OK, sure, it’s kind of an odd time of year to think about planting a garden. Here in Michigan, most of the gardens are a bit past their prime and are starting the slow slide toward the Autumn die-off. Still, seeing all of the plants putting out seed pods has reminded me once again how much networking and gardening have in common. In particular, I’m thinking about the parallels between the different types of plantings and their corresponding networking connections.

  • Food crops. Whether vegetables in the garden or fruit trees in the orchard, these are the ones that directly put food on the table. In networking, these are the folks who either directly buy from you or can refer people who want to buy from you.
  • Ornamentals. Flowers and foliage of all descriptions, not to eat, but to nourish the soul in other ways. These would correspond to your contacts who provide you with opportunities other than strictly business. Maybe they can recommend good hotels for your next trip. Perhaps they can write a reference for your son to get into college. They might even advise you on business issues with which they have experience.
  • Grown from seed. Pretty self-explanatory on the gardening side. With your network, these would be the folks you meet and develop without an introduction. As with gardening, it takes a lot longer to cultivate these specimens.
  • Rooted stock. If you’ve ever purchased a tomato plant, instead of growing it from seed, that’s what I mean. The equivalent networking connection would be someone whom you meet through one of your existing connections. In both cases, it gives you a jump on achieving the desired result with a lot less work.
  • Perennials. Plants that come back, year after year, would correspond to your long-term connections that continue to pass you referrals. They might not always be flashy, but they are there for you for the long haul.
  • Annuals. While they can have a longer and more colorful bloom season, these plants fade away at the end of the season. “Annual” networkers can put you in touch with people right away, but for whatever reason, they aren’t big on maintaining their relationships which tend to fade fairly quickly unless you do something extraordinary to keep in touch yourself.
  • Weeds. These are the folks who don’t so much network as look around for others to take advantage of. They are best removed from your network as soon as you discover them. All they do is take up time and space better devoted to those with whom you would like to establish and build mutually beneficial relationships.
Of course, as with any garden, your network is best served by a good mixture. You want your “perennial food crops” who keep passing you good business, year after year, but sometimes just as important are those “annual ornamentals”, who can put you in touch with a great venue for your next meeting. Don’t shun anyone (but the weeds) from your networking garden and you should be reaping a rewarding harvest for many more years.
Photo credit: Faey Szeuw