Sure. Everyone says you need to network in today’s modern professional culture.
But networking, in the way that we Business Analysts usually think of it, is a waste of time.
It’s unproductive; it’s ineffective; it’s inefficient; it’s time-consuming; and it is a major challenge for those of us who are introverts.
There is a better way. Follow this plan.
Step 1: Figure out your Likely Goals
Your first step will be to figure out your end goals. Yes, goals, with an s on the end. We are going to have a networking strategy that begins with the end in mind. Networking is a time investment, and we don’t want to waste it.
Some goals might be:
- Find a job – Even if you’re not looking for one now, you are likely to in the future. Effective job-seeking strategies get you off of job boards and into conversations with people
- Get answers to business analysis questions – Sometimes, you will need to ask questions of a large group of Business Analysts, and you will want to go beyond your local network, and go more specific than Quora facilitates
- Find a coach/mentor – Careers are hard work, and it’s a rare individual that can run them effectively all by themselves, chained to their desk. Many professionals (including me) need coaches to help them get over major obstacles, and every coach in the world is on LinkedIn. [Note: I’m a business analysis coach, and would love to help you overcome the problems you’re facing. And I’m uniquely qualified to do this]
- [There might be 20 more; it’s up to you]
Once you have a handle on what you want to achieve…
Step 2: Prioritize Them
No, we aren’t going to start executing on every goal we have at once. It’s not smart; it’s not efficient; and it sure as heck isn’t lean.
They don’t all have to be ranked. You just have to pick your top three and then rank those. If you only have two goals, rank them. If you only have one goal, that’s ideal.
The best advice I can give you is to look beyond your present situation. Consider these questions:
- Will you be a Business Analyst five years from now?
- Will you be in the same company five years from now?
- Will you be in a more senior role five years from now?
Your life will change in the intermediate-term, and it’s best to have your goals and priorities reflect this.
You do not want to be in a position where you start networking when you’re looking for a job (or something else). That puts you in a position of weakness. Instead, you want to be networking from a position of strength, helping other people to accomplish theirgoals, so (in short) they owe you. 😊
Step 3: Set up your Personal CRM System
LinkedIn keeps changing their feature-set, and as of publishing (August 2017), they’ve removed just about all the features that help you effectively administer the contact management function.
So, you’ll need to set up your own CRM system, and don’t worry – this is a lot easier than it sounds.
Why? Because you (personally) don’t have enterprise CRM needs. You just need the basics: contact profiles, communication history, list management, and similar functions.
There are dozens of CRM tools out there. You should pick one that is easy to use and has the features you need. I recommend Insightly because it’s great and (as of August 2017) free for the amount of data we’re working with.
I won’t show you how to set up Insightly, because it’s ridiculously simple, and you’re a Business Analyst. But you should follow these steps:
- Set up your Insightly account. It will ask for your company name, and you can put anything you like in there (your own name is enough)
- Import your contacts from LinkedIn. You’ll need to download them first from LinkedIn as a CSV file and then import them into Insightly. LinkedIn will give you more than a dozen files, but you only need to worry about “Contacts.” Insightly lets you map column to field, and again, it’s a very simple process
That’s it. Pat yourself on the back for getting this done in 30 minutes or less.
Caveat: I’ve worked on CRM systems for about 15 years, and I might think that things are easier than they are for “normal” people. If I’m wrong on this, comment below, and I’ll fix this.
Non-caveat: No! I don’t work for Insightly, and they don’t pay me a cent or give me any other incentives at all. It’s just a platform that meets our requirements that I’m familiar with. Use whatever you want.
Step 4: Find People that are a Good Fit
“Good fit” means that you can probably help each other.
There are different types of people on LinkedIn:
- Some people are very active; most are not
- Some people aren’t responsive; some are
- Some people are only there to get help for themselves and not help others
- Some people are there only to sell their products
- Some people are there only to get a job
- And, yes, some people are out there truly developing productive and beneficial relationships
In short, everyone is different – with their own sets of goals – and yours might overlap with theirs or not. It’s difficult to tell.
So, what is a good fit, again? A good networking fit means the following:
- You can guess what some of their goals are, and you can meaningfully contribute to them
- They can meaningfully contribute to your goals
And that’s it.
Let me underscore: If there is a person that can help you, but you can’t help them, that is a bad fit.
But don’t get discouraged if you feel you can’t help anyone. The best way to connect with someone is to say something like this…
Step 5: Invite Them to Connect
This is not a major deal. You find someone and invite them to connect.
The current state of how LinkedIn handles messages alongside invitations is not very good. For example, if I log on to LinkedIn, I might have a dozen invites. Sometimes I can see if they sent me a message to go along with it. Otherwise, it’s just a list of people that have invited me with Accept/Ignore links. Not very good.
Nonetheless, I have had a good amount of success (high acceptance rate) with a message something like the following:
You and I are both [business analysts / in the same group / Harvard grads / whatever], and I bet we could be a great networking pair that can help each other accomplish goals.
Obviously, you should sign off with your own name.
You don’t have a lot of space in these invitation messages, so keep it short. Once they accept, then it’s a good idea to take a good look at their profile in more depth, and write them an email, not a LinkedIn message. The content of the first e-mail you send them should be driven by step 6.
Step 6: Profile Them
Learn what they are on LinkedIn to do.
Learn what their situation is.
Learn what their goals are.
Learn how you can help them.
Only by doing this will you be able to network in an effective way.
If you have NOT set up a personal CRM system (as I recommended about 1000 words ago), you will have a very difficult time keeping track of any of this stuff.
Here is a sample first e-mail to get you started:
It’s a pleasure to connect with you!
I wanted to reach out to see how I can help each other going forward. I’m an active networker, and I’d love to hear about your current situation, your goals, and your problems.
If you’d like to catch up by phone/Skype, that would be great. But e-mail is also fine.
Looking forward to working with you.
Whatever their response, mark it down in your system. Even if there is no response.
If they don’t respond, there is a 95% chance they are not a good networker. I’d give them a month, then try again with something like this:
I was very pleased to connect with you last month.
I see networking as a two-way street, and that means I’m out to help the people that I can.
Are there any major challenges that you’re going through?
I recommend not being any more aggressive than this. And never send a third e-mail, if they’re ignored the first two.
Step 7: Do NOT Maintain the Relationship
There are lots of people out there who talk about “maintaining networking relationships.” That’s fine, but they’re missing the very important point that…
In networking, you are either building the relationship or losing it.
There is no middle ground, and there are no exceptions to this rule.
Networking is all about giving and taking. Helping others and getting helped. And sometimes, just sometimes, you can co-create something that you could never do on your own.
- Aim to help others about 2/3 of the time, while getting help 1/3 of the time.
- Your first networking contact should be you helping them.
- Set up a contact schedule. If you aren’t in contact with someone every quarter, they will forget who you are and what you’re all about.
It sounds like you’re “maintaining” the relationship, but you’re not, because “maintaining the relationship” doesn’t exist.
Step 8: Reach out to people you haven’t recently spoken with, using the most possible effective technique
Send them this e-mail:
We haven’t spoken in some time.
I wanted to reach out to see how we can help each other going forward. I’d love to hear about what you are working on, and see how I can help you get things done. Please let me know.
On the flip side, I am focused on the following areas, and I would love to know if you can help in any/all of them:
Looking forward to hearing from you.
Whatever their response, mark it down in your system. Even if there is no response.
If they don’t respond within three months, send them this e-mail (I actually included some of the bullet points I actually use!):
We’re connected on LinkedIn, but we haven’t spoken recently.
I’d like to network with you, and to me that means helping you to achieve your goals.
Here are some areas I can help in:
Providing input on your business analysis objectives
Helping you to be prepared for your next business analysis role
Getting you access to superior business analysis training
Helping you to source excellent business analysis talent
Helping you to develop your business analysis team
Getting your team access to superior business analysis training
Are you trying to achieve any of these items, or are there other goals I can help you with?
Let me know; I’d love to help.
If they don’t respond within another three months, they are either yachting around the world or not really interested in networking with you. We don’t want to bother people, so I recommend tagging them as “Do not Contact” or similar.
Step 9: “Sharpen the Saw”
This term is from Steve Covey’s masterpiece, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (you should read the book).
The idea is that, now that you are an expert, you should continually improve your networking practice.
The plan I’ve given you here is a lot of work, and you’ll need to do it consistently if you want to be an effective networker. By regularly sharpening the saw, you can network both more efficiently and more effectively.
* * *
So, that’s it for now. I expect to update this blog post as more ideas come in, so…
I’d love to hear your comments, questions, additions, challenges, and successes. Leave a note below.