Master Networkers Reveal The Only Five People You Really Need In Your Network

We asked three master networkers to narrow down their network to five contacts and most aren't the power players you would expect.

No one is an island. We all achieve success through our own skill and hard work, but also through a network of people who teach, hire, refer, and otherwise help us along the way. But what if you had to distill your thousands of contacts down to just five? Here’s how three top networking experts would make the cuts.

Harvey Mackay, CEO of MackayMitchell Envelope Company and author of several other bestselling business books including Swim with the Sharks without Being Eaten Alive

Harvey Mackay has championed the importance of networking for decades. If you took away all of his business success, but left him with his network, "I’ll be back to what I was today in three to five years," he says. He chooses his five by role.

1. Best friend. It might be your spouse or a trusted friend, but you have to have a confidante and sounding board—one person in the world to whom you can tell everything and anything, Mackay says.

2. Doctor. Find a medical expert who can give you good counsel about your health and help you make well-informed decisions if you or a family member gets sick.

3. Legal expert. Whether you need business or personal legal advice, having a lawyer in your network helps you identify the type of legal counsel you need for any given situation. Your attorney can be a sounding board for tricky situations to ensure you act in your own best interest.

4. Mentor or coach. Everyone has room to grow, Mackay says. Find the person who can teach you what you need to know to get better and develop a relationship with him or her.

5. Business advisor. When you need to make decisions in your business or career, you need a straight-shooter to give you objective advice—even when it’s not what you want to hear—about the next best moves, he says.

Lynne Waymon, co-founder of ContactsCount, a Silver Springs, Maryland, human resources consulting firm and co-author of Make Your Contacts Count.

Lynne Waymon would construct her five by first looking at the end goal you wish to achieve. Then, "ask questions about that particular goal like: Who’s got a stake in accomplishing this? Who would benefit if I were able to accomplish this? Who’s got information or resources on this that I better tap into? Who am I going to have to get on board to make this thing work? Who would I enjoy working with?" she says. Then, she would choose her five based on how they fit the situation’s needs.

1. Champion. First, you need someone who has the experience and know-how to help you accomplish what you’re trying to do and who’s willing to help you.

2. Sponsor. You need a contact who can authorize the money and resources necessary for the outcome you want. This may be a longtime employee who knows everyone or someone very well-connected in the business world, she says.

3. Critic. Find someone who will ask the hard questions, she says. You need a contact who will play devil’s advocate and challenge your thinking to ensure you haven’t overlooked anything.

4. Wise elder. This isn’t about age, but rather finding someone who has pulled off lots of important projects and has an intuitive and practical sense of things work. While your champion is more hands-on, the wise elder may be removed and can give you a big-picture view with the additional insight that comes from objectivity and experience.

5. Newbie. Never underestimate the value of a fresh perspective. Naïve questions can yield new insights, so get someone with a different background or less experience involved.

Dr. Ivan Misner, founder of Upland, California, business networking organization BNI, which has more than 6,950 chapters internationally, and co-author of the bestselling book Masters of Networking.

Think about your five "as if you were letting people into a room with one door and you or they could never leave," he says. You’d be pretty selective about who gets past the threshold. Misner would select people based on qualities rather than roles.

1. Values. Your five should have similar ethics, levels of ambition, and priorities, he says. If you’re a highly ethical person who wants to accomplish big things, you need to surround yourself with people who also have those values.

2. Diversity. Networks tend to be "clumpy"—in other words, people in a profession or region who know each other tend to know many people in common, Misner says. Choose people who don’t travel in the same circles as you and who have different experiences and backgrounds to expand your access to knowledge and circle of influence.

3. Achievement. Misner says it’s important to network "up," surrounding yourself with people who are more accomplished than you or have skills you’re trying to acquire. That can motivate you, teach you, and open doors.

4. Helpfulness. Building a network of people who have no interest in helping you if you need it isn’t a good use of your time or energy. Look for people you’d be willing to give advice, contacts or other assistance—and those who would do the same for you, he says.

5. Respect. Your five should each be people you respect and who respect you. Why connect yourself with people who don’t fit both of those criteria, Misner points out. Without respect, the relationship is not likely to survive.

[Image: Flickr user Stig Nygaard]

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  • An often neglected part of being successful is being focused on who's in our networks! It's also an unfortunate mistake for people to look solely on what others can do for them while ignoring how a relationship can be mutually beneficial. Good article; thanks. Pamela La Gioia