Author and editor Michael Korda wrote that the one thing people must have by the time they reach the age of 40 is a network of people they know.

But the advice rings true even if you are 24 or 84. I compare it to the safety net that firefighters use to save people.

The current business and economic times are much like walking on a tightrope. The fall can only be protected by a "safety network" of friends, colleagues, acquaintances and clients. All the people you encounter in all facets of your life are part of that safety net.

None of this is new, apart from the fact that nowadays, your safety net will include your contacts on online business and social networking sites such as Linked In or Facebook. But your networking cannot be limited to Internet interaction. You must be active off-line in "your space".

While your business network is very important to you, remember that you are part and parcel of the safety nets of others, especially in tough times. You have information, sources, ideas, leads and expertise that can support your contacts, friends and colleagues in their potential free fall from the grace of a business, a job or a career.

Here are some tips on how to ensure the strength of your safety network:

1. Identify whom you know

Some of those people are in online networks but others are not. Get a clear picture of everyone you know from all facets of your life. Write those names down. Use your PDA, contact management program or a good old-fashioned piece of paper and pencil.

2. Reconnect

Whether you send an e-mail, a text message or make a phone call, be sure to stay in touch. A bonus tip: Do so when things are going well and you need nothing. When things are looking shaky (you are not getting enough referrals, the company you work for is downsizing, clients are not beating a path to your door), it will be easier to re-connect with your contacts without seeming self-serving.

3. Stay visible

Online sources are fabulous but you build stronger bonds when you meet facetoface. Show up at local networking events, the Rotary Club, community and charity events and fundraisers. So much more happens when you shake hands, laugh, talk and share a beverage or a meal. Face-to-face communication offers a connection that has depth and inspires you to want to help your dinner, beer or coffee mate.

4. Quid pro quo

Offer or ask for ideas, leads, referrals and assistance of any type. Research indicates that you feel good when you help others. By the same token, they will feel good about helping you. This is not only a business networking tip but also a lifestyle lesson.

5. Follow through

Send the e-mail, the text message or, better yet, be different and use your phone to make a call. The phone is two-way communication and allows for a "duo-logue" instead of some words on a screen that could easily be misinterpreted.

6. Keep people in the loop

Let people know the progress of their suggestion, referral, lead or advice. Its the savvy and considerate thing to do. No one likes to find out that a lead produced a job, client or membership in an organisation from the grapevine.

7. Show appreciation

Acknowledge all good deeds done on your behalf. Saying "thank you" is a given. Your efforts will put a great network in place and earn you some wonderful friends you have made along the way.