Your network is the people you know and stay in contact with. The size and quality of your network has a huge impact on your opportunities in life. Obviously, keeping your network “healthy” is instrumental in growing it. What is a healthy network? A healthy network is one where the people who know you, think of your name when there is an opportunity that you might be interested in, a job you might like, or question you can answer, or a favor you can provide. Notice, it isn’t just about taking–it is about people thinking of you both when they need something and when they can help you.
In this post, we are going to look at five tips that will help make you a networking genius–someone who makes an effort to keep their network healthy that goes well beyond their peers.
1. Stay in touch.
I know it sounds simple, but it is incredibly powerful to call people up a few times a year. You aren’t trying to sell them anything–just see how they are doing and what they are up to. How many people were you great friends with in college whom you haven’t spoken to in several years?
Technology sometimes hurts us in this area. Since we know we can contact everyone instantly via email, we tend not to do it. Staying in touch takes effort. Email is good, a phone call is better, and getting together for a meal is best.
Ideally, you want some type of system where you can track when you last made contact with someone and remind you when you haven’t heard from them in a while. At the very least, call people on their birthdays! It may be only once each year, but it is simple, evenly distributed and it can mean a lot to people.
2. Use the phone.
Don’t let your communication be only via email. Take the time to pick up the phone and have a real conversation. Emails have their place, but you can’t interrupt someone on email to get clarification, hear the passion in their voice, etc. You need to actually make phone calls. There is a certain talent in calling up someone and having a short phone call. While not all your conversations need to be short, you need to develop that skill to keep in touch without monopolizing an hour of someone’s time.
Some tips for using the phone:
- It is good to talk to people, but sometimes you just want to let them hear from you. Calling their office phone before they arrive gives you a way to leave a short message without having a long conversation. This shouldn’t be the only way you talk to people, but it can be a powerful tool. Just be aware that some people are forwarding their office phones to their cell phones. You don’t want to wake people up trying to leave them a voice mail.
- Many modern phones can hold a nearly unlimited number of contacts. Consider keeping a list of contacts on your phone with which you want to touch base. This gives you a good productive activity when you have 10 minutes of downtime.
3. Use the mail.
As people use more and more electronic communication, the value of letters goes up. Sending out a physical piece of mail is a very powerful way to keep your name in front of people and help foster a deeper relationship. There are many ways to use the mail. Here are some ideas:
- Birthday cards – At the beginning of the year, quarter, or month, fill out all the birthday cards for the period. Write the date that it needs to go in the mail where the stamp goes and put them in order. Leave it unsealed so you can check what you wrote before it goes out – just in case something has changed and your message is no longer appropriate.
- Clippings – Sending someone a newspaper clipping of interest along with a short personal note is a powerful networking tool. To do this effectively, you need to keep track of what people are interested in beyond their jobs.
- Newsletters – Sending out a business newsletter is a good way to keep your name and your expertise in front of people. Most people will never do this because they think it takes too much work. However, if you simply keep a word document where you jot notes about interesting developments in your field, it is very easy to come up with enough content for a short newsletter each month. Writing a personal note on the back or in the margins is a great way to make it personal.
- Gifts – Sending an interesting book, inexpensive gadget of interest, or humorous souvenir are all great ways to strengthen your relationship with a contact. Obviously, it has to be sincere and appropriate. If you have your own business, you might consider buying some items in bulk and have them personalized with your company name. Pens and hats are common items, but if you search hard enough, you can find something unique that will really stand out.
4. Know the details.
If someone mentions that their daughter is looking for an internship with a bio-engineering firm, you should remember that. If they say that they grew up in Gary, Indiana, you should remember that, as well. Your ability to pay attention to details shows other people how much value you place on your relationship, and in turn, it helps them decide how much value they should place on the relationship.
How do you keep track of this information? Well, writing it down can help. In the process of writing, you will probably remember it, and more importantly, it helps you double-check if you have any doubts. For example, “Was it Dave Smith or Don Smith who said he was looking for a new hair growth treatment?” Where do you write it down? If you are serious about networking, you need to have some sort of database. You can use almost anything. It can be the contact management built into your computer or a CRM system like Salesforce.com. It doesn’t have to be overly complex. You can go a long way with index cards or an address book.
What do you do with this information? Simple. You need to care. Use the information to try to improve that persons’ life. In the example above, if their daughter is looking for an internship in bio-engineering and you have a friend who works in a biotech firm, call him up and see if they have an internship program. (Helping someone’s kid is one of the best things you can possibly do. Until you have kids yourself, you won’t understand what a big deal that is.)
Don’t be so focused on “business” that you miss all the important little details that often are what bring people the most joy. Make an effort to remember the things that seem incidental and unimportant.
5. Become a valuable resource.
While the previous items have to do with staying visible, this is about being valuable. If you make it your goal to help the other person, you are doing networking right. If you are constantly sharing things with them that they find interesting and important and are always willing to help introduce them to someone they need to meet, you become a valuable part of their lives.
It isn’t always easy to get to this level, though. People may not feel like they can call you up and ask you a question–that’s where staying in contact can really help. I had someone call me up the other day telling me that her hard drive had crashed and she was going to take it in to get the data recovered. She wanted to get my opinion and make sure she was headed in the right direction. To me, this shows that we’ve gotten to the level where I’m a resource for what she needs. When she has a problem, I’m one of the people she thinks of to call.
This is the level you want to get to. If someone is comfortable picking up the phone to ask you a question, then they are probably happy to answer questions for you. This type of relationship is beneficial both ways, and that is the true power of networking.