As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, the importance of who you know keeps going up. Here are five tips for cultivating and growing your network. Note: I don’t advocate doing any of this to simply take advantage of other people. Networking only works if you are genuinely interested in the people you are trying to connect with. If you try to fake it just to get favors from people, everyone will know.
1. Use Social Networking Tools
Sites like Facebook and Linked In make it easy to find people you’ve known in the past. In particular, the ability to look at the friends of your current friends can save you a lot of time in hunting down acquaintances from school or previous employment. It is helpful to decided how you are going to use a particular tool. For example, you might decide to use Facebook for friends and family while Linked In is used for everyone you have had any contact with. If your social networking tool lets you give different people different levels of access, that might be another way to segment your relationships between closer people you know and your wider circle of people you’ve met.
2. “Ping” Your Network
Simply having people in your network doesn’t help you. You need to make a conscious effort to maintain some type of contact with each person at least a few times each year. You want to keep your name in front of them and you also want them to feel like they can contact you. It is a lot easier to give someone a call if you had an email from them last week than if you haven’t heard from them in 2 years. You can “ping” people by sending them a personal email, commenting on their status, sending them an instant message, sending an SMS, or giving them a quick telephone call.
3. Send Gifts
Gifts don’t have to be complicated or expensive. If you finish reading a book that you know someone in your network would enjoy, consider sending it on to them. One of my clients collects old fashioned marbles. Whenever my wife or I run across old marbles, we buy them and send them to her.
The point of sending gifts is to show that you value them and know who they are and what they like. You need to demonstrate that you pay attention to the details about their life. It is a way to help strengthen and deepen your relationship.
4. Send Information
Sending newspaper clippings and links to web articles is another effective way of deepening your relationship. I find it works particularly well to physically send stuff through the mail. Just make sure that what you send is highly relevant to the individual.
5. Share Your Network
Offer to make introductions with people you know. If someone in your network is looking to buy a house, offer to introduce them to a real estate agent whom you know would be helpful. If someone in your network is talking about moving to Germany, you can offer to put them in touch with someone who lives over there.