Networking is important. I know this, and yet I'm about as good at maintaining and growing my contacts as I am with stretching after a run. I'll do it one day, then skip twelve. Then I'll feel great because do it two days row, and then I fall off the wagon until January rolls around again.
After a big dip in my business recently, my network (albeit a bit dusty) was there to help pick me up and get me back on track. As a way to fully absorb and show appreciation for that support, I decided to use that positive experience to become more consistent with my networking.
So, as part of my "Just One Thing" series, I opted to do just that. "Just One Thing" is self and business improvement for busy people. It includes a series of articles and videos that each suggest one simple action step to increase your productivity, expand your network, or make your life easier. I'd read a bit of advice recently about setting aside time to reach out to three people each day, so I decided to make that my initial outreach goal.
Here's a video describing what I did and what I'd recommend.
To start, I opened up LinkedIn and was first surprised to see the number of connections I had. Nearing 1000. I hadn't realized the cumulative impact of sending out and accepting all of those connection requests. Initially, I was delighted with the number, but that happy buzz quickly wore off. I clearly needed a strategy for picking the three people to contact. I started by scanning down the list in the order that LinkedIn presented them. The default organization here was "Recently added." For my purposes, this wasn't particularly helpful. I had to scroll for a couple of pages before I came across someone that sparked the thought to reach out. To make this more effective than I did initially, spend 15 minutes reflecting on your goals and needs to come up with some specific names or at least sectors to start a search within your existing list.
Next, I ended up only selecting people that I knew I had email addresses for and switched back over to email to do the actual outreach- as opposed to sending a message through LinkedIn. If you don't have a contact's email address, you can reach out via other social media platforms such as Twitter, if you know they're active there. If not, don't bother. They'll miss it.
My target was three people, but I ended up getting on a roll and sending 9 messages. Once I started, it was fun to spend a couple of minutes thinking about that person, a project we'd worked on together, their family, and our shared interests. To each, I sent a different email that included an enthusiastic hello, indicated an interest in knowing what they were up to, and shared a bit about what I'm working on. I ended with a question in the hopes that they'd write back. When you do this, write the update on yourself that you can copy and paste from one message to the next but make sure you bookend that content with something specific about the individual you're contacting.
What happened? By the end of the day, three of the nine had written back. In subsequent days, a couple more responses came in. Of those, two meet-ups were scheduled to talk in more detail about what we each have going on. I assume I'll hear from most of the others in the coming weeks.
Was the hour it took to do this worth it? I think so. It felt good and was fun. I warmed up some relationships at a time when I wasn't looking for or offering anything specific- other than a friendly exchange.
I'm going to schedule a reminder for one hour per month to do this again and up my target to 10 people. Then over the course of a year, I'll have reached out to 100 long-lost contacts -- about 10% of my network. I'll also spend a little time thinking about who those people should be. Creating a tracking sheet to keep tabs on who you've reached out to isn't necessary -- fight the urge to overcomplicate things.
Setting a number target and regularly reaching out would be a piece of advice I'd offer to others in the future. It was an easy, painless, and fun way to maintain the network you've worked so hard to build.
Maintaining regular contact is the only way you can sustain the value of the network you worked so hard to build. The neglected parts of our network lose their value over time without periodic outreach and connection.
With that in mind, remember to get in touch with those old friends, colleagues, acquaintances in your network on a regular basis. It might lead to something new and exciting. This is "just one thing" that works. Give it a try!