Networking is one of the most important professional skills that people can utilize today to build relationships and business, and if done well, can yield mutual benefits that last a lifetime. Likewise, too many networkers could be accused of giving the “milk” away for free, thus making the sale of the “cow” meaningless. If your networking produces too many short-lived interactions and not enough lasting ones, take a look at these tips for maintaining networking contacts with an eye toward the long term.
Keep in touch. Keeping in touch with people that you wish to develop as networking contacts on a regular basis is very important. Immediately following the initial contact, start with an email to thank your contact for their time. Don’t stop there, however. Make a point of checking in with this person again, should no immediate plans for one-on-one conversation surface, after a set period of time. Rather than limiting all contact to email, do this by phone, if possible. Regular contact, both online and off, needs to be maintained to remain in the minds of your contacts. Taking time to express your thanks for your contacts’ time and attention is not only socially polite but also functions as another point of contact.
Be ready to help. It has been said that networking has more to do with what you can do for others than what others can do for you. One way to practice this with a professional contact is by passing along an interesting article or news of note that you may come across. This not only shows that you are thinking about them, but also about what is important to them in their work. When you communicate with your contacts, ask the question, “How can I help you?” and don’t worry about who helps who more. Concerned about giving too much of yourself? Consider your advice to be free, but anything that requires your unique expertise to be worth charging for.
Take note. Starting with the initial conversation and exchange of business cards, networking contacts are sending out a steady stream of information about their lives. Asking questions and taking notes about these interactions can both enrich your own personal searches for information or business as well as your ability to remain relevant to your contact. An expressed frustration about dry cleaners or joy over a child’s progress in school can be as much of a call to action as a casual musing about a potential future project, if only to show that you listen and care (“So, how is your son doing in school?”).
Provide introductions. When you meet people in a variety of spaces, you invariably begin to see commonalities between them. Introducing people, whether on the basis of their shared work or a mutual interest in a TV show, can help strengthen your network and your image in your contacts’ minds as a valuable source of helpful connections. Be sure to ask first (“I know someone who is involved in X. Can I introduce you to them?”) and then leave it up to them to decide where to take the relationship next. The next person to receive an important introduction might be you.
Share parts of yourself with others. You don’t have to turn your LinkedIn account into a public diary! Consider simple, upbeat personal updates like life change announcements or updates about long-term projects (“I’m 20,000 words into my novel!”) to stay in your contacts’ minds. Holiday greetings can also be a fun way to reach out and stay in touch.
Good networking, like training a bonsai or cultivating vegetables, is about many regular activities performed periodically over time. Likewise, it is not about a massive single overture or making a big score that may only impress and produce results for the short term.
There are many facets of networking and I pulled just a couple of pages about them from the Internet. What networking tips have brought you success?