I've been in business over 20 years now. In that time I've worked at a host of companies, forming stronger and weaker personal relationships with colleagues along the way. Add to this network the individuals I've met through clients and suppliers, as well as my alma mater, two times round. I've also been fortunate enough to work in most of the global time zones, and have picked up more connections along the way. Finally there are my personal friends.
In short, I have developed a broad and diverse network, which at times can be hard to manage.
So why even bother? Frankly, I like helping people. I do hope that some people will repay me with business leads and business when appropriate. But as a first principle, I stay in touch because it helps keep me connected with my past and allows me to be useful. Second, I am a keen follower of the global economy and find I can learn a lot more from a one-on-one than from hours of desk-based research and study. And third, I have to find stories to keep this column fresh.
Here's how I keep myself happy with all my relationships:
1. Always respond to requests for career help.
Just this morning I finished a request from a former colleague who needed help with a personal reference for a job application. I could have told myself that I am too busy or that someone else will get it, but I didn't. Actually this type of request is pretty common, and I've worked out a way to handle it in 15 minutes. I figure that that short time is worth it for the long-term goodwill I can tell it has gotten me, judging by the thanks received.
2. Always respond to requests for expertise or help, whatever the angle.
As a Scotsman, I have lost count of the number of times a loose connection has called me up to say he is headed to Scotland and looking for recommendations for golf, fishing, food, whisky and all the other stuff we do well over there. This is not a chore for someone proud of his heritage. I gladly help, and enjoy the connection it gives me with home. The lesson here, I think, is to make sure people enjoy calling you regardless of which part of your expertise they need, and give freely.
3. Keep Facebook separate from LinkedIn.
I keep my Facebook friends distinct from my LinkedIn contacts. I made a simple decision: Only people who were friends with me prior to or after our working together may be in my Facebook world. This leaves me free to share my hobbies and pictures of my kids with no concern for how this makes me look professionally.
I actually really enjoy getting to know the reciprocal details about a former colleague once one or the other of us has moved on. It seems to reinforce the friendship at a time when ties could get looser, and also ensures my Facebook friends represent only the strongest relationships from the world of work.
4. Use LinkedIn daily updates to reconnect and work on that elevator pitch.
LinkedIn has done a great job of helping me organize my timing around when to reconnect with people. I generally avoid the "Congrats on the 4th anniversary" automated e-mails, and instead think about them and the context of our careers, and make a connection that is more personal.
I have increasingly found these really useful to help me hone my current elevator pitch. Trying it out on a broad network of people with differing backgrounds has helped me understand what we do that is unique and also what is interesting to most people. As I am not pitching, but updating someone I know on where I am now, it works well for trying out new methods of framing the value proposition.
5. When you travel, make the time to reach out to people.
Every time I am in a city or country I've not been in for a while, I plan to see at least one old face every second day. There's always a breakfast, coffee, or dinner opportunity in my calendar somewhere.
Yes, it can feel like a plate-spinning exercise for sure. I like to try and stay disciplined with how long I think about my network each day and week. I also don't give myself a hard time for not having reached out to some people for a while. I find eventually I get around to everyone.