When you shift directions in your career, it’s all about who you know. From the first step to the final, networking and connections are an integral part of the process. Forging strong, leverageable connections with specific key figures takes time and effort, and there’s still no guarantee they will pay off.
However, there’s something that many people don’t realize: not only are strong connections not necessary, but they may even be less effective than weak connections.
In their 2010 book Superconnect, authors Greg Lockwood and Richard Koch establish that many of the best business and career opportunities come by way of so-called “weak links,” or casual connections. These weak links are where we come across new information, ideas, and contacts; the more you have, the better your chances of encountering fruitful opportunities.
I have built my success as a consultant and entrepreneur on these kinds of connections. I got my start working with the NHL Alumni Association through a casual connection. I also met and co-founded 21st Avenue Consultants with Andrew Dorrington, and our network of players comes from our pool of connections that we’ve built over our decades of work.
It’s important to build your network early in your career, but it’s also never too late to begin. If you want to start:
Know your target
Start with a good understanding of the types of people you want to engage with. For example, I started my business working with the NHL Alumni Association, before utilizing my contacts within professional sports. Now I provide wealth management, sports marketing, and consultancy to veteran and former athletes, and help them build their future away from the rink.
Get it started
Initiating the connection can be hard, especially with strangers or people in a higher position. Identify and source those who you have a strong interest in meeting. Try to not just have a business idea in common with them, but something to actually connect over. The simplest place to start is former colleagues and introductions from friends. And when you go to events or functions, don’t just work the room. Try to know ahead of time if anybody exciting is going to be there, and find an effective way to be introduced to them.
Use every tool available
This might be obvious but social media is invaluable in establishing weak connections. The best way to develop these is to find exciting contacts and projects in other geographical areas, and follow their activity for something to engage over. This can be a retweet, shared link, or a personal business endeavour. Just make sure you have a specific reason to reach out.
Have fun with it
Above all, make networking fun so you want to do it! Meet for a drink or coffee, and use it as an excuse to try somewhere new. Try to do this once a month — we all have time for one hour, once a month. Even if you are busy, it is important to make time for these connections now, so they pay off in the future.