The world is vast compared to our immediate social network, and the question of how closely we are connected has fascinated mathematicians and anthropologists for decades.
In 1929, the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy set out a theory that said we are only separated by six degrees, meaning that there are only five people in the string between one individual and another. It wasn’t until 1967 that an American sociologist, Stanley Milgram attempted to prove the phenomenon by using parcels sent in the US mail in an experiment. He showed that, indeed, six steps separated us from people we desired to meet at that time.
Fast forward to 2001, Duncan Watts, a professor at Columbia University, validates Milgram’s work using email instead of the actual physical postal service. In his experiment, the average is 6.6 degrees of separation.
Then, something phenomenal happens. Between the 2004 launching of Facebook and 2011, when LinkedIn officially launched its IPO, pretty much of the social media flora and fauna we now take for granted appears on the planet. Like something out of the National Geographic, “life appears everywhere, carried on the winds its seeds float everywhere across the globe.”
The result of this social media explosion was that when Microsoft and IBM reran the experiment in 2008, the number was still at six. When Facebook ran a similar experiment in 2016, the number was down to just three degrees of separation.
This fantastic leap forward has been credited to the Dutch mathematician, Edsger Dijkstra, who developed an algorithm that finds the shortest virtual path between two nodes on Facebook.
This means that there is potentially a lot of noise out there. It also means there are more opportunities to speak to people we want to connect with than ever before.
To work at this level of intimacy, transparency, and complexity, you will need a plan.
Here are seven elements you might want to consider when making your plan:
1) Have a Strategy: this is about understanding what it is you want to achieve. What are your goals? Things like expanding your client network, improving your organisation’s profile, or meeting like-minded individuals to co-create products and services. You might have sectors, organisations, or people in mind, and being specific helps the process.
2) Do Your Research: this is a critical part of networking at three degrees of separation. First, my suggestion would be to create a list of sectors, organisations, and people you already know, and it could be a list from LinkedIn, your contacts list on your laptop or phone.
The second list will be the organisations and people you want to meet. Researching names will take quite a bit of work to pull together. Once you have this, you can link the two lists together using connecting lines in a mind map.
3) Listen Hard: executive coaching is a relational business, and whilst having a pitch is essential, the thing that will sell your services every time is trust. Clients will buy from those they have faith in, not those who pitch from the get-go. So, listen hard to your new connection and find out what keeps them awake at night (with worry). Your aim here is to gain a deep understanding of your client’s values and any common ground you might have.
4) Have a Pitch: make sure you know what you want to say to the people you’re about to meet, but try to keep things flexible enough so it doesn’t sound contrived. That’s why listening hard always comes before having a pitch.
5) Offer What You Have for Free: this is the whole premise around content marketing. It isn’t about having a swanky strapline or cool looking logo. Suppose you give your potential clients helpful information without expectation of anything in return. You will build trust, giving you the foundations of a strong business relationship. Marcus Sheridan wrote an accessible guide to do just that, and I have included a link below.
6) Think About Your Communication: appropriately communicating with your client is equally critical. The primary mode of communication is email. Kim Arnold’s book Email Attraction is an excellent mini reference guide to sending the right emails and getting results. There is a link below and Kim’s website.
7) Have a Professional Edge: making sure you come across well on video is now a critical part of networking for coaches. You must present yourself professionally and appropriately. Esther Stanhope has some excellent video material on that subject. Her website address is attached below.
So, in conclusion, and as with so many things, it is about getting out there are doing it. It’s about making mistakes and learning lessons. But if you do get out there and promote yourself, knowing that you are only three degrees from your ideal client, you may get the results you want.
Good luck and happy networking.
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