A few years back, I was commissioned to study the best way to network. Using a rigorous approach and interviewing some of the top business networkers in business, I landed on ten dimensions that make a great network and ultimately a networker.

For the first time, I am going to share some of my findings with a select few. Below are the first three dimensions needed to get yourself on the right track to be a great networker and reap the benefits of having a productive network.

1. Have Networkers Intentionality
“Intentional living is the art of making our own choices before others’ choices make us.”
~ Richie Norton
As many things here are at the Sales Conservatory, we are intentional about everything we do, including networking. In business, it appears that LinkedIn is the networking marketplace.

Here are elements that need addressing:

The quality of a network – This aspect of your network is essential as you want to be associated with quality people. It’s unfortunate, but the association to those seen as being poor in business will only bring your brand down; however, the opposite is also true. Being associated with good people will bring your brand up. Who are the ‘good’ people in your circle? What makes them good? From whom should you stay away and what makes them ‘bad’?
The quantity of the network – This will be essential, as 20% of your true contacts are the ones with whom you will engage most regularly. In addition, you want to set up a system that allows you to follow up and engage your network in a realistic way. For example, how much time will you spend a day networking and engaging with your network? If that network is big, that will be a challenge and may lead to ineffectiveness. You will also have to think about automated ways to continue to engage.
The diversity of a network – Diversity in networking is key because it brings two important aspects to your network. You will benefit in increasing your ability to be innovative and to communicate cross-functionality, expanding your territory of influence. Who are those people? How are they diverse? What areas do they serve that you currently don’t serve?
Whom you want to meet – In your particular industry, there are thought-leaders who are key to have in your network. Perhaps having Bill Gates is a bit out of reach for us, but there are key influencers who can help you in your career – and you can help them too. Who are they and why should they be in your network?

Lastly, you need to take risks with your networking process – Very similar to cold calling, there needs to be a risk in reaching out and connecting with new people. What is your value to them? How can they help you? How will you interact with them?

The best way to get started is to visualize your network already up and running. Who do you see in your network? To whom are you talking? What are they saying? How do you feel as you engage with your network? Then ask yourself the following questions:

What needs to be true for this vision to come to reality?
What do I need to do to fulfill my vision?
What are some unexpected benefits and/or consequences of my network?

2. Create a Networking Plan

“Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”
~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

Once you have an idea of your intentionality, create a plan with the goal of planning. Plans expire quickly and often are useless by the time they are deemed completed. However, the planning process is indispensable not only for networking but for anything worth investing in. Our view of plans are documents that are continually updated given the latest trends, external forces, and unforeseen circumstances.
Here are the elements that need addressing:

Do your homework before you network – As mentioned above in the first dimension, there is much work to do to prepare before you launch into networking. However, don’t be paralyzed by it. I continually test my networking approaches as I get feedback and measure outcomes based on my desired state.
Networking is about planning – Create a calendar or schedule of events and activities you plan on doing before you actually carry them out. Posting something out of character will only water down your efforts. What are you going to do? When are you going to do it? How does it fit with your brand?

3. Start Creating Networking Reciprocity

“Abundance is a dance with reciprocity – what we can give, what we can share, and what we receive in the process.”
~ Terry Tempest Williams

Here is when it starts getting real. The bottom line is that networking is about giving AND taking. I have removed people from my network who were just takers. I also make sure that what I gave has value, like this PDF. There was much work done behind this study, and I hope that you reap the benefits of this work. I know you will if you implement these steps.

Here are the elements that need addressing:

Create relationships – This is obvious, but what does a healthy relationship look like? Maybe reflect on your personal life, on the people with whom you have a good relationship. What are the elements that make it a good relationship? Honesty? Transparency? Reciprocity?
Be beneficial, so they can be as well – Understand what others need. I’m sure you have heard of the golden rule ”do to others as you would have done to you.” Nice, but not effective. I follow that platinum rule (yes, there is such a thing). “Do unto others as they would want to be done to them.” Makes sense, doesn’t it? But it is much harder, because now you need to know others in a more intimate setting. The Golden rule acts on your values to everyone, but the platinum rule requires you to know everyone else’s values and respect them. What are their values? How can you help them achieve what they want to achieve?
Create diverse connections – This is a combination of the diversity needed in your initiation combined with understanding their values and beliefs. It’s one thing to connect with a diverse crowd, but it takes great focus to understand and add value to them.
Understand the Value of your Network – What value do you bring, but also what value does your network bring to you? Some traits might include learning new things, receiving more opportunities, and connecting with others. Are you providing these items to others?