Networking GroupBusiness networking has a bad connotation -- we have visions of meetings handing out business cards dancing in our heads. They remind us of being back in high school wondering if we'll go to the prom or get picked for the team. But having and supporting a business network is one of the keys to a successful job search. Even if you are not in a job search now, cultivating that business network is critical to your long-term employment security. Business networks don't magically build themselves. You have to take action to build yours and make it central to your career planning and development.

1. Actively Acquire People

This is not adding whoever to LinkedIn Google+. Nor is it having 5,000 friends on Facebook. Instead, this is deciding who is able to support your career goals and who you can help reach theirs. These people can be peers in your company or hiring managers or members of a professional organization. Or, they can simply be people who leave your company and you, unlike everyone else, go and get their personal contact information so you can keep in touch. Fifty people leave your company you know and trust and that gives you contacts at another fifty companies where you can find out information. Actively adding people to your network is work. Especially since this is an important, but not urgent, goal. The time to build your business network is precisely the time you don't need one.

2. You Must Actively Manage Your Business Network

Managing your network comes in two parts. First, you need to consistently communicate. It makes no sense to capture all that great personal contact information and then not talk to people for a year. You need consistent communication with your network so that you support and build relationships. Second, most of us quickly outgrow our ability to keep track of everyone and what they are doing, so we need a "personal" equivalent to a Customer Relationship Manager program. My favorite is Jibber Jobber because of its capabilities and consistent improvements over time. Now, we don't like to think that our "friends" or "co-workers" or "acquaintances" need management. But they do. It's easy to think we're regularly talking with these people -- and then realize months have passed since we did. That's why management is needed.

3. You Must Actively Support Your Business Network

Building and communicating with your network isn't enough. The real strength of your network is your ability to help your contacts. Whether it is a recommendation, helping solve a problem, pointing the person to where they can find information they need, or providing your perspective on a question, supporting your business network is critical. Some day, the time will come when you need some support to solve some problem at work, get some perspective on a job, or find out information about a company. You want to have helped others so they are willing to help you. [youtube]  

Business Networks Are About Finding And Supporting Resources To Help Your Work

Too many people think networks are only about finding jobs. While that's one part of it, the better way to regard it is that networks give you resources to help to grow your job and career. If you build, manage and support your business network, well, you'll find that people will come to you with opportunities. Not that you will have to go searching for them.