Let's be honest. When it comes to networking, just about everyone reaches out for help only when they need it--and then expects their network to immediately jump into action. Enough of the last minute, urgent, 911 networking calls! If you're looking to improve your networking skills, this is one place to start - as it is often the easiest networking challenge to prevent and the one most job seekers, entrepreneurs and small business owners have trouble doing (let alone getting right). Your need for an introduction to an investor (or dream employer) or for a social media post in support of a marketing campaign, does not need to become a networking emergency. All it takes is communicating regularly with your network-- plus a little persistence and planning.
Regular and steady communications--before you need the help--win the race. They connect your friends, family, advisors, mentors, and potential investors to your journey up the corporate ladder or as a start-up founder or new business owner. From the start, these are the people who know you and want to see you succeed. Keep them close during your journey and they'll truly be invested in your success. That new problem you're facing? Chances are someone in your network (or someone who knows someone) can provide an answer. That information you wanted shared on Twitter? I'm pretty sure they'll jump on helping you with that too.
We're all navigating our careers in a 24/7 highly connected environment. And while the new economy may be real time and on demand; relationships are not. The key is to communicate regularly and thoughtfully so your network can help you reach your goals.
· Where to start? Brainstorm a contact list. This is a list of all the people you should be sharing your business (or career) highs and lows with.
· Create an e-mail list or customized list using online platforms such as MailChimp. A Google+ circle may work equally well for you (or perhaps a private group on LinkedIn or closed group on Facebook or even good old email). The point is to spend some time thinking about who should be on your list, then assemble all that contact information on a platform or tool you'll use.
· Establish a communications schedule. If you're wondering when you should send out a communication to your network, I hate to tell you that the only person who can answer that question is . . . YOU. Only you can decide the timing and frequency of communications. Think about the people in your network and what time of day is best for them to receive your message.
· Stick to the Schedule. Once you've decided when to send your update (weekly, monthly, on Tuesday afternoons, whatever!) stick to the timing, regardless of how exhausted or stressed or deadline driven you are. It's hard and it takes commitment--I know, I've been there! In February 2015 I committed to sending out a weekly e-mail called Innovator Insights, to grow my network. There were weeks when I stared at the computer screen wondering if I had anything to say (and if anyone was even reading my newsletter). The key is to keep at it.
· What's the message? Craft a message that makes it easy for the recipients to want to help you. Always keep in mind that behind every e-mail address is a human being with a messy, complicated life (and their own urgencies and priorities). Balance your need with the aim of educating, informing, or delighting your audience.
· Is your message mobile? Imagine where the people in your network are actually reading your message--are they commuting to work or at home in the evening? Are they reading it on an iPhone, iPad, or laptop? It may be your message, but it's their time you've asked for, so make it worthwhile and put it in a format they will actually read.
· Don't forget social media. Sharing spreads your ideas further, so don't overlook posting business updates on social media. If someone misses your e-mail, they may pay attention to your Facebook post or a Tweet. A new business contact may be checking your LinkedIn updates.
· Keep your network informed so your ideas have a bigger audience to lean on. Remind yourself constantly that networks determine which ideas become breakthroughs or get funding, media mentions, vital connections, etc.
Here's the big networking takeaway: The trust and respect you build with your contacts grows stronger over time, especially when you show that you value their time--as well as their guidance. By sweating the small, regular communications, people really get to know you.