It’s one thing to have a network of professional contacts – friends, peers, and acquaintances that you can call upon for all manner of favours: such as making introductions on your behalf, tipping you in to new business or career opportunities, or simply inviting you to the corporate box to watch your favourite major sporting event!
But it’s another matter entirely to have a vibrant and engaged ‘village of support’ underpinning YOU (and when I say you, I don’t just mean you the person, but ‘Brand You’ and all that comes with it – your reputation and standing within the professional community).
A village of support is much more than an amorphous network of contacts, and goes way beyond the collection of random people you’ve come into contact with at seminars and industry events and with whom you’ve simply swapped business cards – it’s much deeper and more valuable than that.
A person’s village of support represents a groundswell of people with whom you’re not just acquainted with but who know you well (or at least feel like they do), and who like, trust, and respect you.
These are people with whom you have a deeper connection with because you’ve cultivated relationships with them; you’ve contributed value to their lives, relentlessly, over time – without the expectation of getting anything in return.
How have you been able to do that? You have:
- Shown up and been 100% genuine about everything you’ve done (not only in the flesh but virtually via social networks as well);
- Connected individuals with one another if you’ve felt there was common ground and both would be better off for the experience of having known each other (whether personally or from a business perspective);
- Attended events when people have invited you, tweeted proceedings, and highlighted nuggets of gold presented by the speakers (maybe you’ve even given up your time to speak, or be on a panel where you’ve provided insights and learnings based on your knowledge and experience);
- Contributed or kick-started conversations on and offline, for example participated in hashtag discussions on Twitter, been active in Google+ Communities, provided answers on Quora, or commented on a regular basis on articles shared by your connections on LinkedIn;
- Invested time and effort creating rich and compelling online content that has struck a chord with people (so much so they’ve shared your stories and ideas with their personal friends and followers via social networks);
- Made the effort to instigate coffee catch-ups with people with whom you’ve developed a rapport with online;
- Sat on community-based committees and working groups and freely shared your experience and your advice;
- Given your two bobs’ worth to polls or questions people have asked on Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn (i.e. “Can anyone recommend a good accountant?”);
- Publicly via social media shone the spotlight on other people, hat-tipped their work, acknowledged their ideas, and referred them to others where relevant;
- Collaborated on some really cool projects that created buzz in the community and attracted ‘like minds’.
Again, you’ve done all this without the expectation of getting anything in return.
Anyone can build a ‘village of support’
In the past (not that long ago actually!) to build any meaningful-sized village of support would have taken years and years of strategically attending meetings, networking events, and industry functions, along with the required and unceasing personal follow-up.
This was very difficult and time-consuming to do and even then probably amounted to someone becoming highly connected versus ‘taking things up a notch’ and having an engaged community of followers, advocates, supporters, and enthusiasts for what it was they did and stood for.
Here’s the kicker: It’s not a case of being born into the ‘right’ family or going to the ‘right’ school – not any more; today, the combination of social networking technologies and online publishing platforms means that anyone can develop and nurture a meaningful village of support based on trust and mutual respect with scale, in real-time, and virtually for free (personal effort notwithstanding).
Often the relationships you have with supporters will be kick-started online via social media and then strengthened ‘in the flesh’; sometimes however you might not really know the inhabitants of your village if your following gets to a certain size, but they know and are trusting of you and what you stand for, and thus more than happy to promote your work and talk you up positively within their networks. Treat these relationships with the utmost respect – they’re gold!
The secret is you need to give in order to get back.
Leverage the power of social media to give relentlessly, without the expectation of getting anything in return. That will happen, it always does. It’s known as the Law of Reciprocity, and it’s what fuels your village of support.
Start today. Build your village with heart and purpose. It will serve you well over your professional journey.