Most of us agree that having a strong network is critical to success, but many of us don’t really like the idea of networking. It often comes with a negative or self-serving connotation. When it comes to networking, the best thing we can do for ourselves is to relax and simply treat networking as a way to build and maintain strong relationships with amazing people that we want to have in our lives. A great tool you can use to assess who you have strong relationships with and who you would like to have stronger relationships with is a network map that visually presents those relationships for you.
Trying to capture your relationships in a visual format like a network map can seem overwhelming. Here are the steps I took to create my network map and have found it to be pretty effective so far. The illustrations are simplified to make it clear and easy to view, but when you sit down to put yours together you’ll find that it can get rather busy on the screen pretty quickly. You can do this with a sheet of paper and a pen, but I recommend using a graphics tool on a computer, tablet or phone because you will find that you’ll want to move things around and adjust them as you work through building your network map.
Assess Your Life Aspects
Life Aspects arranged around the Network Map
The first step is to assess the main aspects of your life that are important to you. What are the areas in your life you are most engaged with other people? We all pretty much have work and family on that list, but what are other areas you are passionate about? Maybe you do a lot of volunteering in your community or play on a sports team. Or maybe you have a hobby in common with others that you get a great deal of enjoyment from. After some self-reflection, I was able to break down the major aspects of my life into these 4:
- Personal Development
To get started I just aligned these 4 areas around the edge of my map to see how it all laid out, but you can have any number of life aspects and lay them out any way that makes sense to you.
Build Your Contact Categories
After you’ve got your life aspects figured out, the next step is to figure out the major ways you have met the people in your life. Again, most of us have work and family, but perhaps you have a lot of contacts from school or a community group that you are part of. Once you’ve got your categories, assign each a color or other way to visually distinguish how you got connected with each person. Here’s how I put contact categories together:
- Family/Friends – Orange
- Air Force – Blue
- Education – Red
- Personal Development – Purple
- Business – Green
Again, it’s not so important what your categories are or how you visually distinguish them as long as you have a way that works for you. What aligning people with a contact category achieves is a way for you to remember how you initially connected with that person and what areas you have in common besides the life aspect they fit into.
Use Your Resources
You may be feeling like you don’t have anyone in your network right now, but actually, you probably have many people in your network and just need to dig into the information that you currently have to bring those connections to the front of your mind. Here are a few places you can look for the data you need to populate your network map:
- Mobile Phone – It seems this is the way most people keep track of most of their contacts these days so this is a logical place to start. Use this as the core of who you are going to add to your network map and figure out which life aspects and contact categories these people primarily fit into.
- Email Address Book –This probably coincides with your phone address book for the most part, but some email apps or services keep track of addresses separately from your phone address book, so these are worth checking out to see who you have emailed with that may not be stored in your phone.
- Social Media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media feeds are a good place to go back and look at who you have interacted with recently. You may not want to include everyone from your social media connections, but these feeds are a good way to see who you interact with on a regular basis and how they fit into your life aspects that you defined earlier.
Map It Out
My completed (but simplified) network map
Figure out the best place to put yourself on your network map. I chose to put myself in the center and align my 4 life aspects around me, but do whatever makes the most sense to you. Maybe you place yourself at the top edge of the map with a columns for each of your life aspects and let your contacts cascade down. Using a specific format is not as important as coming away with a tool that you understand and can work with in the future. You may find that you’ll need to experiment with the layout a little to make your network map really productive for you.
I chose to use distance from the center as a guide to how close the relationship is with that person, but you may want to cluster people together on your map in a different way. Also, I don’t put lines on the map, but kind of draw them mentally as I’m looking at the map. If it’s helpful to you to draw lines between your connections, feel free to do that.
Keeping Your Network Map Current
As you look through all of your contacts from your various address books, adding them all into your network map at once can be intimidating; so do a little at a time and build yourself a system. One approach is to start with the people closest to you and expand outward, or you could start with your phone contacts and then add in your social media contacts later, or you could just start at the top of the alphabet and work your way down.
Also, keep updating your map as you meet people. One of the advantages of continuing to update and adjust your network map to fit new people into it is that it will jog your memory of the people you already know and help you make connections between people who you may not have thought of before. As we’ve mentioned in other posts, everyone loves someone who connects them to other great people.
Don’t worry about trying to fit everyone you meet into one of the life aspects or contact categories that you defined earlier. As you grow and change in life, your network map will grow and change as well. It makes perfect sense to add life aspects or contact categories to it as you develop both personally and professionally.
Now that you’ve got your network map built you can start using it to figure out who might be able to help you with challenges you are facing, who the kind of people are that you might want to add to your network and who you can start connecting to other people in your network!
Share your life aspects, contact categories, or layout ideas from your network map in the comments!