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How to Maintain Your Connections when Networking
 
 

How to Maintain Your Connections when Networking

While building your network of professionals might be the exciting part of this process, it is not the most important part. Like in business, it's far easier to gain new customers than it is to keep older customers happier.

You will want to think about how you are making the connections you have worthwhile for everyone involved, and you need to find ways to reach out in order to be a valuable connection for someone else.

What Can You Do

You need to understand how you can interact with others in your network. You might be the person who can talk to them everyday, and you may not be able to do that.

Start by thinking about what you can realistically do, and then you can be clear about what a networking relationship with you will look like.

  • How much time can you spend? – Something that hasn't been mentioned yet that should be mentioned now is that building your network isn't something you can delegate to someone else. Though you might be tempted to give some tasks over to an assistant, if you're not the one interacting with your connections, you may miss out on their knowledge and the relationship. Instead, think about how much time you can realistically devote to networking. From there, think about which networking events or sites are most important to you, and pencil those activities into your calendar.

  • How many networking groups can you join? – While you might be tempted to join every group available to you, it's better to focus most of your energy in only a few directions. In time, you may be able to expand your ability, but until that time, focus on the sites that are most relevant to your industry and be present in those places.

  • What is your networking style? – See if you can determine what your style and/or approach might be. For some, this might look like being a social media person, someone who is always sharing stories and ideas, and stimulating discussions. For others, you might be one who connects with people individually, finding out more about them and about what they do.

  • What are your networking goals? – You might also want to think about what your goals are and what your long-term plans are. The more you can clarify about your direction, the more easily you can steer the proverbial wheel of your networking.

While the answers to these questions might change over time, this is a good way to begin the conversation about what you can do. Once you have contained your activities, you will be able to see what else can fit in – if not now, then in the future.

What Should You Do

This is the tricky part of any networking strategy – determining what you should do. When it comes to maintaining connections, you do have to be involved and you have to be interested. Ideally, you will have chosen people to be in your network that are already compelling.

To maintain your connections:

  • Contact them frequently – To build any relationship, you need to be ready and willing to talk to the people you know. While 'frequently' might have different meanings for different people, what is important is that you contact your network on a regular basis, i.e. the first of the month, every two weeks, Fridays, etc. Be a consistent presence.

  • Update them about your career – When you reach out to your contacts, give a brief summary of where you're at in your career or your goals. You can also include information about successes you have had and achievements you want to share.

  • Ask them questions –These connections aren't just about you and what you have done. Make sure you're asking about the other person and about their professional careers (and personal lives, if that's appropriate). You want to gather information about them, so you can see how they might be able to help you or you might be able to help them.

  • Set up times to talk individually – On occasion, you might want to set up appointments with the connections in your network, especially the high value ones. When you do this, you will be able to create a more personal relationship. If they're going to be at a professional event, try to get time with them. If you're in their area for other business, try to schedule a dinner. The more you can meet, the more you will build the strength of your connection.

  • Share information or resources that suit their goals – If you come across something that might be helpful to someone else, you will want to share it with them. This will help to build the overall value of the connection. You might send them articles, information, etc. over email or regular mail. The other person will know that you've been thinking about them, and they will be reminded of how your connection is a valuable part of their life.

  • Build a file of information about each connection – As you are interacting with people in your network, it is a good idea to collect information about each person and assemble it. By building a file of your connections, you will begin to see patterns in who you speak with, who has helped you, etc. You will also begin to see the gaps in your network.

  • Read their comments/updates/profiles and comment – Whenever you can, make sure you read the comments, the updates, etc. in their networking profiles or social media accounts. In doing so, the people in your network will feel seen and appreciated – and they will return the favor.

The more you interact with your connections and make them feel special, the more they will do the same for you. It's true, you might find that some of your connections will not be as active as others. When this happens, you might want to focus your energy on the connections that are responding and giving back.

Ways to Make People Feel Special

Though you might not be looking for new clients, it doesn't hurt to have that approach when it comes to maintaining your connections. You will want to make each person feel like a special and vital part of your network.

  • Remember special days – The beauty of building profiles online is that birthday reminders are common, so you can wish your connections happiness on their special days. You might also want to write down any other special days and make sure you're aware of those too, i.e. holidays, personal events, professional accomplishments, etc.

  • Comment on updates regularly – It can't be stated enough that you need to comment on the information that people share. When you do, it will help them be seen, and it will help them feel more valuable.

  • Reach out just to say 'hi' – You don't have to communicate about business all of the time. In fact, you should have times when you simply reach out and say 'hi' to the people in your network. Not only does this show your concern, but it also helps to provide an example of how you can connect quickly.

  • Send cards or e-cards – Though you don't want to overdo it on the 'I know a lot about you,' it can be nice to send someone a little something during special events and on holidays.

  • Set up Google Alerts about their company – You might want to set up some Google Alerts with your connection's name and/or company name to see when things come up about their work. This way, you can comment on new stories quickly, and show how interested you are in their success.

  • Share their knowledge with others – Whenever you can, refer your connections to others who might need them or who might be able to help them in some way. The more you can bring people together, the more you can strengthen everyone's network.

Making people feel special will ensure you are the best person to have in their network. People will remember you, they will turn to you, and they will help you when they know you're paying attention to them.

Summary

Most of your energy should go toward maintaining your connections, as opposed to building your connection numbers. When you treat others well, and you interact with them regularly, you will cultivate relationships. After all, connecting is one thing, interacting is deeper – and often delivers better results.
Long-Term Networking Strategies

Even though you might start building your network today, using the information you've learned, you still need to think about what happens in five years and ten years. Since connecting with others might look different in the future, you will want to think more about what your overall goals might be and then seek out opportunities to reach those goals.

The process of networking will not happen overnight, nor should you feel like it done when you get a certain number of contacts. Instead, look at this as a process of evolution – a way in which you can reach out for the people who can help you or work with you. Since your needs will change over the years, you need to continually assess whether you have the right people in your network, or not.

Start Small

If you're going to look at networking as a long-term process, you need to start off small. What this means is that you will need to focus on a few networking sites or groups. When you start off this way, you will be able to look at what works for you and how networking needs to improve in order to be of value.

Start off by looking at a few sites online and a few groups in your area. Test out how they work and see how they might work better for you. You may also want to look into how you can use your connections right now and how you can see benefits from your activities today.

To make the process even simpler:

  • Sign up for two websites and two groups – Just start out with a few carefully selected places where you will begin to devote your time and energy. Learn all that you can about these sites and groups, and use all of the resources they have to offer.

  • Reach out to at least two connections each month – Even if you just email some people to say 'hi,' this counts as interacting with your connections. You want to get into the habit of talking to the people in your network and seeing how you can help them, or asking how they can help you.

  • Remember that relationships take time – You're not necessarily going to get to know everyone in your network in one day or one week, or even one year. But you will get to know them over the course of a few years. Be patient and realize that the larger goal is to build relationships, not just lists of people you know.

  • Note what's worked and what hasn't – Be diligent in taking notes about the things your network has taught you, what you've used, and what you have not used. The more you learn from this experience, the stronger the foundation you will have in place for the future of your networking experience.

The key to success is to start small and to make sure you know what you're doing before you branch out to bigger ventures and actions.

Try Out New Networking Systems

Over time, there will be more opportunities to network online. While we might not know what they look like yet, there are probably new systems being developed right now.

To make sure you're using these systems effectively, it can help to:

  • Sign up for a free trial – If the service requires you to pay a fee, take advantage of the free trial period they might offer. This will help you learn whether the system is easy for you to use, and if it appeals to your work in your industry.

  • Ask your other networks what they're using – When you hear about a new networking tool, it is wise to check on your other networks to see if your professional contacts are using it too. Though this might seem as though you're just moving from one platform to another, it might also be the new direction of the future. In addition, you will nearly always find new connections when you move into new networking landscapes.

  • Measure the quality of the connections – As you first begin to look around new networking sites, it can help to see who is there. Find out who the other professionals are, what their credentials are, etc. In doing so, you will begin to determine if you're in the right place.

Though some new services might start off small and may not be helpful at first, you may also want to be one of the first people in the new space.

Start Your Own Network

On the other hand, if you're not happy with the networking options available, it might also be time for you to think about starting your own network of industry professionals. With all of the easy website building platforms out there, you can easily create a site for people to gather, to share information, and to talk to each other on forums.

You might also want to start a networking group that meets virtually or in person. By using tools like Google Hangouts and Skype meetings, you can talk to people around the world and learn about their daily activities.

Some other ideas include:

  • Networking events – You might create an event that gets people together in person, and clearly designate it as a networking event. This might encourage people to bring business cards and other information that might encourage connections with others.

  • Dinners – Some like to have sit-down dinners that bring people together in a more low-key setting. There, you can get to know each other personally and then talk about business as the night moves on.

  • Casual drinks – Or you might want to test the waters of networking needs by having a happy hour in which people can bring their spouses or other associates.

When you want to continue to network, you need to make sure you're coming up with new and exciting ways to bringing people together. If you can make networking fun, you will become a leader in connecting professionals.

Measure Your Results

As you continue to network and you continue to see out ways that will build your professional network, it can help to measure your results. We've referred to this in other areas of the course, but let's define how this process might look.

  • Tabulate the number of connections you have – You will start by counting the people you have in your various networks. Keep these numbers separate.

  • Note how many times you've contacted them – Ideally, you would have tracked the number of times you have reached out to the people in your network (and if not, start now!).

  • Note how many times they've contacted you – You can then start to tabulate the number of times the people in your network have contacted you.

  • List the accomplishments/achievements you've collaborated on – Finally, find out how many times you have generated results with the people who are in your network.

When you have this list of information, you can more easily see where your networks are helping you and when they are not helping you. The more interactions you have, the better. Now, this doesn't mean that fewer interactions make the networking tool a failure. In some cases, some people just don't interact a lot, while others will interact on every networking site there is.

So, you need to keep this in mind.

But when you start to track the outcomes of your networking, you will begin to see patterns in how the interactions take place. You will also begin to see trends. Some people might be more helpful on X site, while people on Y site might be more interested in talking, but not necessarily collaborating.

No matter what you find, you need to consider what makes the most sense to you. For some, it might be more appealing to have conversations and not necessarily work with anyone.

And for others, they might want the collaborations more than the 'small talk' they see on some sites.

Stop and look at the numbers you have to see what is working for you in the ways you want the networking sites to work. And scale back when you see that something isn't working as well as you'd expected it to or you need it to work.

Summary

Networking is more than just a short-term tool to generate interest in what you do, and to get help on a current project you might have in progress. Instead, you need to look at networking as being a long-term strategy, one in which you are able to see what works, consider how to start, use or create new tools, and measure your results.
 
 
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