Hi, everyone. I’m Tim Simmons, and you’re listening to Business Skills 360. Glad you could join me today for the second part of our look at networking skills. In this episode, I’m going to focus on what I’ll call “network maintenance,” or how to make sure your network is healthy, organized, and effective.
You see, passing out business cards is not enough. I can spend all week attending events and talking to people and manage to hand out 200 business cards but still not have a healthy and effective network. To do that, you need to maintain your network. You need to take care of it and reinforce its connections. You need to work your network. Just how can we do that? Glad you asked.
One of the first things you can do is to keep track of your network on paper or electronically. Take notes on your contacts. Record more than just phone numbers and email addresses. Write down interesting business-related information like current projects or past accomplishments. Also write down non-work information…things about family or personal interests. These things may come in very handy in the future when you talk with this contact again. Consider the difference between “Oh, hello…uh…Greg, right? Where do you work again?” and “Oh, hello, Greg, I hope the furniture biz is treating you well, and by the way: how is your daughter adjusting to her new career?”
Another important part of network maintenance is following up on conversations. You meet someone, you exchange cards, and you have a brief chat. Great. A couple of days later, you should send this new contact a brief email message just to say it was a pleasure talking. Mention something specific that you talked about just to help the person remember. Connections that are not reinforced will die. A brief follow-up after first meeting is a great way to increase the chance that your connection will survive.
Reinforcing your network even further means working your connections regularly. Don’t be afraid to call on people for help. If you’re faced with a difficult issue, look through your network to see if anyone can help. It might just mean placing a call for five minutes of advice. No problem. Every conversation will make weak contacts stronger. Remind people you exist. Check in regularly. If you hear a piece of news that you think someone might find interesting, pass it on. Show that you’re an active contact, and people will do the same in return.
Also remember that we’re talking about healthy and effective networks, not healthy and effective relationships. What’s the difference? Well, you may have a few dozen good business relationships, but if none of those people ever become connected, then it’s not really a network. Every relationship is simply the connection point between two people’s vast networks, and you should take every opportunity to connect other people through you. Here’s an example. You have a business associate named Nancy who needs to hire a new bookkeeper. You meet someone at a networking event named Joe who tells you he had to lay off several people in his accounting department. What do you do? You connect Nancy and Joe. Doing this strengthens your relationship with both people and puts two favors in the bank, one with Nancy and one with Joe.
You need to learn to view people as nodes in a network, not as isolated individuals. When you meet someone, don’t think only of what he or she might be able to do for you, think of what everyone in his or her network might be able to do. Good contacts are the ones that have good networks. A person who has an unhealthy network or no network at all is a dead-end contact. And remember other people are evaluating you as a contact. Show that you are a good one. Don’t be a dead end.
Great stuff. That wraps up our look at networking. Thanks for listening, and see you again soon.