Opinion: 8 ways to diversify your network

We have four questions for you. How effectively are you developing and managing your network? Are you devoting enough time to it? Are you consciously touching base with key people? And reflecting back to 2018, how many connections do you think you added to your network? Was it 10 new...

Credit: iStock/Ksenia Bravo

How many new connections did you make last year?

We have four questions for you. How effectively are you developing and managing your network? Are you devoting enough time to it? Are you consciously touching base with key people? And reflecting back to 2018, how many connections do you think you added to your network? Was it 10 new people, 50 or 200?

I asked myself the same questions. And, to find the answers, I turned to my LinkedIn network. I began by sorting my connections in the order they were added, showing the most recent first, and learned I had grown my network by 87 people. In that list were a few people I already knew well but we weren’t connected on LinkedIn, so I removed them from my analysis. On average it worked out to an increase of about seven new people a month.

Then I looked through the names and asked myself who I should try to reconnect with. And have I been doing that? And if not, what is my plan going forward?

I came up with eight names. These people are connectors, business leaders and interesting, high-energy, positive people. My goal is to make sure I don’t let a whole year go by without touching base with them a few times. This is a worthwhile exercise if you don’t want the people you met last year to fall through the cracks.

If your “new connections number” was not as high as you would have liked, make this the year you take action to add more people to your network. Why does this matter? Creating a dynamic and diverse network will offer up new business opportunities and enrich your life. Those weak ties (people outside of your close network) have their own networks. They can help you bridge to other networks which opens up access to information and ideas you can’t get from people in your close circle.

Here are eight things you can do to diversify your network and embrace this powerful network effect of weak ties.

1. Fill your calendar
Commit time right now to Googling networking events in your area. You’ll often find ones you can book several months out. Check out BCBusiness Events, which offers up suggestions for at least three upcoming months. But it’s also important to put a reminder in your calendar to check for new networking opportunities every couple of weeks because some of the best events pop up at the last minute.

2. Make the most of marquee events
Election years are always interesting: the PM and other political players will be doing the rounds. They often show up on very short notice. These are what we call marquee events—they draw large crowds and are an effective way to meet other businesspeople and community leaders. The sold-out speaking engagement March 5th with Barack Obama is another example of a unique opportunity to connect with people you may not see on a regular basis. If you missed out on Obama, there’s another marquee event. It’s the 30th annual BCBusiness Top 100 luncheon, featuring Dragons’ Den star Jim Treliving. Although it happens in June, it isn’t too soon to book now… and get an early bird price.

3. Put your money down
Commit by booking the events you want to attend. If you’ve paid your money, you’re less likely to use the easy excuse of being too busy.

4. Try something new—it’s not hard
Brainstorm with your manager or colleagues about different places to network. They may suggest other associations or organizations you haven’t thought of as networking opportunities. Check out the Eventbrite website. For example, a recent scan provided 49 pages of ideas for everyone and every interest in the Vancouver and Surrey area. Kelowna Eventbrite has seven pages of events.

5. Create momentum and value
If you start reporting back to your manager on what transpired during your networking activities, that person is likely to say yes to more opportunities, even those with a higher price tag. Use this post-event checklist as your crib sheet for that conversation.

6. Team up
Is there someone in your organization you could team up with? Perhaps a colleague from another line of business? Or is there a client or potential client, you could take to an event? At that event, they may see people from their network and introduce them to you. If you can’t find a tag teammate, don’t let it stop you. Here are the best tips for networking solo.

7. Invite like-minded people
When you find an event that looks noteworthy, you’re pretty much guaranteed that there are other people in your network who would also find it interesting. Send them the link and let them know you’ll be attending. Now you’ll both know at least one person!

8. Do it for yourself
If your organization doesn’t see your role as being part of the business development team, take the initiative to be a brand ambassador and expand your own network. Showing up at the office with new business leads or new information can’t hurt your career. It’s also worth noting that in his famous 1973 study, The Strength of Weak Ties, Mark Granovetter discovered that 84 percent of the time people who find jobs through networking find them through weak connections—acquaintances rather than close friends.

What’s your new-friend number?
Our last question is probably the most important: How many new friends did you make last year? The research is incontrovertible: having a community of support keeps you healthier and happier. If your new-friend number is low, what can you do to improve it? Start by being more inclusive when doing things with your present circle of friends. Ask them to invite someone new to come along on your evening out. Look at the people in your work environment—are there potential new pals in those cubicles and offices? What can you do, just for yourself, where you can meet new people? Join a running club, photography club or hiking group. New friends are guaranteed.

Judy Thomson, Gayle Hallgren-Rezac and Darcy Rezac, principals of Shepa Learning Company, are keynote speakers and authors of Work the Pond! Use the Power of Positive Networking to Leap Forward in Work and Life (Penguin/Prentice Hall). They teach the skills of networking and communication to corporate clients, universities and business associations. Please sign up for their free weekly networking tip, it’s always under 200 words.