I’ve said before that a network is a lot like a garden. If you enjoy connecting with people and have been cultivating a healthy network, you may have already discovered the benefits of your connections.
If you are less of a social butterfly and the idea of starting a garden seems overwhelming, I invite you to consider a new paradigm: think your career as a house. You’ve invested time, energy, and money to build it. Think of your network as the foundation. What you have right now is fine. Think about what your house will need to weather the worst of storms. Think about what you need your house to do for you in the future. What can you keep an eye out for right now to build the proper foundation?
Add members to your “foundation” a little bit at a time. Start by assembling a small board of directors to champion your career. Try to connect with people you like, doing something you enjoy, and investing the effort to stay connected to them consistently. You can grow your garden after.
Most lawyers who avoid networking only end up networking when they realize they need help (for example, when you were scrambling for a job in law school or transitioning to a new role). This isn’t the best place to connect with people from. Instead, focus on creating genuine relationships with people you like when things are going well.
Your aim is not to shotgun your business cards to as many strangers as possible; instead, make a connection. Focus on the quality of your connections rather than the quantity.
Are you a cactus or an orchid?
Not a trick question. Cacti thrive with bright light, good drainage, and dry soil with the occasional generous watering. Those same conditions would destroy an orchid. My point: find the right setting for you. Remember that the needs of one individual will be different from another.
If you are not a fan of networking events, find your connections in settings where you are comfortable (that’s why it’s important to get a hobby!). Find a sports team or wine club, ask someone to have coffee or breakfast, or serve on boards and committees of organizations you care about. Slowly, connect people on LinkedIn or other social media platforms.
Once you connect, cultivate! Consistent effort is key to a lasting relationship. Stay in touch with the people with whom you connect by finding a regular time to grab coffee or lunch. Interact with them through social media, and find opportunities to collaborate (like attending a networking event together).
People who have built strong, lasting networks don’t only benefit from their contacts, but they also naturally reach out when they encounter useful information and opportunities that may be of benefit to others.
Contribute your knowledge, connections, time, understanding, and friendship to the individuals in your network. Plant the seeds of true collaboration and friendship.
As you inevitably encounter new professional and make new connections, don’t forget to keep in touch with those who have helped you along the way.