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.
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