How do you develop and maintain professional networks? What can you do to stay on the radar of your professional contacts regularly but unobtrusively?
When it comes to building a professional network, attending events and meeting people is only the tip of the iceberg. If you want to keep your relationships strong, you also need to keep in regular contact with your professional contacts and look for ways to make yourself useful.
In this article, we will discuss how to maintain your professional contacts.
How to Keep Your Professional Contacts From Going Cold
Everyone knows it’s important to build a network. But once you’ve made a connection with someone, how do you maintain it over the long term? How frequently should you follow up with your professional contacts? What can you do to keep yourself in their good graces?
According to Keith Ferrazzi, the author of Never Eat Alone, maintaining a professional network requires you to do two things: 1) follow-up and 2) offer value.
“Following up” with your professional contacts means regularly checking in with them, either by phone, by email, or in person. The conversation or meeting may involve:
- Asking the contact for updates on their personal and professional life, and telling them what’s been going on with you
- Discussing commitments made in a previous meeting (for instance, discussing the details of an investment opportunity you’ve agreed to)
- Simply enjoying each other’s company
Following up with your contacts is crucial to keeping your relationships strong for two reasons. First, frequently reaching out to your existing contacts shows that you care about them: You clearly want to spend time with them and hear all about their recent endeavors. You wouldn’t make such an effort to contact them if you didn’t. People are more likely to continue relationships that make them feel appreciated.
Second, if you fail to follow up with new contacts, they’ll quickly forget about you. Many professionals meet dozens of new people each week, and it’s near-impossible for them to recall the names and faces of all of them. By following up with these contacts, you remind them of your existence and ensure that you’re the new acquaintance who sticks in their mind.
When and How Often to Follow Up
How often you should follow up with your professional contacts varies depending on how long you’ve known them and the closeness of your relationship.
If you’ve just met a contact for the first time, follow up with them 12 to 24 hours after your first meeting. Send the person a brief email or handwritten note that contains the following:
- An expression of gratitude. Thank the person for their time, and, if relevant, their help. They’ll feel appreciated, and you’ll make a good impression.
- A reference to a specific part of your conversation. For instance, mention a particularly funny joke the person made, or a topic that the two of you agreed on. This will remind the person of the strong connection that the two of you shared.
- A reminder of any commitments made. For example, if your new contact promised financial help for your new business, put that commitment in writing. It makes it more concrete and thus more likely to be fulfilled.
- A suggestion that you meet again. You don’t necessarily have to suggest a time and place at this point. Just make it clear that you do want to meet again, and that you’ll be in contact soon to arrange the specifics. This will reiterate to your new contact that your meeting was successful and that you’re interested in getting to know them further.
Once you’ve sent your email or note, consider connecting with your new contact on social media. This will help you keep track of developments in their career and personal life—developments you can use as a topic of conversation the next time you meet. It’ll also give you another way to contact your new connection since most social media sites have messaging services.
Follow up with new contacts for a second time within a month of your first meeting. Ideally, arrange your second meeting at this point. Try to do this using a new medium of communication—for instance, if you arranged your first meeting via phone, contact them by email this time. Research shows that to remember who you are, a person needs to communicate with you once in person, once by phone, and once by email. This follow-up will help you to fulfill these criteria.
If you’ve met a contact a few times but don’t feel like you’re close friends yet, follow up at least once a month until you’ve reached that stage. You don’t necessarily have to meet with the person every month (although this certainly wouldn’t hurt)—just contact them to ask how they are.
Once you’ve become close friends with a contact, you can get away with following up with them only quarterly. The exception to this rule is if you’ve offered the contact help that requires more frequent contact—for instance, if you’ve agreed to mentor them twice a month.
If you’re not close to a contact and aren’t interested in deepening the relationship, follow up with them once a year. This keeps them on your radar in case you need them for something (or they need you) but doesn’t require much effort on either of your parts.
Keep Up With Your Growing Network
As your network grows, you’ll find it increasingly time-consuming to follow up with all of your professional contacts regularly. Here are two tips on how you can fit regular follow-ups into your schedule:
#1: “Never eat alone”—in other words, dedicate every free moment in your working day to following up with contacts. Organize in-person meetings for every lunch break you have; maybe even try to squeeze in a breakfast meeting before you start work. Before you head home at the end of the day, call someone you can’t meet with in person, or send a few emails to peripheral contacts.
#2: Invite multiple people to one follow-up meeting. You save time and help your contacts to expand their networks by introducing them to each other. You could even deliberately invite two people you know would benefit from knowing each other—for instance, a young coworker who’s looking for a mentor, and an experienced professional who’d like a mentee.
Look for Ways to Make Yourself Useful
The second way to keep your professional contacts strong is to give them something of value—whether that’s financial help, career advice, or emotional support. The more you help a contact, the more they’ll appreciate you, and the more they’ll want to keep you in their life.
Many professionals are too proud to directly ask for help when they need it. They fear that doing so will make them look “weak” or needy. Therefore, you’ll need to be proactive and look for ways you might be able to assist your connections without their prompting. There are a number of ways to do this:
- Listen closely during conversations with your contacts to see if they hint at needing anything. For instance, a contact may briefly mention that they’re looking for investors to support a new business venture. That’s your cue to offer funds (if you can)—even if your contact doesn’t directly ask for them.
- Keep up with your contacts’ social media to see if their posts indicate that they need something. For instance, if a contact Tweets about going through a tough time, that’s a sign they need your emotional support.
- Remember people’s motivations, and look for ways to fulfill them. If you followed the guidance in Chapter 4, you’ll have discovered your contact’s motivations the first time you met them. If you ever see an opportunity to help the person to fulfill these motivations, seize it. For instance, if you know that your contact is motivated by a wish to change the world for the better, and find a job posting for a role at a non-profit that would allow them to do this, send them the posting. They’ll appreciate your help in bringing them closer to achieving their dream.
What if your contact doesn’t need anything specific, but you still want to get in their good graces? Ferrazzi argues that helping contacts with these three things will always please them, regardless of their motivations or circumstances:
#1: Health. Everyone wants to stay physically and mentally well so that they can reach their full personal and professional potential.
Ways to help: Recommend supplements and vitamins to your contacts; send them interesting articles about healthy living; if they become unwell, put them in contact with a medical professional who you can vouch for; if they want to vent about health troubles, be a listening ear.
#2: Wealth. People want to have enough money to live comfortably and provide for their family.
Ways to help: Help your contacts to find jobs that are high-paying enough to leave them financially comfortable; send them job adverts, put in a good word with hiring managers, and help them to write their application.
#3: Children. People’s children mean everything to them. If you help the child, the parents will hold you in high esteem.
Ways to help: Offer a contact’s child an internship; offer to be their mentor; offer to introduce them to contacts that will help them achieve their goals, for example, admissions staff at the college they want to attend.
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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Keith Ferrazzi's "Never Eat Alone" at Shortform.
Here's what you'll find in our full Never Eat Alone summary:
- How to build and maintain a successful professional network
- The 4 key strategies to building up a network
- Why you have to put in work to keep your network relationships strong