Often I find that my clients, faced with the reality of a board search, realise very quickly that their contact network is ‘stale’ and rather shallow. It is much easier to maintain and nourish your network on an ongoing basis rather than play catch-up when you find yourself in need of help from others.
Your network of business-, professional- and personal contacts is the most valuable and transportable asset you have. A properly nourished and up-to-date network can truly work wonders for your career.
Make a commitment NOW to begin getting your contact network house in order. You can start by doing any or all of the following:
Begin gathering the names of all your current and past business-, professional- and personal contacts. Think in terms of categories of people within the context of how you knew them or dealt with them. For instance, think of former colleagues at each of your previous employers, college and university contacts (alumni networks are an excellent source for these names), community and professional organizations, boards and committees you served on, current and former vendors, current and former customers, athletic teammates, club members, church members, friends, family, etc.
Update Contact Information
As you assimilate names, gather current contact information – home address, home phone, cell phone, personal email address, business email address. A current email address and current cell phone number are the two best pieces of information you can gather. Make a note of the context of the relationship as well.
Utilize a Contact Management System
Enter your contact information into your favorite Contact Management System — Microsoft Outlook, ACT, Goldmine, Google Contacts, etc. Stick to one system and update it thoroughly. This can be a major task, depending on the number of contacts. You should consider soliciting the help of an administrative assistant, an intern/college student or a family member to help you get it done.
“A, B, C” Your Contact List
As you enter your contacts into your Contact Management System, I recommend that you make a notation as to the ‘quality and depth’ of the relationship you have with each contact. A simple “A, B, C” ranking input into a field in the database can accomplish this for you. An “A” contact is someone you feel is definitely an advocate or champion of yours; someone who, without question, would have great things to say about you. “C” contacts are individuals whom you do not know very well at all and “B” contacts are those who are neither an “A” nor a “C”. You know them fairly well or very well but they’re not necessarily individuals you’d consider advocates or champions.
Initiate Contact with Everyone over the Next 30 Days
Begin the process of initiating contact with everyone in your network within the next 30 days. Drop a quick email to say “hello” or send an email simply updating your contact information. Continue the process of updating current contact information for those candidates with missing or outdated information. Set a goal to have information as complete as possible on all contacts within 30 days. Also set a goal of having contacted all of those individuals for whom you have contact information within the same 30 day period.
Include your Complete Contact Information in your Email Signature Block
Include a link in your email signature block to your personal website if you have one, to your LinkedIn profile, to any blog(s) you host, to your Facebook profile or other similar online portals. Make it as easy as possible for everyone to find your most up-to-date information.
Maintain Ongoing Contact
Once you’ve re-established contact with your network, the next step is to maintain ongoing contact. The more frequently and regularly your network contacts hear from you, the better your chances of staying on their radar. You always want to be on the short list of people that any one of your network contacts think of when contemplating a referral or recommendation to someone else in their network. Great examples of ways to stay in regular contact with your network include:
- Send a birthday card
- Send a referral to a network contact
- Refer a network contact to someone else or to another network contact
- Send an email to update your career status – employment change, promotion or another similar announcement
- Send an email to update your contact information – new phone number, new email address
- Develop and distribute a brief but relevant weekly eZine with timely and useful content
- Share your discovery of a new online resource, a new tool, a new book, etc.
Sustainable networking definitely means “giving” first. Giving means sharing referrals between contacts, sharing useful and relevant information, sending “thank you” notes, birthday cards and holiday cards, congratulating someone on a reward or achievement, helping someone think through a business issue or personal matter, “being there” for someone else.
Be proactive about giving to and helping others; be “that guy” (or gal) that others love to hear from. “Ping” your network with information, articles and content through your various Social Media platforms – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Make sure you add value to their lives by sharing useful information.
Always Offer your Assistance in Connecting them to Someone that they are Interested in Reaching
This could be a prospective customer, a vendor, a business partner or an expert in a certain field (taxes, life insurance, legal, etc.). Ask them three simple questions:
- “Is there anyone you’re trying to hook up with or looking for help with on some matter?”
- “Is there anyone on your target list that you’d love to meet or speak to?”
- “Are there any companies you’re trying to get a lead into?”
These three simples questions, asked consistently, will definitely set you apart as someone with their interest in mind and someone who truly cares about their business. Make it a habit to end every conversation with these three (or other similar) questions. This simple gesture will become part of the personal brand you communicate to the world. Try it!
Project Your Brand in All Communications
Your personal brand elements are those attributes and characteristics that you want others to remember about you. Look for ways to constantly remind your network contacts of those personal branding elements through every communication tool available. Use your email signature, your voice mail, the personal notes you write and your blog(s) as tools to continuously communicate the following examples of brand elements:
- Your area or areas of professional specialty – what you do for a living captured in a unique message that is clearly understood and that sets you apart.
- Your level of professionalism.
- Your positive and inspiring attitude.
- Your focus on quality.
All of the above examples can be incorporated into all of your communications and send the consistent message that paints the picture in others’ minds of who you are, what you do and how you do it.
Three Final Thoughts
- I HIGHLY recommend using LinkedInas part of your networking arsenal of tools. If you’re not a member, sign up as soon as possible and begin inviting all of your network contacts to join you on LinkedIn. Become a LinkedIn expert and take advantage of all the features built into this market-leading tool.
- Keep your network contact information current. LinkedIn will help with this goal. Staying in frequent contact with your network members will also help ensure you have their most up-to-date contact and employment status information.
- Build contact network development/maintenance into your weekly routine. Establish a rhythm for communicating to your contact database. Offer help and request assistance those times when you need it.
If you follow the above guidelines, you’ll be amazed at what this asset can do for your career.
About the Author
David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Direction – Australia’s leading board advertising and non-executive career support firm. He has over a decade of experience of putting people on boards as an international headhunter and a non-executive recruiter and has interviewed over one thousand non-executives and placed hundreds into some of the most significant public, private and NFP roles in the world. He has been described as Australia’s leading board recruitment expert, is a published author, a regular speaker on the board appointment process and runs Board Search Masterclasses across Australia. He is one of Australia’s Top 10 LinkedIn users with over 20,000 connections. Email: [email protected]