Tend To Your Network Like a Garden

by: Shannon McNay

I’m a big fan of analogies. I love analogies like some word nerds love puns. (I say this because I’m a HUGE word nerd – any other English majors out there who can relate??) I find that analogies are the single most effective way to understand a concept – even in reference to a topic I’m not perfectly familiar with.

Case in point: gardening.

During one of our Humanize meetings, the always wise Jill compared networking to gardening. And while I certainly don’t have a green thumb, I understand the concepts of gardening enough to have realized that this is the perfect comparison.

Like gardening, networking requires thoughtful cultivation, careful care, and the sometimes painful but necessary acts of pruning and weeding.

Problem is, it’s easy to forget about the care that goes into networking. Rather than thinking of our network like a garden, we think of it like a numbers game. The more contacts we have, the better our opportunities will be, right? Wrong.

The fact is we all have a limited amount of time to spend on networking; and therefore it makes a lot more sense to put some strategy behind it rather than focus on a one-size-fits-all approach. Focusing on strengthening bright spots and weeding the things that aren’t working will help maximize your results for the same amount of time investment. With that said, let’s jump further into the analogy:

Grow Your Network Like a Garden

Whether it’s a garden or a network, growth is key. We plant the seeds. We do the maintenance. And then we sit back, wait, and hope results will flourish. But if we fail to maintain the proper care, those seeds will become nothing more than beads bursting with potential buried in the dirt.

Your network requires maintenance. It needs to be watered. It needs to be pruned. It needs to be carefully cultivated. Not all flowers last more than one season. Not all plants work well together in the same soil. No two gardens should look alike.

When creating a garden, you could try to plant every flower you like without any rhyme or reason, or you could do some research and thoughtfully cultivate a garden of plants and flowers that work well together and work in your yard. It simply requires planning.

Likewise with networking. Don’t attend every networking event under the sun just to get more seeds to plant. Look for networking events and opportunities that relate specifically to your field. And make sure you’re talking to the right people. That doesn’t mean talking to higher ups only – it means talking to people in your field who understand your line of work.

There is potential here to create variety. If you’re a designer and you meet a writer, there could be an opportunity there. Writers need designers and designers need writers. Entrepreneurs need both. That’s the balance you’re looking for. Not every plant should be the same – but they should work well together and even need each other.

Planting & Care
As you build your network, keep in mind the synergy of your contacts just like you would with your garden. But don’t forget to give them the proper care once the seeds are planted. This part is more of an art than a science. Different contacts require different levels of follow up, just like different plants require different amounts of water and light.

When following up with your contacts, think about things from their point of view. Keep in mind their needs. Are you emailing someone once a week? Do they really have that much time to communicate with you? You could be accidentally drowning your plants, regardless of your good intentions.

When thinking about your contacts’ needs, consider how you can add value to their lives. Just like you wouldn’t give too much light to a plant that requires shade, don’t blanket your contacts with the same care just because it’s worked before for others. Think about them specifically. What’s their problem set? What keeps them up at night? Are you able to do anything to help them? It could be advice, a referral, or simply a cup of coffee so they can take a break and vent.

All of your plants have their own special needs. Give them specific care and they’ll flourish.

Do you find yourself giving all of your time and energy to one of your contacts but getting nothing in return? Not nothing as in deliverables – but nothing as in they take and take and take from you but never seem concerned with your needs in the relationship? That contact could be a weed sucking out energy that could be focused on the bright spots in your network.

I’m not suggesting that you should be cutthroat and weed out anyone who isn’t “giving” you anything. But what I am suggesting is that you evaluate your network. Relationships benefit us in numerous ways – not all readily quantifiable. Make sure you are treating your reciprocal relationships with the value they deserve and then weed out any drains on your energy. A great relationship – whether it be professional, personal, or romantic – is one that leaves you feeling energized, not depleted.

Practice Makes Perfect

Goodness knows if I attempted to grow any sort of plant right now it would end badly. But the real reason for that is because I’ve never actually tried. Don’t make this same mistake with networking.

As I mentioned, networking is an art. Although we’re talking about principles you should follow, how they look in real life will vary greatly for everyone. Adopt the principles, practice them, and cultivate them in a way that makes sense in your life. Remember no two gardens (networks) should look the same.

Image Credit: Craig Cloutier


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