How to Nurture Your Network

Have you ever heard of Dunbar’s Number? It’s the number of people with whom we (as humans) can maintain “stable social relationships”. Relationships in which we know who each person is and how they relate to every other person.

That number is 150.

How many LinkedIn contacts do you have? Facebook friends? Names on your oh-so-important email list? I’m going to bet it’s way beyond Dunbar’s 150.

As business owners, we are challenged to maintain and nurture an enormous number of relationships in order to succeed. And if Mr. Dunbar is to be believed, at a certain number it becomes almost impossible.

The key to nurturing your network is knowing your business goals and building the relationships that will help you achieve them. When we’re aware of our goals and objectives in our business, we can be purposeful and intentional about aligning our activities to reach those goals. Part of this alignment is discarding activities that don’t serve our purposes.
Networking is the same. When we’re purposeful and intentional about the connections we’re making, we make better connections. Fewer connections. Quality over quantity. (Mr. Dunbar would be so proud!)

And these fewer, higher-quality connections will be with people:

  • Who support our success
  • With whom we can build long-term, mutually beneficial relationships
  • With whom we can build rapport over time

How do we maintain and nurture valuable relationships?

In my book, “Lunching with Lions: Strategies for the Networking-Averse”, I suggest the following

  • Prioritize your contacts.
  • Reach out to each of your contacts personally (outside of social media) a minimum of four times a year to stay connected (more frequently for higher-priority connections).
  • Schedule these connections and add reminders to your calendar.
  • Send birthday, anniversary, and holiday greetings via email or snail mail.
  • Connect on social media regularly.
  • Invite contacts to have coffee, lunch, or happy-hour drinks, or to attend an event with you.

Finally, remember to evaluate your network occasionally. As you reach your goals, or as your business evolves, the types of relationships you’ll need to support your success may change. When you’re strategizing for your business, build in time to review your networking goals, the people you’re connecting with, and the way you’re doing it. Remember, when we’re aware of what we want, we can be purposeful and intentional in going after it.