As a software developer you may often find yourselves in situations where you can greatly benefit from your personal network (or others can benefit from you). Especially if you, like I, work as a freelancer. I have received several contract offers via colleagues, and have also helped several colleagues get a contract.
I have often been surprised by who in my network turned out to be helpful. Therefore I felt inspired to write this little text about my experiences with personal networking.
Why Have a Personal Network?
There are primarily three benefits you can get from a personal network:
- Information - answers to questions, references to books, people etc.
- Money - in terms of jobs or contracts.
- Fun - from hanging out with them.
You can probably think of more reasons yourself, but these are three strong drivers.
Direct and Indirect Benefactors
There are two categories of people in a social network:
- Direct Benefactors
- Indirect Benefactors
The direct benefactors are people from which you expect to be able to get direct help, either via information, jobs, contracts etc.
The indirect benefactors are people from which you have something in common but which you do not expect to get direct help from, but which you have something in common with. For instance, you are both Java developers, or both freelancers etc. You cannot buy / sell services directly to each other, but sometimes you may still be able to help each other.
If you run your own company, like a freelancer, or a micro ISV, then indirect benefactors may also be people who also run small companies, like a baker, butcher etc., with whom you may be able to share information.
The Unpredictability of Personal Networks
In my experience it is actually quite hard to predict who in your network that turn out to be "helpful" down the road. Sometimes I have received emails or phone calls from people I had never expected would send jobs or contracts my way.
Because of this unpredictability, I now have a much broader personal network than in the beginning. Even if someone is never going to buy my services, he may one day know someone who wants to. You never know.
Personal Networks are Personal Relations
The people in your network are personal relations. Like any other personal relation, personal networks works best if you take care of them regularly. Meet with people for beers or dinner, or for some business related event. If you don't keep your network (your relations) alive, they may die out.
Of course websites like Facebook or Linkedin can help you keep the contact details of people for a longer time, but would you feel like contacting someone you have not had any contact with, for 5 years? Probably not as much as someone you saw just last week.
Personal Networks Rely on Trust
For a person to want to forward any business to you, he or she must trust you. Building trust between you and the people in your network is therefore very important. There are many ways to do this, and it's outside the scope of this text. Here it suffices to say, that without trust there is no network.
Trust is Partly Transferable
If a person A trusts you (B), and you trust someone else (say C), then your trust for person C may be transfered partly to person A. Person A may then decide to trust person C too, though most likely never as much as you do. At least not until person A knows person C better.
Here the trust transferability is illustrated with numbers:
Person A --> trusts with 10 --> Person B Person B --> trusts with 9 --> Person C Person A --> trusts with 5 --> Person C
Remember to Give Something Back to Your Network
If the people in your network experience that the only time you contact them is when you need a favor from them, they will quickly learn that you only want to receive, and never give, and slowly remove you from their network. Therefore, remember to give something back. Help people for free sometimes, or give them a reference, or information etc. sometimes. Show them that you value them.
Additionally, if someone in your personal network helps you, make sure you show them your appreciation and gratitude for their help. If you forget, they will remember you as the one who just "took their help without even saying thank you".
Here is a summary of the points in this text:
- A personal network may help you with
- Your network consists of direct and indirect benefactors.
- It is often hard to predict who will end up being useful to you. Therefore, have a large and diverse network.
- Personal networks are personal relations - remember to keep them alive.
- Personal networks rely on trust.
- Trust is partly transferable.
- Remember to give something back to your network, or you will stop getting anything from it.
Feedback and Comments
This text is by no means a complete guide to personal networking. It merely contains my own experiences as I remember them at the time of writing. Should you have something to add, or something to ask, feel free to send me an email.
You can find my email address on the about page.