Cultivate Your Network Like You Mean It

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ImageWe all have a Rolodex, whether it is a physical one that resides on our desks (strongly recommended…you’ll see why later in this post) or an electronic contact database (printed out monthly…you never know what is just around the corner) we conveniently use for email and phone numbers. But how do we “work” them?

With the world moving at record pace, it’s a good idea to stay connected and that’s why we get out and network at conferences, chapter meetings, whatever. You grab cards, names, numbers, etc. and bring them back to your office. You enter them into your favorite contact system and let them get cozy with the other contacts. They sit there idly passing time, beckoning to you for some action, but you resist their siren song. I mean, you’re busy, right. You don’t have time to look them over, let alone actually follow up with some of them. But why did you make the effort to collect them in the first place. There must have been some good reason. Surely you meant to call on some of these folks to get a foot in the door, broaden your horizon, keep your options open, or some other meaningful reason. So, let’s get down to it!

Three tips to keep you on the ball and in the game.

1. Review your old contacts and clear out the ones you haven’t ever contacted if it’s been over a full year. (No need to keep a cluttered closet…plus, they won’t remember you anyway.)

2. Shoot an email to everyone whom you’ve met in the last twelve months. Do it now! It will take a little while, but do it anyway. See if you get any nibbles. If you do, be sure to keep in touch on a regular basis. At least monthly. (If these contacts don’t respond after two months of attempts, assume they do not wish to connect.)

2a. Be sure that you have something to offer. Don’t call or email just to say “Hi”. Have a purpose. Forward an interesting, relevant email that they would be interested in or make a connection to help them out. Just make sure you don’t look like your trolling. Be honest and be helpful.

3. Next time you make a contact, be sure to follow up. And follow up in this fashion. It will help you be more responsive, and look like you truly have an interest in this person. When you meet someone, call or email them the next day, the next week, and the next month. If you find yourself mutually connecting more often, congratulations! You win!

You’ve been such a good reader, I’m giving you a bonus tip.

Bonus! Make it a point to expand your network at the office. You have an opportunity every week to grow within your organization. And why shouldn’t you? You already have lots of contacts there by virtue of proximity and a shared email system. Make the most of this situation. Keep in touch with your direct reports and coworkers by going to lunch once a week with one of them. Invite one of them to connect for the hour to talk about career, development, interests, whatever. Don’t “waste” it talking about work; consider it an opportunity to bond with this person on a more meaningful level. Do this each week with someone new to keep yourself in touch with all areas at different levels. You will gain a broader vision of your organization and a deeper connection with many more people than you ever would otherwise. So start working that network to build a robust Rolodex!

P.S. Cultivate your online network in a similar fashion.

P.P.S. Remember I said it was a good idea to keep a Rolodex on your desk? Consider it a gentle reminder that you need to keep those connections alive and work them consistently.

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