05 February 2012

Design your perfect network

Network design gives you control over the balance and make-up of your network and it assists in goal setting and follow-up. I find that a well-designed network helps me manage all of my relationships and allows me to provide different kinds of value to different contacts.

It is entirely up to you how you create your network. It should reflect your goals and needs and it should provide you with assistance and support when you need it. Who do you want to include? Depending on your goals, your network can be very narrow or very broad, or you may benefit from taking a multi-group approach. Make sure your network is meaningful and relevant. Design it exactly how you want it.

It is my preference to have a multi-group network. Creating structure allows me to focus on different requirements and different ways of adding value to relationships. Let me share my network structure.

Group 1: Support Network
These are the people I call on for advice and assistance. These are very close to me and provide personal mentoring and support. This group is very small but it is diverse. They know if I have made a mistake or if I need assistance. They know what I am trying to achieve. This group includes mentors and friends (as this is about business networking, friends are business-related friends) and people I have mentored. Membership rarely changes except when I add new project-specific mentors. These relationships are long-term and carefully managed. We have a lot of contact.

Group 2: Reference Network
Each member of this group has agreed to be a supporter and knows that I will call on them whenever I need public support or acknowledgement. This group includes past clients, industry opinion leaders, consultants and advisors that I have worked with on past projects, etc. Relationships in this group are actively managed and it is very important that these people know what I am doing and know about my big new projects. I spend effort on reciprocal networking so I continue to add value to our relationships and stay relevant to these contacts. And when I need a reference, I know whom to ask.

Group 3: Potential Clients and Opinion Leaders
The people in my potential clients group are senior executives and people from target firms and professional associations. To get into this group, contacts are vetted for relevance and for a close fit with my business goals. I try to be selective with this group. My main objective is to “pay forward” and add value to these relationships in any way that helps foster our relationship and build credibility. One day, I hope to call on these people for new business, opportunities to speak at conferences, and industry advice.

Group 4: Industry Contacts
This is the largest of all my networking groups and it is made up of practically everyone I have ever met from my industry. I work hard to be very broadly known in the industry and make a conscious effort to meet a lot of people. I try to learn about their companies and about them – just a bit of information, so that I know their context in the industry. Relationship management is on an ad hoc basis. If I can connect people together, I will, and if people contact me, I always answer.

Group 5: Cross Fertilisation
People in the cross fertilisation group have nothing to do with my business. This is a very important group because I am able to learn new ideas and understand new applications through exposure to different people. In return, I teach them about my industry and how we do things.

The main benefit of designing your network instead of letting it develop on its own, is that you can concentrate on weak areas, you can add a group structure to provide different focus areas, and you can build groups to manage specific goals. It is about balance and relationship management. It is about surrounding yourself with people that will lend a hand when you need one.

Please send your comments and tell me how you benefit from network design.

Thanks for reading,


  1. Hi Cathy,

    This is a great post. I thought about who was in my first group and realized that it was severely lacking. I have close friends and family members who really want me to succeed and a handful of experienced professionals who I contact from time to time. None of these people really fit into the first group. It's likely that many new graduates are in this situation.

  2. Thanks for your comment!

    Of all the network types, your core support network is the most important for your personal success. They help to guide you, give you a shoulder to cry on, and a cheering squad for your victories. As a new graduate, I can strongly advise you to get a mentor to help you get started. You can even ask the professionals that you talk to if they can recommend a mentor. One may step forward.

    By being aware that you are looking for a personal support team, you will be more alert when the right candidate comes by.