About once a month, I spend an hour doing nothing else but touching base with a long list of professional acquaintances as well as with people in my local community. To many, I send them an email asking what’s new, give some basic information about what’s new with me, and usually attempt to start a conversation of some sort, usually in the professional realm but sometimes on other issues. For a small handful, I actually ring them up and say hello – these are ones where the connection is tighter. If they live near me, I’ll usually make a regular effort to stroll over and chat with them when it’s at all possible.
Why do I do this?
Reasons to Maintain Professional Connections
The biggest one is that I like to keep in touch with what all of my professional acquaintances are up to – this simply gives me a good idea of what the trends are in my field in general. I also have what I call “soft” friendships with many of them – we’ll hang out at meetings and share a few drinks or a meal.
I also often get an opportunity to make connections between people – for example, if I know one freelancer with a particular skill and another person who needs help from someone with that skill, I don’t hesitate to connect them. Not only is it mutually beneficial for them, but they both end up with positive feelings towards me – and a greater willingness to help me if I need a hand.
Also, whenever there comes a time where I need something, I suddenly have a large group of people that can help. This can mean a foot in the door for a new job, some professional assistance, or actually in a few cases, some personal support (when we moved, for example).
In other words, doing this is beneficial in many dimensions.
If this sounds really intriguing and worthwhile to you, I highly recommend the book Never Eat Alone, which I reviewed in detail a while back. It describes why connecting with people is so important and provides a tremendous amount of guidance on how to get started, even for a relatively anti-social person like me (actually, asocial is probably a better word).
Steps to Building a Professional Network
1. Make a list of all of your professional acquaintances and community leaders.
I usually just collect names, email addresses, perhaps some additional contact info, and a few little pieces of information as a reminder of who they are, and I keep them in a Word document.
2. Contact each of them individually.
I find that emails work well for this, but don’t just send a blanket form letter. Actually write to each person. You can reuse elements if you’d like, but the point is to send something distinct and individual to each person you want to touch base with.
3. Respond sensibly and also look for potential connections you can make.
You might be surprised at what starts happening when you do this – and do it every once in a while over time. If nothing else, it will help your career, often in ways you don’t expect.