—Amy M. Gardner
Building your network is an obvious and important step to build your career. So important that we’ve written before about three common networking mistakes you can avoid, how holiday parties can help you expand your network, and a four part series on building a network from scratch in 15 minutes per week. Once you’ve built your network, though, then what?
Herminia Ibarra, in her book Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, cautions, “…just because a person knows that a network is important to her success, it doesn’t mean she is devoting sufficient time and energy to making it useful and strong.” Over the last two years, my own network has been tremendously helpful as we’ve established and built Apochromatik. As I’ve reflected on my gratitude for the multitude of ways we’ve been supported and assisted, I’ve realized that anyone can use the same techniques to serve their own network. And, of course, when you help someone in your network, it makes them more likely be receptive to your own requests for help in the future.
You can use the acronym ICE to remember these easy and effective ways to help others in your network.
The I stands for both Introduce and Invite. First, Introduce members of your network to others who might be able to assist them, whether now or in the future. Maybe they will hit it off and be able to work together immediately, or maybe they will cross paths again in the future. As one person in my network explains it, there are people who are fisher(wo)men and there are fish. Being known as a fisher(wo)man able to connect others will be helpful to you and to your network in the future.
Another way to serve your network is to Invite people in your network to events for people they want to meet. Members of my network consistently invite me to events that have both set in motion opportunities, and just been enjoyable ways to expand my network. If your employer doesn’t hold events that give you the opportunity to serve your network, consider holding your own. Jen Dawson is a great example of this. A Certified Financial Planner with an emphasis on attorneys and breadwinner women, Jen holds events in Chicago to bring together great women in her network. (Her annual “Be Your Own Valentine” event on Galentine’s Day is a textbook example of fun and casual networking and substantive, actionable content.) By holding her own events bringing together clients and potential clients, Jen fosters connections among women in her network and helps them expand their own networks. Jen is, in a word, a fisherwoman.
The C in ICE stands for Champion. In other words, speak up about the good qualities of people in your network, and set them up to shine. For example, one member of our network was kind enough to organize a lunch to introduce our coaching and training services to key leaders within firms we are well-equipped to serve. His willingness to not just do an email introduction but to use his professional credibility and connections to champion Apochromatik was something we deeply appreciate, and that expanded all of the attendees’ own networks.
Look for opportunities to champion others. Are you on a professional board that needs speakers on a regular basis? When she was put in charge of a monthly program for a group of Chicago lawyer moms, Emma Rodriguez-Ayala invited us to conduct a training on negotiation. The opportunity to present to a packed house of potential clients was tremendous and continues to reap benefits for us, as well as for the attendees who continue to pass along their positive feedback. Next time you are asked to pick a speaker, rather than sitting down to conduct a Google search to give the opportunity to a stranger, ask yourself if someone in your network would jump at the chance to present. (And if it’s on a career-related topic, ask Apochromatik! We’re always happy to speak, even if it’s via a video call.)
Another way to champion is to keep your eyes open to people around you who might need the services of someone else in your network. From former law school students I’ve worked with who have recommended me to their office neighbor, to people I worked with 15+ years ago at my first law firm and who have ended up as legal recruiters like Carolyn Aberman and law firm partners like Ryan Rohlfsen and others, those personal referrals from someone who says not just “here is someone who you could contact” but “here is someone who you could contact who is great,” have been tremendously helpful. And the benefits have been not just to me but to the people who would not have worked with me if not for the fact someone else championed me.
After Invite/Introduce and Champion, the E in ICE stands for Educate. You can serve your network through education, whether that’s by sharing books, articles, or TED Talks that you think might be helpful (our Tuesday Videos of the Week or Thursday blog posts are a great place to start!), or sharing your own expertise. An easy way to do this is by sharing someone else’s content on LinkedIn. When legal recruiter Beth Woods recently shared on LinkedIn a blog post I’d written with some kind words, she not only championed me, but also educated her network.
Side note: In addition to sharing content on LinkedIn, don’t dismiss the value of liking posts on LinkedIn. It should not be the only element of your efforts to help your network, but liking a post by someone in your network can be a huge help to their own efforts to share their message. Taking a few minutes each week to catch up on LinkedIn and like, comment, and/or share relevant posts can be a multi-faceted and easy way to serve your network.
Finally, don’t limit yourself to just one aspect of ICE. I recently had coffee with someone I met at a conference, Adam Czerwinski, and by the end of our coffee he had offered Introductions, Invited me to speak to a group, Championed a connection of his I need to meet, and Educated me by sharing the name of a book I should read. I left our coffee feeling appreciative of his generosity and wanting to return the favors.
Spend some time over the next week considering who in your network you can serve using elements of the ICE acronym: who can you Introduce? Can you Invite someone to a professional event you are attending or that your employer is holding? Could you hold your own event, whether lunch for three people or a larger annual event? And how can you Educate someone in your own network by sharing content you’ve encountered, or sharing your own expertise? However you decide to apply ICE to your own network, the important thing is that you get started.
How do you serve your own network? Let us know in the comments. And if you’re ready to design a thoughtful and productive plan to grow and serve your own network, let us know — Apochromatik can help.