One part of our individual network is what might be called our "unintentional network" — the network of people who know us and talk to others about their experiences without us even knowing about it.
For entrepreneurs looking for investors, it's sometimes surprising how much emphasis venture capitalists place on the quality of a venture's management team versus the potential revenue of the product.
How do these investors learn about a venture's management team?
Most venture capitalists have an extensive and active network that allows them to quickly identify top-quality management. Fred Wilson, commenting on the vetting of candidates for high-level positions, said, "We have networks that usually provide a bunch of great reference opportunities."
The same informal networking occurs in close-knit industries, within community organizations, and, of course, in purely social networking.
Our network isn't just a hub-and-spoke set of contacts with us at the center of our own network. Many times the people who have dealt with us — as a client or customer, supplier, employer, or employee — form an informal network that affects our future more than we suspect.
If you've ever been surprised to receive an invitation to join an organization, committee, or board of directors, your unintentional network probably helped make it happen.
So, how do you make sure this unintentional network has good things to say about you?
First, do your best to make sure that the people you interact with have a positive experience, or at least feel that you treated them fairly under the circumstances. Also, stay in contact with people in your network and make sure they know they can call on you when they need help, information, or a referral to one of your contacts.
You never know when you'll be called upon to be part of someone's unintentional network to help create an opportunity for someone in your network.