It is easy to fall into a work-home-work cycle where you only put effort into networking at big events or conferences. But there are things you can be doing on a daily basis to build and improve your existing network.
Good networkers favor quality over quantity. Every so often, reassess whom you might be in a position to help and who is strategically positioned to aid you and your business. Keith Ferrazzi, author of “Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time,” suggests making a relationship action plan for your professional goals. This list should include anyone who can help you to meet those successes, whether you know them already or are hoping to be introduced. “Write down why each person is important,” he says. “And how you would categorize the strength of your relationship on a scale of zero to five.” This will help you to focus your networking efforts and guide your outreach.
When an introduction is made, whether at an event or a chance coffee shop encounter, write down what you remember as soon as you leave. Make note of who they are and where they work, but also jot down anything else you learned about their hobbies, family, and other interests. Even the small talk you made about the weather or how much you both love that coffee shop will give you a place to start when you reach out. Don’t put it off, as we always think we will remember more than we do. It’s a good idea to start some sort of database for yourself where you compile these notes, contact information and the encounters you’ve had with people in your industry. A database makes it much easier to find stuff later than looking through had written notes. Update this every week so that it reflects your most recent interactions and helps you track which relationships could use a little love.
We’ve all made the mistake of asking someone how their work is going at Company X only to learn that that individual has moved on to Company Y. Before you reach out to someone, check their LinkedIn profile and whatever other digital resources are available to be sure you have the most up-to-date information. A little online sleuthing can also tell you when a person’s on vacation, when they’re in the middle of a particularly busy season or when they’re transitioning between roles or companies. This is all good information to have as you time your outreach, especially to newer contacts. Looking back at your relationship action plan, do some research to learn more about those target individuals you are hoping to connect with. What are their passions? What charities do they support? What boards do they serve on? This may help you find some common ground, and will demonstrate a sincere interest in the other person.
Stay in Touch
Use your database and action plan as a guide. Who haven’t you reached out to lately? Who’s made a recent transition and might appreciate a note of encouragement or support? Keep the content of these updates and inquiries brief and focused on the other person. Forbes’ Darrah Brustein says, “It’s always best to walk away from a conversation having allowed the other person to speak more than you did.” Ask good questions and be as helpful as you can be, sharing links to relevant articles or new technologies they might appreciate. Be mindful also of when it might be time to move beyond email and seize opportunities to connect face-to-face or over the phone.
We tend to focus our networking efforts on senior people in our field, but do not discount the knowledge, energy and connections a junior professional might offer and remember the ways in which you might be able to help them. There is also great benefits to connecting with people in different industries. You never know who might offer the right idea at the right time, or what role you might be looking to fill.
Not every email will be answered and not every phone call returned. Remember instances when you’ve been on the other end of that equation due to schedules and demands at home and at work, and try not to take those things personally. It is a small world and you are bound to have another opportunity to meet people you don’t reach on the first try. Once a few weeks go by, it’s okay to try again or try a new method; maybe you have a connection in common or there’s an event where you might be able to meet them face-to-face. Regardless, your professional advancement does not hinge on any one person, so try not to be discouraged if you can’t get through to someone. That is why you have a network of many people, most of whom will be as eager as you are to get to know one another and be of service.
If you can afford to set aside a little time every day to make a few connections on LinkedIn, send some emails to old colleagues and follow up with recent introductions, networking will start become a part of your routine. The more regularly you do the nitty gritty work of reaching out and following up, the more manageable the whole idea of networking will feel.
Chaloner, founded in 1979 as Chaloner Associates, is a national executive search firm that focuses on recruiting mid- to senior-level communications, public relations, marketing and investor relations professionals.