We’ve always made a point to loosely define the “optimal size business network“. After all, every small business owner has a unique network with different qualities. However, in an age of massive social media networks and micro-stardom, it has become increasingly important to reevaluate the size of our network. To effectively generate sales leads can directly correlate with our ability to manage our referral relationships.
We can certainly identify two extremes. It’s safe to say if you have 3 people in your referral network, you aren’t likely to get a ton of new leads. Conversely, if you have 300 people in your network, each individual relationship may not be mutually beneficial.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, “Dunbar’s Number” is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. It is widely interpreted that this number is around 150. Dunbar’s Number has been increasingly revisited due to the explosion of social media sites and the vast number of “friends” people are accumulating. The theory even appeared in the bestselling book, “The Tipping Point”.
What does Dunbar’s Theory Reveal About Referral Networking?
While 150 is not an absolute number, the idea is that once your business network exceeds a certain number, it is unlikely that you will be successful in managing those relationships or involved in them at all. Striking a balance is extremely important and there is always a give and take.
In theory, the more connections you have, the more networking opportunities you have. Conversely, the less connections you have the higher the quality per connection.
The Graph Below:
Assuming 2 professionals have an equitable amount of time to spend networking, one with 150 connections and one with 20 connections, in theory the networker with 20 connections will score lower in “networking opportunities” but inversely higher in “quality of networking opportunities”.
The graph demonstrates the intangible, and often overlooked, benefits of a smaller network.
*To learn more about Robin Dunbar and the details of this theory you can read the full study at CO-EVOLUTION OF NEOCORTEX SIZE, GROUP SIZE AND LANGUAGE IN HUMANS.