We use the word “network” a lot in conversation.
“You have such a great network…”
We talk about networks as if they are a singular asset.
But thinking about someone’s network as a singular asset both a.) undervalues it and b.) makes it seem like something that YOU can’t replicate.
A “network” is really the result of many 1:1 relationships. And the value isn’t in the collective – it’s in each of the individual relationship.
When you think about the sum total of your relationships as a “network,” you’re making its existence binary: you either have a network, or you don’t.
You’ve either built a network, or you haven’t.
But that isn’t true.
We all have our own network (if we have to call it that) but more importantly, we all have our own 1:1 relationships.
The real strength – the real value – lives within each of those relationships. The collection of them doesn’t really matter.
You never even interface directly with a “network” of people. You always interact 1:1 with people – with individuals.
Let’s pretend you have a “strong network” in higher education. You know the whole senior leadership team at several universities.
If you find yourself in need of filing or protecting a trademark, that “strong network” doesn’t mean a thing.
…but a single relationship with a great lawyer would.
So it doesn’t matter how big your network is. If you know the right person for whatever situation you’re in right now, that’s all you need.
When I was in college, the entrepreneurship organization brought a new speaker in to talk with the club every week.
And every single week for four years, I would introduce myself to the speaker, tell them what I took away from their talk, thank them for their time, and ask if I could follow up with them.
Then I’d go home, add them on LinkedIn with a personal note, and do my best to stay in touch.
In fact, I’m still in touch with a LOT of those people today! They’ve become friends, mentors, even partners.
And it’s because I wasn’t thinking about building a network – I was just trying to make friends.
Networking is about collecting. But building relationships is about connecting.
So don’t worry about your network.
Instead, worry about building strong, 1:1 relationships. If you make it a priority to connect and not collect, the network will take care of itself.