Fast Company

Leveraging Your Links

Online networks are the new power lunch tables and the new golf courses for business life in the U.S. In the past 10 years, online dating has become mainstream; 40 million Americans use online dating sites. Now, businesspeople are starting to use the same family of technology to find business clients, new partners, and jobs, through virtual contacts they make online.

Bill Gates, John Kerry, and other celebrities are among the over 2 million people currently registered on LinkedIn, a popular business networking site.

84% of American Internet users have used the Internet to contact or get information from an online group -- more than have used the Internet to read news, search for health information, or to buy something.

44% of U.S. Internet users -- 53 million Americans -- have taken the first step to creating a virtual presence by "contribut[ing] their thoughts and their files to the online world through building or posting to Web sites, creating [Web journals], and sharing files." The 11 million Americans with blogs are just one example of a far broader trend.

For example, Martin Schwimmer, a high-priced lawyer, gets at least 20% of his income from his blog. Schwimmer is an independent lawyer who represents owners of some of the most famous trademarks in the world. He was formerly a partner at Fross Zelnick Lehrman & Zissu. Managing Intellectual Property magazine selected Schwimmer as one of the best trademark lawyers in the United States.

Schwimmer started his blog in May 2002. He spends approximately 30-60 minutes per day maintaining it, primarily commenting on intellectual property news. He needs to keep apprised of the news just to do his job; the marginal cost of his time in maintaining the blog is low, because he is leveraging his preparation time.

His blog has created three networks for him:

  • Search engine users. For search terms like "trademark," he is typically on the first page and the highest-ranked lawyer. Clients have approached him solely as a result of his very high search engine placement, which is created largely by the blog.
  • Fellow bloggers in his space. The blog keeps him in contact with other bloggers in his sector. Some referrals have come out of that.
  • Certain clients, colleagues, and practitioners have become regular readers, and the blog Strengthens his bond with them and increases his perceived compentence.

In 2002, Schwimmer was an aberration. Today, professionals in any number of fields -- attorneys, doctors, entrepreneurs, management consultants, technologists -- are benefiting from creating a powerful personal presence on the Internet through blogs, social networking sites, and other tools.

Virtual relationships can help you find a job, market your product or service, close deals, recruit talent, and identify and contact strategic partners. The virtual networks you join and the way in which you participate in them will vary according to your current objectives. Whatever those objectives may be, there are 10 steps that we recommend everyone take to dramatically improve your personal network online:

Document your goals (Chapter 17)
For each goal, write down how online networks can help you achieve it.

Analyze your network using the Seven Keys to a Powerful Network (Chapter 2)

  • How can you improve your character and make it more visible?
  • How can you increase your competence?
  • What is the best way to raise the relevance of the people you know?
  • How can you build stronger ties?
  • How can you increase your Information about the people you know?
  • How can you multiply the number of people you know? Or, should you focus on building stronger relationships with the people you know now?
  • How can you double the diversity of your network?

Make the mundane sublime (Chapter 18)
Master the basic office productivity tools. If you invest the energy to learn how to speed read, how to touch type, and how to use standard office productivity software comfortably, you will become far more productive.

Become an information sponge (Chapter 21)
Install professional contact management software. Record emails, phone numbers, the notes you take in meetings, and everything else you can about the people you know. Add everyone you meet to your database.

Master your email (Chapter 14)
Install a sophisticated email reader and spam filtering and antivirus software. Set up mail filter rules to route mail into appropriate folders. Turn off automatic send/receive. Organize your email folders, and keep your inbox empty.

Share your knowledge wealth (Chapter 18)
Maintain a master file of documents, resources, Web links, etc., which have been helpful to you. Document processes.

Write recyclable documents (Chapter 15)
Save time by centralizing all of your recyclable emails and other text.

Take control of your virtual presence (Chapter 15)
Make sure that when people look for you online -- which they will -- your image is both accurate and flattering.

Join the virtual communities where your target market lives, and keep your profile updated (Chapter 8)
Once you have joined one group, ask the members where else they connect with like-minded people. Be sure to look for smaller groups within larger sites.

Take a leadership role (Chapter 17)
Write a blog to cover your domain, and perhaps create a virtual community around your unique interests.

If The Virtual Handshake only convinces you to take these basic steps, we have succeeded in our own goal. You will significantly increase the value of your network, not to mention your efficiency and your productivity.

This column is an excerpt from The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online, a new book from David Teten and Scott Allen on business relationships online. For more information, see this column's recommended resources.


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