How's this for a reality check? Eighty percent of job openings are never opened to the public. They're filled from within the company or the recruiter's network. That means you better be building, growing, and nurturing your network all the time.
Even if you run your own company, you can't go it alone in business. Especially if you're a "solopreneur," your success will rise and fall with your network. As a super-connector between the worlds of technology and music/entertainment, my network runs broad and deep with scores of high-level executives and influencers. The long-standing, trusted relationships I've forged with them allow me to easily reach out to luminaries in the right field whenever I have an opportunity or a request to share.
I recently produced an awards show in Los Angeles, for instance, and reached out to Slim Jim Phantom of the Stray Cats to be one of the presenters. The Stray Cats were a band on the roster when I worked in A&R at EMI/Capitol Records, but I hadn't been in touch with Jim in 30 years. As it turned out, Jim was only too happy to oblige. After we reconnected, we agreed we should do better than touching base once every three decades moving forward.
That may sound like a long time, but many of my network connections could lie dormant for years or even decades. In most cases, they're still happy to hear from me when I come across something they'd be interested in, and we pick up right where we left off.
Nurturing Your Most Important Connections
One of the biggest challenges of maintaining a large network is simply keeping up with it. That said, it doesn't have to be complicated. Everyone is busy, so it's better to connect only when you can actually provide value. Contrary to what your intuition may tell you, regular outreach just to "keep in touch" isn't the best way to nurture your contacts.
My system is not complex: Contacts are nurtured over time as situations arise. I reach out when there's a clear opportunity that may be valuable to a contact. I also make a point to attend or speak at industry conferences. These are great, natural opportunities to revitalize contacts year after year.
On the software side, I like to use tools like Contactually where you rank your connections, and the software prompts you to touch base with them periodically. When I use this tool, I just have to think about my contacts in terms of various "buckets" (to use Contactually's terminology), and the software takes it from there.
Implement Fair Trade Practices
In all communications, I make sure I balance the value I'm offering with the value I'm requesting. In every interaction, you want to add reciprocal value so you're working toward a mutually beneficial proposition.
Here are four quick and easy tips for staying in just the right amount of touch with your most valuable assets: your professional connections.
1. Use a service like Contactually. These services allow you to connect your email directly to the system and categorize your contacts into actionable groups to create a "relationship database." Contactually lets you quickly access their information and prompts you to start conversations at strategic times, making it easy to stay top of mind and effectively maintain all of your connections.
2. Attend relevant events in your space. This should come as no surprise. Being seen regularly at industry-related events like trade shows and conferences will help you establish credibility and build trust incrementally. Use these opportunities to connect authentically with old contacts and find new potential colleagues or client to add to your relationship database.
3. Share content that provides real value. A good way to catch someone's attention is to send an article you know would be of interest to that person. At the very least, acknowledge remarks and special occasions on social media. Find small ways to add value in between more meaningful conversations and get-togethers.
4. Embrace proactivity. Make it a point to reach out to select colleagues periodically. By nature, this should be a small group because you have other work to do. However, you should know who you want to stay very close to, and take the initiative to have real conversations with them via phone, Skype, or in person. Then, give yourself permission to let other contacts lie dormant until a particularly optimal opportunity pops up.
It's no secret that a great network is the key to moving your career forward. The trick is to keep lots of tactics in your strategy arsenal to keep fortifying that network. In my experience, though, the best advice I can give is always trying to provide authentic value. People will be thrilled each time they hear from you when they come to know you as a regular source of exciting conversation and opportunities.