Some people think Business School is a waste of money and time. After all, you basically learn things that are probably learned faster and more effectively in a real-life on-the-job environment. But people don’t go to business school for the financial return, or, in most cases, for the information they’ll learn. Yes, some think they’ll learn something or get a raise as a result of getting an MBA, but most of the people I met while at business school were there for other reasons.
A few, like myself, wanted to make a career change. Because I did my undergrad in computer science, I was pigeon-holed as a programmer so badly that while I’d tried switching industries and countries three times, my skill set made it impossible for me to be perceived as anything other than a technology person. Other folks were interested in starting a business, and wanted an environment in which to incubate their idea and acquire funding. Some people were responding to the economic down-turn, and having recently lost their job, were looking to do something productive while waiting for the economy to pick up speed again.
And then there were people who came to business school for the network. I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical of that motivation. How was getting to know a whole bunch of late-twenty and early-thirty-somethings actually going to serve me at all?
Fast-forward just six years…
Kara and I (yes, we met in business school) decided to start a business. After building an amazing set of products we were proud to put our names behind, we set out on the biggest challenge of all… getting people to buy those products. It’s no surprise that selling is basically a huge study in the science and art of influence. We know we have amazing offerings that are extremely powerful and fill a gap that people have, but getting a chance to share those with the world is where the real magic happens.
We needed to get in front of people who have influence that we don’t have; people who have an audience that could use our products and access to a budget that’ll pay for them. Suddenly it all came into perspective. For us to be influential in the ways we want to be influential, we need to rely on others who have different power sources than we do. Our Expertise (power source) in influence and change allows us to create and deliver great products. Our Network (another power source) is what enables us to actually make a difference and help people.
Here’s a few examples of how our Network has allowed us to come to the table more powerfully:
- I interviewed a business-school acquaintance of mine to understand more about the buying centers at the major tech company where she works. I was able to learn about the primary goals of her boss’s boss before securing an introduction to her. That introduction paired with a deep knowledge of her goals allowed me to present the part of our offering that would provide the unique value she sought.
- A local acquaintance introduced me to a woman she knew who was looking for programming that was right up our alley.
- Our first handful of clients all came from our network. They are our business school peers, community members, and yes, even family members.
Now, those are all examples of how our network has helped us be influential, but the key takeaways for me have been the following:
- You don’t have to be picky about building relationships. Literally everyone that you have a relationship with can help you in some way, and often they will surprise you.
- Your relationships have to be authentic. Most of the people who have helped me out by way of introduction to someone else, access to information, or whatever else, haven’t been my best of friends. No, I haven’t shared my intimate fears and vulnerabilities with them, but they know who I am, what I stand for, what I’m about, and why I care about what I do. Because of that, they’re happy to help.
- Providing value to the people I know has been invaluable. It’s no surprise that the people who have helped me out are the ones who I helped out at some point. As social creatures, we operate according to the Law of Reciprocity, which means that we feel indebted to someone who does us a favor, and look for ways to repay that debt.
Network Power is one of the most effective Power Sources from an influence perspective. It sits only second to Grit. That’s because your network can help you build all the other power sources and implicit in your network is the fact that people want to engage with others they know, like and trust. Through your networks you can build expertise, gain access to information, develop a positive reputation, and (rather circularly) build your network.
To take stock of your Network Power, we built a quick diagnostic that'll help you. Download it here! It’ll get you to think about your network, how you have been intentionally (or unintentionally) building its power, and what you should do to make it work for you more effectively.
-- Stephanie Judd, Cofounder, wolf & heron