Business guru Jack Canfield says that you are the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.
It makes sense, right? The people in your personal and professional networks have an extraordinary effect on who you are and how you see the world. They affect how you spend your time. They affect many of the decisions you make. They affect the way other people see you. In short, your network and how you interact with them are key components of your personal brand.
The Care And Feeding Of Relationships
It's surprising, then, that people don't pay more attention to building and nurturing their professional relationships. The reality is that you need to pay as much, if not more, attention to building your relationships as you do to building your skills and abilities. Genuine professional relationships, just like personal ones, take time, care and commitment to sustain. And the return on your investment will be more than worth the effort. People often think about networking if they need something -- a job, a reference, some advice -- but they don't often think about how their relationships directly shape them as a professional. If you only pay attention to your network when it's convenient or when you need something, your relationships won't be very strong or authentic. In turn, your personal brand and career development will suffer.
Keep Better Track
The first step to better managing your relationships is to literally manage them better. Make sure you have an accurate, up-to-date database or address book application in which everyone you know is listed. Don't use your cell phone as your only address book, in case you lose it! In addition to keeping track of people's email addresses and phone numbers, keep a record of other important information that will help you build strong relationships, such as people's birthdays, Twitter names, and snail mail addresses (for those times you'll want to send a handwritten note). It's also a good idea to jot down when and where you met someone or another specific detail, such as the person's favorite football team or children's names.
Next, be sure to follow the people in your network on various social media sites. For professional purposes, LinkedIn and Twitter are the most important. This way you can keep up with people's news and occasionally send a hello or forward an article that might be of interest. Small gestures on social media demonstrate to others that your personal brand includes generosity and a true interest in the careers and lives of the people you know.
Broaden Your Thinking
As you continue to build your career and increase your networking activity, you'll want to associate yourself not just with individuals, but also with groups. Group involvement shows people that you value community, sharing and helping others.
Without a doubt, these groups should include your university alumni community, with whom you can connect through listservs, LinkedIn groups, in-person alumni clubs and reunions. It's likely that your alma mater helped you grow as a professional and influenced your personal brand, so it's valuable to maintain a connection and give back to others who shared the same college experience. Strong personal brands include demonstrating pride and loyalty to the institutions that have shaped you.
You should also look into joining professional associations related to your field of interest. Most professional associations have local, state and national groups. Some even have an international presence. Depending on your interests and goals, other potential communities include volunteer organizations, your local Chamber of Commerce, arts organizations, running clubs and any other online or offline group that appeals to you. Such memberships provide countless ways to meet others, learn about yourself and discover new skills and opportunities that will enhance your personal brand.
If you are trying to build your experience in a new field, then it's even more important to take part in communities associated with your desired profession. Even if you've never officially worked in public relations, for instance, you can include your interest in PR in your personal brand by joining the Public Relations Society of America, following their tweets and attending their in-person events. This will help you learn the lingo, find out about potential opportunities and build relationships with people in the field you want to enter.
Go The Extra Mile
No matter where or how you are connecting with people, a crucial piece of your personal brand involves how you interact with the people you know. When you see that it's someone's birthday on Facebook, write a quick "Happy Birthday" wall post. When you invite someone to connect on LinkedIn, always customize your request with a polite and gracious note instead of using the generic message. Occasionally reach out to people in your network to say hello and ask if there is anything you can do to support them. Send holiday cards. You'll become known as someone who is thoughtful and always goes the extra mile. And, in turn, people will be more likely to go the extra mile for you.
Share Your News
Finally, don't be shy about keeping your network posted on what you're up to. Remember that networking and personal branding are not just about who you know; they're about who knows you. While staying conscious of not posting sensitive personal, client or privileged information, update your social networking status at least once a week with news about what you're doing, what you're reading or what events you're attending. If you're speaking on a panel, invite people in your network to attend. If you're walking in a charity fundraiser, invite people to participate or support your efforts. If you've built truly genuine professional relationships, people will want to know how your personal brand is evolving and how they can support you.
So, look around right now at your relationships. Glance at the last three people who IM-ed you today. Find your last five Facebook friend requests. What can you do for each of these people? What can you do to strengthen each of these relationships? What should they know about you? Attend to your network daily and not just your personal brand, but your entire life, will be better for it.
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