Last weekend I spend three days in Lexington and Louisville, KY with two life-long friends. Jon and Robb have been friends of mine since grade school. We were good friends through high school and were even roommates at various times through college. One of the things we did was tour a whiskey distillery. I’ve never been a whiskey drinker and a sample taste of it at the distillery confirmed that for me. We also went through the Louisville Slugger bat factory and generally consumed mass quantities of unnecessary calories all weekend.
They taught me everything I need to know
Just like in our school days, we had a great time together. After college, we went our different ways, working in vastly different industries. Two of us live in the Chicago suburbs while the other is in Southern Illinois. Although we’ve gotten together in pairs at various times, we realized that, except for a funeral six years ago, the three of us hadn’t been together in 18 years.
What struck me was the way we were able to just hit the ground running with our relationships as if it had only been 18 weeks instead. But we really hadn’t stopped being friends. In fact we’ve kept in close contact. We keep up with each other on Facebook, email each other and even connect the old-fashioned way through telephone calls every once in a while.
It got me to thinking that we have been networking with each other the way professionals should network with their contacts. I’ve known people that I call ‘reactive networkers’. They may gather connections in LinkedIn or Facebook, but they don’t keep in touch with any of their contacts. Not until they need to anyway. They wait until their company has a round of layoffs, find themselves without a job and are suddenly reaching out to their network asking if anyone knows of any job openings.
This is an ineffective way to network. Many of your connections are not bound to remember you like life-long friends. If you meet someone at a conference and connect with them on LinkedIn, but never maintain that relationship, contacting them three or four years later is not bound to be helpful. On the odd chance that they remember you, they won’t know enough about you to feel comfortable referring you for a position.
How to keep in touch
People often hear that they need to network and they consider collecting contacts to be sufficient. There is a lot more to it. Practicing ‘proactive networking’ means making contacts and keeping in touch with them on a regular basis:
- Update your LinkedIn profile on a regular basis. Update it with new career experiences, newly published publications and any updates that people in your network might be interested in. If they receive periodic updates on their network, they will regularly see your name, keeping you top-of-mind on a regular basis.
- Keep in touch by sending an email every once in a while. Tell them you saw an update on their LinkedIn profile or saw an article they might be interested in and thought of them. This helps to keep up your awareness and provides them with helpful information.
- If your contacts are on Twitter, follow them. Chances are they will follow you back. Tweet on a regular basis and interact with them.
- Determine how you want to use the various social media applications. I use Facebook for personal friends only and have very little overlap between it and LinkedIn or Twitter. I use LinkedIn and Twitter professionally connecting only with professional contacts in which we could help each other in some way.
If you think of this as contacting people with an ulterior motive or as an insincere approach to making friends, you’re probably doing it wrong. When I keep in touch with my personal friends, I don’t do it with the intent of asking them for a favor sometime down the road. But I know that if I need help someday, they may be more apt to help me out if I haven’t abandoned them for the past 18 years.
Apply it to your professional network
The same goes for networking professionally. If I keep in touch with people and send them an article that they may be interested, they know that I’m interested in them and will be willing to help them out if the need arises. It’s a matter of making friends professionally, knowing that if you stay in touch and maintain a familiarity with each other’s’ skills, either one of you can help the other out when needed.
So I’m thinking I should make this high school friend outing an annual event. Maybe we could meet next year in Las Vegas. In the meantime, I’m going to make sure I keep in touch.
What do you do to keep up with your network?
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.