How to build a network (in 2019)

Most people completely misunderstand what “networking” is all about. If you want to build a great network that will help you succeed, don’t attend cheesy professional networking events. Do this instead.

By Ed Latimore Last modified

Looking at some people from afar, you might think they were superhuman. Their businesses: successful. Their social media: popping. Their podcast: full of interesting guests. Whatever they try their hands at, they quickly rise to the top.

Very successful people have something that normal mortals do not.

Something that gives them an unfair advantage and a head-start in everything they do.

It’s not work ethic or intelligence, though they usually have plenty of that. But then so do a lot of people—many of whom lead completely unremarkable lives. High IQ and hard work are not enough.

The advantage that very successful people have is this: network.

A major reason why success begets more success is that, by achieving success in one area, you gain access to higher-value social networks. It becomes easier to make friends with other successful people, and friends like to help each other out.

The first time I did a speaking gig was the first time I did a speaking gig. I didn’t have to audition for it, and I didn’t have to prove myself as a brilliant speaker. The opportunity came to me because I had been successful in other domains, and because I knew people who knew people. My success at that first speaking engagement led to me getting invited to even more events, which led to even more speaking opportunities, and so on.

Keynote speaking at a conference
Keynote speaking at a conference

Networks: That’s how a lot of people are able to get on a fast-track to major success.

So how can you go about building a high-value network?

Sounds obvious, but the thing that makes a network high-value is the people in it. The network is high-value because the individuals in it are high-value.

High-value individuals don’t attend archaic professional networking events, just like supermodels don’t spend their days swiping left and right on Tinder or attending speed-dating events.

There are essentially two effective ways to connect with high-value individuals:


1: Be on the come-up with them

I have a fairly extensive network in the world of professional boxing, and I consider many of the top athletes my friends.

I’m only able to do that because I competed at the top level with many of them when we were amateurs. Just like with childhood friends or people you served with in the military, there’s a unique sense of camaraderie that exists with the people that you struggled and grew successful with.

If you’re young and ambitious, associate yourself with others who are in a similar spot as you. Get to know and befriend your competition and turn them into allies.

Hanging out with friends at an event
Hanging out with friends at a conference

2: Make yourself valuable to them

If you don’t have any friends like the ones I just described, what then?

How do you build a network of high-value individuals?

Logic dictates that you need to become high-value yourself: Birds of a feather stick together, and all that.

Most advice on “how to find a mentor” or “how to connect with important people” is whack.

99% of it looks like this:

“Cold-email people you look up to and ask if you can buy them coffee and pick their brains”.

One problem:

Successful people are extremely protective of their time.

The chances that they would say “yes” to random solicitations for time and attention from people they don’t know personally or professionally are slim.

In fact, it’s been my experience that most people are looking to avoid making new connections.

Think about it:

Even ordinarily successful people have so many different things going on in their lives. So many things vying for their attention.

Work, kids, partner, social life, Netflix, taxes, social media, occasional exercise… Even Joe Schmoe is too stressed out to get coffee with total strangers.

Combine that with the fact that most people are not extremely outgoing, and don’t really care about meeting new people.

No surprise then that they are naturally suspicious of anyone who makes a random demand on their time.

So then, in this age of distraction and distrust, how do we build a valuable network?

Three ways:

  1. Develop a skill
  2. Become rich
  3. Acquire influence

Develop a skill

Developing a unique and useful skill is the single most important thing you can do to build a network.

Why?

If you want a seat at the table, you need to bring something to eat. Having a valuable skill gives people a reason to deal with you.

You might thinks that’s a very cynical way of looking at things.

But let’s keep it real here:

You want to build a network because you want more opportunities for yourself.

Nothing wrong with that. You just have to recognize that this is what everyone else is trying to do as well.

When you develop rare skills, you put yourself in a position to barter your knowledge and services, and build a reputation based on ability. This reputation gets you introduced to more people, and eventually a funny thing happens:

People go out of their way to befriend you and introduce you to even more people.

And guess what?

You don’t have to be a world master at what you do.

If you are, that’s great, and it makes you very valuable to others.

But if you aren’t, don’t worry. In fact…

The more of a multi-talented, multi-interested person you are, the more different network “groups” you can tap into.

Take me for example.

I have a BA in Physics, which allows me to connect with people who are interested in physics or who share my background. I may not be a world-class physicist, but I could get into an hour-long conversation about thermodynamics with someone who is.

I’m not the best heavyweight boxer in the world, and I’m not the best competitive chess player either. But these things allow me to connect with different crowds of people and to build an extensive network of diverse minds, personalities, and abilities.

You can choose super deep (mastery), or you can choose to go wide (diversity)—it’s all up to you.

And by the way: It doesn’t hurt that the Physics — Boxing — Chess – Writing combo that I have going on stands out and makes me a more interesting person to be around, even for people who don’t care about any of these things.

Newspaper clipping of article profiling me for being a pro boxer studying physics
My interests have led me to be profiled in numerous newspapers and magazines

Become rich

In this world, most things can be bought. Access to high-value networks is no exception.

Those who are already rich have an advantage over those who are trying to get rich: they can use their money to become even richer.

That’s why the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.

And that’s some Biblical wisdom: “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” (Matthew 13:12)

When you have money, you can use it to:

  • Improve your appearance
  • Maintain your health
  • Develop your mind
  • Care for your relationships
  • Develop skills
  • Become influential

First of all, all of these things make it easier for you to build a network.

But that’s not all.

Even just having money, without using it to do any of those things, can get you invited to a lot of tables.

Because money has value, and that is after all what everyone is looking for.

Now, “become rich” is easier said than done.

Unless you were born into it, or won the lottery, you need to develop a skill in order to obtain it.

We already covered that though.

But there is something that I haven’t talked about yet…

Acquire influence

In middle school and high school, everyone wants to be friends with the popular kids.

Even though it’s less obvious, the same is true in adult society.

The reason why kids in middle school all compete to be liked by the popular kids is that they have influence over everyone else. If a popular kid likes you, others will like you. If a popular kid avoids you, others will avoid you.

So if you want to grow a network, become influential.

What counts as “influence” is relative: you can be influential within your town, or within a certain niche on social media, or on a national (or international) scale. Each type of influence will get you invited to sit at different kinds of table.

Oh, and in this day and age, the social media era, it is easier than ever to convert influence into material resources. Kylie Jenner makes an estimated $1 million USD for one sponsored Instagram post. If social media influence is something that interests you, check out my article about personal branding.


In closing

The only way to build a network, if you don’t already have one, is to lead with value. No one wants to hang around some bum who only comes around for a handout (literally or metaphorically).

If you don’t have anything to bring to the table, work on developing one of the following:

  1. A valuable or rare skill
  2. Material wealth
  3. Influence

If you have just one of these things, you can go from a lonely nobody to someone who can connect with and help others. You can go from being ignored by the world to having the ability to mold it.

The rest is up to you.

And next, read this: How to turn your life around