Dec. 29 2006 10:58 AM

Attending conferences like the National Postal Forum is an excellent investment in your professional development. To be successful, you need to maximize the return on that investment. My good friend, Paul Balbastro, has a time management tip for getting the most out of a conference: the "30-30-30-10 Rule." Paul says you should spend:


  •            30% of your time in classes

  •            30% at the exhibits

  •            30% networking

  •            10% of your time spent enjoying the host city


    Most people follow only three of Paul's recommendations. Too many ignore the most important one networking.


    Five Reasons Why You Should Network

    1. "Everyone lives by selling something." This quote doesn't come from P.T. Barnum or Donald Trump, but from the author, Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote Treasure Island. It may be selling an idea to your boss, it may be interviewing for a job and it may just be selling products or services for a living. But we all sell, and we need to be successful.


    Networking can connect you to the information, the resources and the people you need to be successful in your selling. What do you need to know about your competition? What do you need to know about the issues facing management? Who are the people you'll need to support your sales efforts? What do you need to know about the company you're interviewing with? Your network can tell you. We all sell so we all need a network.


    2. Education, training and talent will only take you so far. The old adage is true it's not only what you know, it's who you know. It's been said that we live in the information age and that information is more powerful than money. Yes, information is powerful, but information is more powerful when it's shared with other people. And information is shared through networking.


    You may have read a lot of books, but is it as many books as the combined number read by the people in your network? You may have an advanced degree, but does it add up to the combined education of the people in your network? The Internet may be a powerful network of computers, but is it as powerful as a network of people using it? You may know a lot a network of people will always know more.


    3. You don't know who knows who. Networking brings you into other people's networks. Perhaps you've heard of the "Six Degrees of Separation," which is a theory developed in 1967 by Stanley Milgram. Milgram gave letters to several hundred people in Omaha, Nebraska. They had to get the letter to a stockbroker in Sharon, Massachusetts by going through people they knew. They couldn't mail the letter directly to the stockbroker; they could only send it to someone they knew. The result? The maximum number of connections to get the letter to the stockbroker was six.


    In further work, Milgram proved mathematically that everyone in the world is separated by only six degrees. There are only six people separating you from anyone else in the world. We're all much closer than we think. The only way to take advantage of those connections is by networking and becoming a part of other people's networks.


    4. You don't know who's looking for you. Right now, someone out there may be looking for a person with your talent, your knowledge or your product. If you haven't networked, then they can't find you. I found my last job in corporate America because of my network. One day, I received a phone call from a consultant I knew. He was doing some work for a bank that needed someone like me. That job was never advertised in the papers or through a recruiter. If it wasn't · for my network, I never would have gotten that phone call that led to this important interview and I never would have gotten that particular job. Who's looking for you? Who are you looking for? You'll only find out if you network.


    5. People are very interesting as people. But only if you get to know them! Networking isn't just about business. It's about connecting with people of similar interests or concerns. Do you have a hobby or special interest? If you network, you may find other people who share that interest or have a similar hobby. If you network, you may find someone who shares your sense of humor and laughs at the same jokes or cares about the issues you care about.


    How did you meet your spouse or significant other? How did you meet your friends? It was through networking. Even if you didn't call it that. If you network, you may just meet someone you might like as a person.


    Following Up The Real Power of Networking

    Meeting people is only the first step in networking. It's the seed you plant, and you must cultivate the seeds for your network to grow. You must follow up with e-mails or letters, maybe even a handwritten letter, after meeting someone. If you aren't following up, you aren't networking.


    Go through your contact list on a regular basis. Make phone calls or send e-mails to people you haven't heard from lately. Send birthday cards or notes for no particular reason. Do you remember the postal campaign a few years ago about "the mail moment?" How almost everyone looks forward to receiving mail, especially when it isn't a bill? Think about how you feel when you open up a card or letter someone took the time to write and send to you. Nice, huh?


    Networking is a survival skill. You have to do it. There are no guarantees in life. You are going to come up against problems and difficulties where you will need help. If it's 3 AM and the water pipes have burst, it's not a good time to start looking for a reliable plumber. If it's next month, and your boss says your job has been eliminated, that's not a good time to start building connections to your next job. Build your network now.


    Mark M. Fallon is president and CEO of the Berkshire Company, a consulting firm specializing in mail and document processing strategies. For additional information, visit

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