asks for an introduction or favor. This creates a genuine exchange between two human beings. 

5: Leave a positive trail 

One of the integral factors that will either open doors or close them shut, is a person’s reputation. What can impact it is delivering on a promise or giving your word and respecting it. If you tell someone you will do something, actually do it. This builds trust. When you ask for advice or feedback from a peer or mentor, show gratitude and it will do you well to update them after your conversation. This shows that you valued their time and opinion.

So go ahead, knock on your network’s doors, once or twice, with care and reciprocity.