A few months ago, public relations expert Karen Taylor Bass at a networking event. During her keynote address, she dropped some profound nuggets, one of my favorites being: “Your network is your net worth.”
In other words, leverage your relationships to get what you want, whether it is entry into exclusive communities, job opportunities, or business connections. That is one of the mental models and habits of the wealthy—independent of race—that keeps their wallets swollen. They are not afraid to pick up the phone to call that friend who knows somebody, who knows somebody to get what they want.
But us— those of us locked into the middle and working class state of life— view the “hook up” with outright disdain. Many of us still associate this phenomenon with images of Jerome from Martin or our deadbeat family members looking for nothing but a handout.
But if we don’t start to reframe how we use the social capital of relationships, we will be locked into the middle-income zone forever.
I am currently reading Keith Ferrazzi's, Never Eat Alone and Other Secrets to Success One Relationship At a Time, where he talks about the importance of creating a Network Action Plan. It is really simple to do, but really eye opening. I think as a community, we feel that we have to work twice as hard to show our worth. And much of that work that we do is grinding behind a computer alone, instead of connecting with the people that can get you where you want faster and with guidance.
Here are the specifics of the three-part plan. Divide a blank piece of paper into thirds or a Word Documents into three columns.
1. Create your goals.
The first part of building your net worth is to be devoted to the creation of goals that will help you fulfill your mission. In particular, think about what you want to accomplish in three years or five years. If you are not sure about your mission, it will become clear to you once you figure out what goals and dreams are non-negotiable for you. Try prayer, meditation, introspection, consultating with close friends about your strengths, or taking self-assessments like Myers Briggs personality test.
2. Identify who can help you.
I think this step is often overlooked when it needs our serious attention. For each of your goals in the first part, name one or two people that can help you achieve your goal. Don't just think of your circles; think about your neighbors’ circles, your friends’ circles, your mailman’s circles. Seriously.
3. Consider the best way to reach out to these people.
If the gatekeeper to your goal is someone that you know, a simple call and request may be all that you need to help you reach your goal. On the other hand, if you realize that the person that you need to talk to is someone that you don’t know, then you will have to start small and build their trust. Instead of looking for what they can do for you, think about what you can do for them.
Here are some of the strategies that I have personally used and have found them successful.
1. Reach out with a genuine compliment about the work that they do via email or at an in-person gathering. Be specific about what you liked about the project completed, article written, or product created.
2. Provide them with ideas that can make their jobs easier or what you would like to see them do in the future.
3. Research their passions, interests, and areas of weakness, and find ways to either authentically connect with those passions and your personal triumphs with a similar challenge. Share your thoughts with them.
4. Volunteer your time to their organization; take on leadership opportunities while you there.
5. Introduce them to people that can help them with their personal or professional goals.
6. Ask to interview them.
7. Join your local alumni or sorority/fraternity chapter and hang out with people who are doing what you would like to do.
Once you put in the work of getting to know someone, serving as both a connector and information source, you would have set yourself up to be seen as an asset, a giver, and someone that they like and will want to help.