We're headed to Las Vegas and WPPI today. I haven't missed a show since my first one in 1988 and every year the show gets a little better and new friends come into my life. I have back to back meetings almost the entire time, but it's not about business so much, as it is networking, that gets me excited.
In '88 when I hit that first WPPI convention, the definition of networking was collecting business cards. In fact, it wasn't much different than all the baseball cards so many of us collected as kids. There were even a few cards we'd swap when somebody got fired from a position. At one point Tony Corbell had the biggest collection, all in alphabetical order and each page showing every position people had held - new job, new card and a new slot in the cardholder book Tony had.
Networking is now a part of everybody's life or at least their vocabulary and it's the number one reason to attend every convention you can. And for those diehards tech-weenies and educational nuts - relax, I'm not saying seeing new products or attending workshops to raise the bar on your skill set aren't important.
A good network is going to support you all year long. It's going to help you through tough times and understand how to maximize the benefits in good times. The key is who's in your network.
Here's a real easy way to think through building a solid organic network...
- Your core are those people closest to you - it might only be 3-6 people, family members, your very closest friends. They're in your immediate network, the first tier, because so often they're the last to know what's on your mind and you need to keep them in the loop.
- Next circle out are those associates and friends closest to your business. It's probably going to be 6-10 people in this group. Be exclusive when you're thinking about this. These people are your front line on the battle field. They watch your back and you watch theirs.
- Next level out are all the vendors who you work with and support your business. This is one of the critical reasons for everybody to attend every convention - meeting the people who are responsible for helping you maintain your business. Don't just walk by a booth of a company you work with at WPPI - stop and introduce yourself and meet the people you talk to all the time. This includes your album company, frame company, lighting company, your lab, software and all the rest of the gear you use.
- Last circle are new friends and people you're going to meet who you just haven't had time to get to really know yet. They're just like a baseball player and "on deck". As you get to know them better they'll either stay in the outer circle or they'll start to move up.
Now, here's the coolest thing about today's ability to have a great network. This is where social networking comes in. Everybody in your network needs to be linked to you in Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Your social network is your main stream to keep in contact all year long so, when you're headed to a show like WPPI, you're in touch with everybody you want to see, long before you get there.
There's little that beats the excitement of a great convention! See you in Vegas!