By now, you probably know—either through good fortune or through frustration—that your chances of success can be greatly improved by having a large pool of contacts to dip into. If your digital rolodex isn’t bursting at the seams, you may be dumbfounded at how others seem to always know someone for something—for whatever need they may encounter.
While some people’s number of contacts may seem extraordinary, its likely they don’t know a bazillion people because they throw great parties. (Wouldn’t that be fun?). Rather, they’re probably super skilled networkers. Smart networkers know building a network takes more than a quick swap of business cards; they know to avoid communicating just from the perspective of “me, me!” and they know how to keep their network humming.
These are our favorite tips to nurture new contacts while staying friendly with the old.
Pick one contact to reach out to every week
Pick a contact, (or two, or five—however many you wish to commit to). If you’re the type that needs an even more rigid routine, choose a day of the week. And send the contact an email or LinkedIn message just to check in and see how they are doing.
There’s a few things to take note of here. First, you’re reaching out to someone just because. Getting email, unexpectedly, from an old colleague, acquaintance or friend, just for the heck of it is equivalent to receiving a paper handwritten letter. No matter the sender, there’s a certain inner squeal that’s emitted upon receipt. Curiosity—it’s a wonderful thing.
Second, you’re asking about how THEY are doing. This is important. You’re not writing for a selfish reason and you’re not writing to simply share your news. You’re genuinely interested in their life. If you’re Facebook friends with them (or Twitter, or Instagram, whatever) that’s a great way to catch a quick overview of what they’re up to before you ask about specifics, like how daughter Jane is doing in college, or if they had a great time during their recent Hawaii vacation.
Practice relentless follow up
Don’t let new contacts slip away. As soon as you meet a new contact, make sure you follow up in some form within two days. It could mean sending them a personal thank you email. It could be adding them to your LinkedIn contacts, along with a sincere note. And it always means doing what you said you were going to do, even if it’s something casual or seemingly silly. For example, if you had discussed a restaurant recommendation or told them you’d send them an app that you can’t live without, make sure you do it.
This first interaction will set the tone for the relationship to come. This is an opportunity for you to build a reputation for yourself as someone who is responsive, honest and trustworthy.
Take a stab at making connections
It’s one thing to add a contact to your network. It’s another to connect two or more of your contacts. Here, you go from being a collector to being a connector—and truly adding value.
When you do this, you have an excuse to reach out to your network pool. While doing so, you’re adding touch points and building relationships.
Plus, when you actually connect folks from within your network, to each other, you’re shifting their perception of you from someone they know to someone who is truly in the know. You’re doing something for them. You’re helping others build relationships and giving back, even if only in a small way. But people take note of these things and they’ll keep it in mind when you need help down the road. You won’t regret it.
Networking is a skillset; there’s no way around that. The more you practice, the more confident you’ll become at reaching out to strangers and acquaintances in your virtual circle and forming long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships.