How's Your Network?

1 April 2008 Mike Johnson

Real business networks are personal and need to be available 24/7. Here, in a specially adapted extract of his new Financial Times book, Smarter Consulting, author Mike Johnson explains why even the most senior manager needs to be well connected.

Smart people have one thing the not-so-smart don’t – a network. You may not be aware of it, but your network is your key. It is your lifeline for the future. Your network can save you when the unexpected happens. It can get you business when there seems to be none around, act as a recruitment opportunity and even get you another job when times are really bad.

We all have more than one network. There is a central one that possibly has fewer than a dozen really close people. After that, there are another 20, 30 or 40 good contacts. Beyond that, there are another hundred plus contacts, possibly even thousands of them.


"Your network is made up of everyone who has ever given you a business card."

Your network is made up of everyone who has ever given you a business card, providing you with their e-mail address and probably their mobile number too.

Good networks know stuff, that’s what they are for. It is absolutely no use being able to say, "I have this huge network of people I know", if they can’t help you or don’t really know who you are or what you do. If you call members of your network people you bumped into in the dying hours of a professional conference or at a trade show they don’t count. So, every year or so, take a real hard look at your 'network', just who are they and what could they do for you? Remember, the key phrase here is 'be honest'.

If you are any good at networking you will have begun it years ago and it will have happened easily because you are a natural born networker. You were, perhaps, a junior solicitor, accountant, art director or personnel executive and when Fred and Frieda left, you stayed in touch. When Bill headed for his big break at MegaCorp, you stayed in touch. When you moved departments or jobs, you stayed in touch.

Ten or 20 years later, you have a network to die for. Now your network is made up of people not just earmarked for the top, but there already. They are in Hong Kong, New York, Paris, Brussels.


Your lap-top, palmtop or rolodex becomes your bible. In times of trouble, it is a comfort to know it is there. It is always up-to-date and ready to come to the rescue. Networks are dynamic, they change and evolve, but if they are to work you must devise ways to keep them current and stay in touch.

Going to a professional or industry event is not networking – real networkers are too busy to be there. Why do you want to know people in the same business or profession as you? What is the point of being friends with your competitors?

"Don’t forget that other people’s networks are your networks too."

Get out there and meet some people who can make a difference, supply new ideas and open up opportunities. And don’t forget that other people’s networks are your networks too. Who can help you if you need an introduction to the XYZ company? If you have a real network you also have access to their network.

If you have just 50 people who you can call on the phone and say "hi" to, and they all have just 50 people, that’s already a network of 2,500 people.


Sit down and list your primary and secondary networks and then throw in the rest. Then honestly ask yourself, "What can these people do for me?" If the answer is "nothing", be charitable and keep sending them a New Year card (you never know). But, if they look promising, call them. Yes, pick up the phone. They don’t need another email in their lives. Find reasons to talk. Keep your network valid and up-to-date.

Let me give you an example. A friend of mine tended his network from the comfort of a senior corporate financial position, maintaining a card file in his home study. When he was 'helped' to early retirement, he invited all his major customers to a farewell party, where he picked up three assignments to act as an internal financial policeman.

You don’t get that sort of deal talking to like-minded people at a network club. What you want are people with completely different minds, jobs, problems and issues.


The greatest networks ever are the ones that you can’t buy your way into. They are comprised of the former employees of some of the world’s major corporations. The concept is that employees have reunions, or as they move from country to country they join the local 'club'. Some are actually sponsored by the ex-employee’s firm (believing that it helps business). If you are into one of these, it can be a goldmine. Being part of one is an opportunity to meet a successful group of former colleagues in a relaxed atmosphere. Does business get done? Of course it does. I have a long-time head-hunter pal who built his entire business on the back of belonging to three of these.

"What you want are people with completely different minds, jobs, problems and issues."

Network, network, network is a mantra that needs repeating. I estimate that I add a name a day, and probably remove one too. Right now I have 743 people on my e-mail list, of which I can call around 300.

Let us use my earlier equation on that figure. If everyone that I feel comfortable calling (300) has the same number of 'live' contacts as I do then my secondary network becomes 90,000. Having access to 90,000, rather than 9,000 or 900 seriously ups your opportunities when you really need them on your side.

Now, just a final piece of advice on networking. Too many people call me up and say, "I just got fired" or "I’m unhappy in my job", followed by "do you know any headhunters?" What I tell them is, the time to get to know a headhunter is when you have a job, not when it’s too late. So, take heed. Real networks are not just for the bad times.