Saturday, December 04, 2004

Networking Principles?

What Networking Principles?

Joining Ryze or Ecademy or LinkedIn does not make you a networker. You become a networker because of the things you do. Doing things takes time. Sadly for most of us TIME is our most valuable resource: it's your LIFE we are talking about. What are you going to do with your life? Why should you spend part of your LIFE in an online social network?

Effective networking expands your understanding, your thinking skills and your life opportunities. That's something you might want. But online networking is new and there are lots of very unreal ideas about the way to network and the supposed benefits.

Networking Theories: We are new to online networking, and most of the theories about the best way to do it are problematic. I don't personally subscribe to the idea the that more contacts the better, I choose to choose my contacts. That said, I'm not overly particular, you can't tell what qualities new people bring, so an element of randomness does enter who I choose to have as a friend or contact. I do not expect to make any sales directly from my network activities. That may happen, but not because I focused on that outcome and expected it to happen. I do try to find and join expert groups. I'm not active in them all, I don't have the time. I've become a member of too many interest groups. That tends to waste too much of my time, although when I write my own letters to such groups it can be personally involving, intensely interesting, often educational and sometimes even useful.

A Suggested Networking Method

Establish a Personal Profile: This profile should be easy to read, and interesting. 50 keywords as recommended by Ecademy, may be useful on your homepage in Ryze too. Photographs certainly help but they shouldn't be too large. Strive to be professional, but also seek to be a real person with interests and passions.

Be a proactive reader and responder: Join groups, clubs or networks on topics that interest you. Read that mail, at least read the best of it. The very best should be printed, read critically and you should feel free to hi-light it and to write your own notes on it. You learn when you DO things. This is easy when people say things that you agree with. However, take time to identify articulate people who put a good case for opinions you don't feel comfortable with, and try to understand what they say and why they say it. Be critical of course: you are responsible for what you feed your brain.

Find Good People: You should make a point of identifying the people who write quality opinions. Visit their homepage's, leave them messages of appreciation, perhaps at a later stage make them contacts or friends. As appropriate exchange personal messages with these people. Choose to associate with quality people. Whatever you do, remember to be a person, an associate, a friend, and not a salesman.

Use the Network to Stimulate Your Thinking: You are now involved in a network of thinking proactive people who are directing you to certain topics of mutual interest. From your own knowledge and experience you have a new and unique reaction to that. Take the time to put your own view into writing. That exercise is valuable to you, it structures your own thinking. Send your view to the network. Because you are writing for others you will more effort into making your points clear. You will be stimulated to put forward your best effort. It matters not one bit if anyone responds or not, you have gained because you made the effort. If your letter attracts constructive feedback all the better. Over time people will come to recognise you for the type of input you give.

Help Others; Be Useful: As H. Dean Hua said, "Trust is a high form of capital." One of the best ways to generate trust is to listen to other people and to respond to their needs. Be a reliable person. Act in a reasonable and constructive way. Offer assistance where it's required. Do you have some expertise? Can you offer some of that knowledge to other people in an accessible way that doesn't cost you a fortune in time. For me, that's why I maintain this blog. I have another blog for business purposes. This blog is one of my public service efforts. Readership is good. Other people pass on the address to their friends.

Being Strategically Strong: I worked in a previous employment for most of two years before people began to know about me. Face to face networking takes time too. You don't build a reputation overnight.

So it is online. I've been on Ryze for 14 months. I have not made the best use of my time because I didn't know what to do. Slowly my efforts have become more effective. I try to do the things above. I'm a member of far fewer Ryze networks than I could join, about 30 (Limit 100) but I do visit them all at least once a month. I do create new topics and discussions on one network or another at least once a week. I respond to a letter or two at least once a day. In addition I try to maintain the Veech Innovation Network, and occasionally this blog.

Look at my Public Ryze Guestbook. The sort of comments people choose to write, are partly a response to my reputation, and partly a response to how I've treated them as individuals. Over a long period of time those comments start to mean something, not only to me but to other people. It's easy to get noticed. It's more important to get noticed for the right reasons.

Slowly, things have begun to happen that I couldn't plan for. People have begun to approach me, often just asking for help, but often at the same time making me a reciprocal offer of help, or suggesting an opportunity for me, so I might be even more useful. When people approach you, you have increased options, you can deal from a position of strength. That doesn't place you in a position of power, more in a position of responsibility. As H. Dean Hua said, "Trust is a high form of capital". Trust is hard to earn and easily destroyed.

You learn by what you DO. Use your contact with your network to do more things, read, respond, write, think, be useful to other people.

Be Patient. The cream rises to the top of the milk. You can see that on Ryze too, over 2-3 years the people with much to offer distinguish themselves.

Veech Innovation Network

Friday, December 03, 2004

Why Network?

Why Network?

Some of us are really dumb. I'm including myself in that group. I'm by nature or family indoctrination or childhood education one of the people who likes to join groups and to be an active member of those groups. For me the idea of the internet and listservers and chat rooms and social networking always made basic sense. But hundreds of hours online have not been productive in the way I imagined. As with many examples what happens on the internet is often confusing and counter intuitive.

20 years ago I was talking to a lawyer about the failure of my business to attract the right sort of clients. I was building my client base by door knocking, by face to face contact. That was working, but I was being invited to help mostly as a low cost accounting service, we were not dealing with the key issues of business structure, strategy and innovation. The lawyer said, "Are you approaching your clients, or do they approach you?" Of course I was approaching my clients. In his eyes that was a strategically weak position. When new clients approach you because you are the person many people recommend, you have a strategically strong position.

The value of networking is that over time you can develop a strategically strong position.

Networking Theories

Maximize Contacts: Many people involved in both face to face networking and in online networking believe that the numbers are important. When you first meet people, or when people first become known contacts, you can't tell if that will be helpful of not. This theory says, "since I can't choose the good or the bad contacts it's best just to accumulate as many contacts as possible. If one in 20 is likely to be "productive" in a business sense, then I'm better to have 10,000 contacts than 100 contacts.

Random Contacts: Thomas Power of Ecademy is very strong on the idea that "random contacts" have value. My expertise is in innovation. One of the realities of most innovations is an accident or a random event that allows the innovator to see what he or she couldn't see before. Even so, if you are planning to do something you try to make a plan and to act in a constructive and directed manner. Randomly casting about isn't likely to be most productive way to behave.

Making Sales: It seems so obvious that with a few million people online, that one should be able to "sell" things to these people. But in fact the power of online advertising and email marketing is weak. Not many of us have a product that has real value that we can effectively deliver "online". If your product can be more efficiently delivered locally and face to face, you probably have a competitor in the local market who is much better placed to make the sale than you can ever be. It's much easier to spam people and to offer products of zero or doubtful value to people than it is to offer products or services that have genuine value. "Free" has become a dirty word because it's been consistently misused on the internet. Despite the news to the contrary, online sales are not "taking off." Despite what you are told, "advertising online" is not a value proposition.

Expert Groups: One of the key reasons I have joined so many networks is to be part of many expert groups. In the early days of the Internet these groups were easy to access and very informative. Sadly These groups have become inactive or harder to access. Spam attacks killed the very useful Usenet system. Yahoo Groups were for a time very valuable, but lax security at Yahoo allowed the group mail addresses to be harvested by robots, and Yahoo groups members became the target of spam attacks. Today expert groups have largely become private. They are on university or government servers, or inside social networks like Ryze, or are perhaps operating as Yahoo Groups or Google Groups. These groups may not be available to the public. Many website's offer a bulletin board for user discussions, but these are usually poorly used.

Expert groups exist. Usually membership is free and open to peers, but unless you are a peer you are unlikely to know how to find and access that group. Peers openly and routinely share information and expertise with each other. But generally they charge other people for this sort of help, so if you arrive as a newbie, you will probably need to prove your status as a peer before you are accepted. You might be able join a list, but you become a member, when the existing members accept you as a serious voice. Most of the expert groups that were too public have gone silent.

Interest Groups: Many groups that look like expert groups are in fact mostly populated by wanabees. There may be peers of two types, the inexperienced and the experienced. Both groups tend to sit silent. The inexperienced not knowing what to say, and unwilling to expose themselves to adverse comment. The experienced looking to find and meet their real peers and not very interested otherwise. Most of these groups have limited amounts of mail and the quality of that mail is only fair to good. So how does that help? First it gives you a clear idea that the Internet is chest deep in newbies. When you get a letter that misunderstands an idea you know about, you can reply. Lift the quality of debate. Offer your own knowledge. In answering letters like this you often discover were your own growing knowledge lies. You don't learn much by mearly reading the posts of others. When you research and write your own post, you stand to learn a great deal. First you consolidate your own ideas, second you may get some feedback that will enlarge your thinking on that topic. Then you slowly establish your reputation among those who read the mail. Finally, you come to the attention of the few real experts in the group. When you are recognized as a peer you will be contacted by them. To succeed in networking you need to be proactive. Do things. Initiate activity. Take a stand.

Many people join social networks and make no progress as members. They simply don't know what to do. But H. Dean Hua, isn't like that. He joined Ryze and did all the right things. He was very active and built lots of contacts and an excellent reputation, but it didn't turn into immediate business. Here's what Dean wrote in December 2004.

When networking, don't expect too much
by H.Dean Hua

Regardless if you are networking online or offline, try not to expect too much from a meeting. Sometimes, you should just try to enjoy the journey before arriving at the destination itself. It's been said many times, but it takes time and trust to develop any sort of relationship with people. Trust is a high form of capital that many individuals don't have yet. But once you have gained it, you may well consider yourself to be very more ways than one.

That's my thought of the day.

Dean ~~ the financial quarterback

I understand what Dean is saying. I share that experience, but I've learnt so much, I can have no regrets. The problem is that what Dean and I have done takes too much time for too little result. So how can we network more wisely? More Tomorrow.

Veech Innovation Network