This Week’s Agenda: Tapping Your Network

The recovery was supposed to start by summer, no fall, no, now maybe spring. Companies that thought they could hang on continue to go under the waves, even big outfits such as Excite@Home and Exodus.

On my wall I keep a list of my regular assignments. Thirteen names are there, and all but four are now crossed out. Yet from what I hear from friends I’m pretty lucky.

One reason I’m lucky is that I have kept my own personal network going. I still run my weekly newsletter at A-Clue.Com, and, whenever an editor gets laid-off or his or her company goes under I always ask him or her to stay in touch. More important, I mean it.

That doesn’t mean I’m drowning in work. But it means that when people think about trying things, they also give me a call. So I’m still connected to an Internet start-up, and another friend who is trying to get a magazine start-up subsidized has me on his masthead.

This is the time to figure out what you really want to be about, and this is the time to learn who your friends really are. The key to making it in the networked economy, it turns out, is your personal network.

A personal network used to mean some friends from work, from church, and from the neighborhood. Before the Web was spun, our contacts were usually fairly narrow.

That has changed. My own network includes colleagues in England, Norway, Germany, Japan, South Africa, even India and Australia. We stay in touch via email, sometimes sharing jokes but also sharing insights and leads.

If you look inside your email address book, you may be pleasantly surprised. It’s likely that anyone you’ve done business with, or even thought about doing business with, over the last few months and years is in there.

Let them know you’re alive, and keep contacting them about your hopes, dreams, and plans. Some will drop off your list, but others will respond, and that’s one way to build your personal network.

Newsgroups and digest lists also show their strength at times like this. I’ve kept up to date on Internet trends lately with a lot of help from Dave Farber’s Interesting-People list. When someone I know appears there, I say hello.

Bookmarks or Favorites may be the most underutilized tool on most desktops. Take a careful look at them. Reorganize them. What you may find are those things that consistently interest you, the path you most want to take, and the tools and contacts you’ll need to start on that path.

I’ve been through many recessions in my life, and the worst thing about them is that they can be lonely. You start to think the phone isn’t ringing because there is something wrong with you. But now you’ve got email, the Web, the world at your desktop. If you’re truly alone today, it’s by choice.

Now is the time when the Web we’ve built will start giving back to us. Now we have time to see the faces behind the screens, to make and build new connections for the next boom.

Because the next boom is coming. People you know will be in on the ground floor. You want to be right next to them. So stay in touch.

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