Networking is a fact of life. Introducing two friends who you think might hit it off? That’s networking. Getting your cousin overseas to show you around the city they live in? That’s networking. The social vine is overflowing with fruit, and if you’re prepared to do your part, the harvest can be rich. Once you’ve looked at different ways to make new contacts, one of the most difficult, and overlooked, aspects of networking is maintaining the contacts you’ve already made.
Growing a flourishing contact garden
1. Identify potential professional contacts/leads.
Think about the people you meet in your day-to-day life who make potentially useful professional contacts. These might include any of the following:
- Your social network
- Ex-colleagues and bosses
- School/university friends and teachers
- People you’ve met on conferences/training days
- Interviewers for previous positions
- Family members
- People you’ve met on networking days
…Which other potential leads can you think of?
2. Make a database of these contacts
If you’re looking to upgrade your old address book, there’s plenty of high-tech contact management software around. And lots of it is free. The type of information you want to keep includes not just names and contact details, but personal details such as birthdays, offspring, interests, minor health issues and anything else you could use as an opening gambit.
- If you have a LinkedIn Premium Account, you can use the profile organiser.
- For Android users, Contacts+ is a great contact manager that even sends an alert to remind you of birthdays. It pulls in all of your different accounts to combine information about calls and contact details in a smartly-presented userface.
- Smartr Contacts is one of the most popular apps for iOS. This automatically finds out info about your connections, which is protected in the cloud. You’ll find a good guide here of how to import your Gmail contacts into Android.
- Plaxo is another easy-to-use way to keep all your contacts on the cloud together.
3. Keep in touch
Networking is a sport! With the advent of the internet, it’s now easier than ever to drop someone a line to say “hi”. You might feel a little unnatural doing so, but it’s important to reach out to from time to time – that’s how new connections are made. Excuses for saying hello might include:
- A thank-you note – always welcome!
- Birthday wishes
- Asking for a small piece of advice – people love to help, when it’s easy for them to do so (see below)
- Sending congratulations
…Any more positive ways to stay in touch?
4. Pay it forwards
When networking, people often make the mistake of asking for more than they give. This can often come from an aversion for taking risks – connecting two people doesn’t always work out. It may also be due to a lack of confidence: it might seem hard to believe that you have much to offer. You have to give to receive, however, and taking the plunge can potentially pay dividends.
An important part of networking is being positive about other people – clearly identifying traits and skills that your contacts have which could benefit others. Don’t forget that you also have your own unique set of skills and talents which is of benefit to the world. You might be able to:
- Let a contact know there’s an opening in your company
- Put two contacts who could benefit from each others’ skills in touch
- Give someone feedback on their CV, interview technique or even just offer a bit of tea and sympathy
- Suggest new directions and career paths, or help someone clarify those they already have in mind
- Invite a contact along to a networking/business event
- Offer to help organise a networking/business event (great way to build contacts!)
- Offer to help with a project, or suggest someone who could
- Teach someone a skill
- Give advice about finding work in a specific sector
…How else could you help?
5. Me, me, me…
Once you’ve carefully tended your network for a while, the time will come to reap the rewards of your hard work. And you should ask for favours – it’s important to take as well as give. Don’t always ask for the biggies straight-off, however – it’s often far more likely that you’ll find help from requesting a selection of small things.
Don’t push your luck, either. We can all forget to get back to people, or be caught in a bad moment, so it’s worth double-checking, but if you’ve asked someone for something several times and they have repeatedly said no or avoided an answer, the chances are they can’t/won’t be able to help. Accept and do not push: they are in their right to say no and being too forceful is unlikely to get you very far in any case. In the future, however, you might want to focus your attention on more “giving” contacts, or you might prefer to ask the same person for something else which they are more comfortable helping you with.
Here are some appropriate things to ask someone for:
- Help with your CV/interview practice
- A cup of coffee and advice regarding career direction
- Advice in learning a specific skill or achieving a specific goal
- Connecting you to someone else
- Passing on job adverts that look interesting
- Accompanying you to a training day/networking event
- Keeping you informed of news from the sector you’re in (or would like to be in)
- Passing on job openings
- Helping you stay motivated
- Helping you with a specific project or event that you’re organising
- Suggesting possible contacts you should try to make
- Giving you feedback on your business card/LinkedIn profile etc.
…More advice on asking for help here.
Genuine networking is not just about asking for favours, but putting time into constructing relationships: maintaining your contacts is really more about adopting a certain attitude than a few quick fixes. It often takes time for the seeds of your efforts to begin to grow, so don’t be surprised if you don’t see results at first, but keep tending and weeding, and eventually your garden of contacts will begin to flourish.