• Learn How to Build a Powerful Personal Brand That Will Differentiate You and Allow You To Compete in the Global Marketplace.
  • Build Your Digital Relationships Before You Need Them

    The old rules of professional networking translate to the online world as well. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “build your network before you need it.” Every single job search success story that I’ve heard stems from someone already having a network, tapping into that network, and then securing referrals and interviews from it. In this way, your online network is your only insurance policy against a layoff, and it is a bridge to new opportunities as well. On the other hand, if you choose to solely focus on job boards, newspaper ads, and job fairs, your job search will last five times as long. If you’re starting a business and you don’t have a large network, then you are at a big disadvantage and you’ll have to spend more time networking, when you could be investing in your business and serving customers.

    The facts

    Avoid networking at your own peril. You can’t afford to ignore online connections these days, especially when almost every first impression is created virtually, and people are more accessible than they have ever been. As you can see by the following statistics, building your network before you need to is timeless advice. If you have a network, especially an active one, it’s far easier to land your next big job, start or expand a business, or move up in a company.

    • 70% of jobs are secured through networking (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
    • Jobs seekers spend 68% of their time looking at online job postings–and less than one-third of their time reaching out to others (UpMo.com)
    • 92% of small business owners recommend business-focused online networking (WeCanDo.biz)

    What happens when you build your network when you need it?

    You shouldn’t rush to build your network. There’s a reason why ExecuNet states that 74% of executive jobs are through referrals. There’s also a reason why one-night-stands don’t result in relationships!

    If you’re looking for a new job or another opportunity (and don’t have a network), you will exude these three qualities (acronym=DAD) to people who you’re trying to network with:

    1. Desperate: Job seekers, entrepreneurs who are trying to raise venture capital, and corporate workers who are begging to move up the ladder, will naturally appear desperate if they don’t have a support system to back them up. Other people will know that your desperate because you’ll promote yourself and hand them a resume, without shaking hands with them. You will try too hard, talk too fast, and ask for an introduction, without even getting to know the person. I don’t know about you but I don’t respond favorably to those types of people.
    2. Aggressive: Being aggressive is a very good thing in life, but if you’re overly aggressive because you need something from someone else, then it makes you look bad. For instance, if you’re really looking to get promoted and you bug your boss every day, you will probably either lose your job. Also, if you’re looking for a job and you’re in a conversation with someone, you’ll harass them in-person, and then through email after, until they respond. You need to understand that people will only go out of their way for you if they already know you, like you, trust you, and feel that they can proudly endorse you.
    3. Disingenuous: You can’t force relationships on people, so your attempts to network when you need it become viewed as dishonest and insincere. People know what you’re after so they will be turned off, not engaged, and not welcoming of your resume. Adding one hundred new LinkedIn contacts isn’t going to result in a job because people don’t know who you are, what you want, and if they receive an email from you saying that you want a job, you will be “LinkedOut.”

    When you have an agenda, other people can smell it out, and it will be hard to convince them to support you.

    The difference between online and offline networking

    Online networking

    When you have an online brand, you will be judged on the size of your network (your popularity), your influence within your industry, how you describe yourself and what you do professionally and personally, and the way you go about reaching out to other people. Also, it’s important to note what your intentions are for networking online, and how you will continue to provide your knowledge to that networking community forever. When you network online, there are certain unspoken rules, such as “don’t add a friend without sending a customized introduction letter,” and figuring out “what’s in it for them.” In the online world, your introductions and conversations are cataloged, shared, and responded to. This means that you have to be twice as careful as what you would say in-person.

    Key differences are: your network is visible, searchable, and people can draw conclusions about who you are based on who you’re connected with on a grand scale.

    Offline networking

    When you’re in an offline networking situation, people can get a good feel for who you are based on your behavior, body language, and words. They can also grasp how you conduct yourself, and who you associate yourself with. All of these factors in drawing people into your networking database. Offline connections tend to become online one’s as well, especially if someone wants to follow-up with you or remain connected because they or you might feel compelled to work with them in the future.

    Key differences are: Offline networking, or networking in a real-world environment, breeds stronger connections because you get a better sense of who someone is based on emotions.

    5 steps to build your digital network in preparation for a career or business move

    Let’s think of building your digital network like building a house. Here are the following steps you should take:

    1. Have a plan of attack: Before you build a house, you need to know where you want the house built, who you want to work on it, what materials you’re going to use, etc. When you build your online network, you will want to know which social media sites you want to use, and which target group of people you want to build relationships with.
    2. Lay the foundation down: Always, always, always, import your current email, instant messaging, and social network contacts in everything you do. Of course, you shouldn’t do this if you have a “personal profile,” but otherwise you should. By starting with a base, even if it’s your parents, friends, and a few acquaintances, it’s easier to build off of it. You can’t build a house without a foundation, and a deed.
    3. Get all your bricks together: Once you’ve chosen the social networks, blogs, and other websites where you want to grow your network, then you have to enable others to become connected to you. For instance, with a blog, you’ll want to add the “Facebook Like Plugin,” or a “Share This Plugin.” By doing this, you’re able to attract more referrals from people who are in your industry. Other bricks you’ll need are the design, some content to make it appear that you’re human, and flawless profiles.
    4. Build a house: Once you have the foundation and the bricks, then you need to build a community by driving conversations, commenting on other people’s materials, and become a leader in your category.
    5. Make house additions: You should always look to expand your network by providing more value, building a better site, or even starting your own social network. You want to keep leveraging new technology so that you can reach more people.

    Your turn

    Do you typically put off networking until you need to?


    Dan Schawbel is the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm. He is the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success (St. Martin’s Press) and the #1 international bestselling book, Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future (Kaplan Publishing), which combined have been translated into 15 languages.

    Posted in Career Development, eBrand, Job Search, Networking, Personal Branding, Social Media, Success Strategies
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    9 comments on “Build Your Digital Relationships Before You Need Them
    1. avatar

      Laying the foundation of a network is critical. People will not help you if you are new to a group and then come at them with a desparate request. Networking requires nurturing relationships, just like a group of long-term friends.

      This is not just something that you can click a button and add a “friend.” You are right on when you say that you have to buidl it before you need it. A network is an insurance policy, not a band-aid.

      -Joshua Black
      The Underdog Millionaire

    2. avatar

      Oh my God YES. Seriously, everything you say here man is SPOT. ON. I especially like what you say about being desperate. My favorite corresponding story is when I was looking for work right after graduation. I got on Twitter and started networking hard core. While it resulted in an entry-level job pretty quickly, it’s not until a year later that the network I built then is rock solid. Because I’m no longer shouting from the rooftops and I actually nurture those relationships, they’ve turned into something awesome. Now that the “desperation” fell away I can honestly say I have a kick ass network.

    3. avatar

      In any field, if can follow ethics that would be a great asset! I think building network before we need is also an idea of doing and finding things in a right way! Sometimes I wonder how people sent request in a vague manner just as you explained in the post as in desperate state! This would be certainly helpful to such people! Appreciate your work!!

    4. avatar
      Mars Dorian says:

      That’s quite a cornerstone article, Dan

      there still some people out there who don’t put as much effort into networking as they should.

      to me it comes down to finding like-minded people, building genuine relationships built on mutual interest and supporting each others – alliance style.
      It’s pretty easy at the core – the passion for connecting and the desire for giving must be strong !

    5. avatar

      I like the premise of building your network bit before you need it, because it addresses one of the reasons why people procrastinate when it comes to building their network … they feel that they don’t need it yet.

      The challenge with having that kind of mindset is that it is usually too late to try and build a digital network when one needs it … because there isn’t enough time to cultivate or grow it or get any benefits out if it!

    6. avatar
      Rob says:

      Excellent advice Dan. ‘Slow but sure’ has never been more apt!

    7. avatar

      Great article Dan. Networking – relationship building – should be integrated into everyone’s every day life. One thing to add would be that building a strong social network online enables you to take at least some of those relationships offline – a place where business really happens and where jobs really exist. And the best way to get offline is to start early and build a strong foundation across a large demographic – as you more than aptly describe.

    8. avatar

      Great points. If you build them before you need them, be sure to keep them after you need them also.

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