By Nisa Chitakasem, Founder of Position Ignition.
As important as it is to get out there and meet new people, it’s equally important that you don’t neglect your current contacts. You should keep in regular enough contact with your existing connections that you could call any one of them up right now and ask them a favour. If you aren’t able to do this with the majority of the names in your contacts list, it’s time to start nurturing what you already have, before you lose it forever.
Get to know your people. How well do you really know the people in your networks? Do you know where they live? How many siblings they have? Which school they went to? If you don’t know this basic information about someone you’ve apparently formed a connection with, try asking them about their lives more.
Acknowledge the different ‘branches’ of your network. Think of your network as a tree, with different branches to it. You’ll already be aware of your ‘work’ or ‘business’ branches, but your professional networks aren’t your only ones. Take the time to think about how you treat the people you know from school and university and through family, extended family, friends and friends of friends. These are all branches of your network too.
Choose someone to reconnect with. It’s easy to forget just who’s in our contacts list if we haven’t looked through it recently or they’re a lot of people we’ve lost touch with. Every time you have a spare moment, whether it’s during a taxi ride or while you’re waiting in an airport lounge, scroll through your phonebook and pick one person to send a quick text or email to, simply asking how they are.
Offer help regularly. You can’t ring up someone asking for a favour and expect them to drop everything for you if you haven’t bothered with them in years. Relationships are a two-way thing so if you expect people to help you, you must expect to help them. At least once a week, ask someone in your network if there’s anything you can help them with at the moment.
Ask what they’re doing. Another reason to get in touch with people regularly is just to see what they’re up to. If you show an interest in what’s going on in their lives and career, not only will they feel appreciated by you, but you’ll also get an idea of where they are and therefore how they could be useful to you in the future.
Cull your network. If you’ve amassed numerous contacts over the years, it’s going to be hard to keep in touch with all of them. Every now and again, it’s worth culling your contact lists to avoid spreading yourself too thinly. Look through your contacts and ask yourself who’s still of value to you and who isn’t.
Have virtual coffee. You probably aren’t able to meet up with each and every one of your connections for coffee regularly, whether that’s down to time limitations or geographical boundaries. One way to get round this is to have ‘virtual coffee’ instead. Arrange with whoever you want to ‘meet up’ with to video call them at a time when you’d both be having a coffee anyway. Both of you can make coffee beforehand and then drink it while chatting to one another over Skype.
Ask for career development club recommendations. Get a new conversation started with one of your old contacts by asking them if they’re members of any online career clubs. Virtual career development communities are becoming increasingly popular and a number of people in your network may already be involved in one. By signing up to a club that your connections are already members of, you can interact with them through forums or other community tools.
Get some face time. As effective as virtually nurturing your network can be, it’s important at some point to find the time to physically meet up with your connections. With contacts who live near to you, it’s easy to fall into the trap of saying ‘we must meet up soon’ without actually ever doing it. Make a definite plan to meet up at a specific café or restaurant at a specific time and put it in your diary.
Keep track of where people are. For those contacts that live further afield, perhaps in a different city or country, it makes sense to wait until they’re visiting your area to meet up with them, instead of making a long haul trip especially. Therefore it’s important to know who’ll be in your neighbourhood and when. As well as asking people what their travel plans are whenever you call or Skype them, have a look at the Events app on LinkedIn to see if any of your connections on the social network are attending events near you soon.
About the author
Nisa Chitakasem is the Founder of Position Ignition, one of the UK’s leading career consultancy companies which created the Career Ignition Club, a leading-edge online careers support and learning platform. You can follow her on twitter @PosIgnition