When I was in college, I read about networking and the importance of keeping a thick rolodex of contacts. It made sense at the time, and I started my career with great intentions. I can be an outgoing person, but I found it hard to meet and connect with people professionally. When I did meet new people in a meeting or conference, we would exchange business cards, never to communicate again. I still have a stack of business cards in my desk from people that I don’t remember.
Technology enables volume
Today, we have networking tools like LinkedIn, Twitter and Plaxo. If we meet someone, we can do the business card exchange to get the pertinent information to connect with them. We can even use our smart phone or tablet real time to send a connection request. But the online and electronic tools just allow you to continue acquiring names without knowing who they are. It helps with the quantity of contacts, but you still need to make quality contacts. I decided that networking that way was the wrong approach.
Stop and think about why we network. We want to help each other do business. It could be to make a contact at a company that you want to sell to or to get help finding a job. So suppose you are in job search mode and need help getting an interview at a company. You start looking at your contacts in LinkedIn. You find a connection that you met at a conference five years ago who works at that company and you contact them. If you haven’t had any contact since the conference, they probably won’t remember you any more than you remember them.
Networking that way doesn’t work
You can remind them that you are LinkedIn buddies and even where you met (if you remember), but if this person may not know anything about you. They have no basis to give any type of recommendation, and might be reluctant to help you get the interview. If you had kept in touch with them over the years, your chances would be much better.
Here are some strategies for developing better quality contacts:
- When you meet someone with common interests at a conference, a training session or just a chance encounter, connect with them on LinkedIn or follow them on Twitter or some other social networking site that you both use. Then, about 1 or 2 weeks later send them a note with a comment about the event or something they shared with you. It’s best to ask them a question so they’ll be more apt to reply, reinforcing the chances they’ll remember you later.
- Keep your profile on LinkedIn up to date. This includes a complete summary of your education and career.
- Once you’re connected via social media, post updates on a fairly regular basis. This varies depending on the social media tool. On LinkedIn, once every week or two is sufficient, but updates 4-5 times a week creates noise that will eventually cause them to ignore you. Tweets can be done more frequently. The goal is to be consistent and relevant to keep your name top-of-mind, without bombarding them with information.
- Share articles on the social media sites that you find interesting and that you think your connections and followers will also find interesting. If it applies directly to what one individual does or is interested in email the article to them directly with a personal note.
- When your connections post changes to their profile, contact them to congratulate them or ask how the changes affect their career.
- Randomly check in with them. Every couple of weeks, select a few of your connections that you haven’t communicated with for a while and send an email asking how they’re doing.
Developing a voluminous network will give you a lot more contacts, particularly when you include your 2nd and 3rd level connections that you can get introduced to via your direct connections. But developing better quality connections will improve your chances of getting the introduction, or better yet, an endorsement with the introduction.
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.