That’s the generation we live in, with us so frantically buzzing about our “busy” lives we forget to stay connected to the people closest to us. For all the things we’re trying to do we need to remember that no success exists without a strong professional network.
Need help staying in touch with all the amazing, wickedly talented people you know? Here are twelve ways to help you not be the person who only calls when you need a favor:
Make sure the whiteboard is in a place where you can’t help but walk by it as part of your regular routine. Write yourself a note of the person or people you need to connect with and the date you need to do it by, and don’t erase it until you have it done. Having that to-do stare you in the face, every morning will keep you honest.
2. Post-it notes
The concept with post-it notes is the same as your whiteboard. You can choose real post-it notes and stick them in a highly visible place with contact names and due dates. Or you can use digital post-its and go through them once before you start your day and once before you’re ready to shut down the computer for the night.
3. Email list
Keep an updated distribution email list of current and new mentors and email regularly (i.e. quarterly) or as appropriate highlighting performance or exemplary work. This works particularly well when you’re working on a big project like writing a book.
4. LinkedIn Connections (web) and LinkedIn Connected app (mobile)
Linked introduced a change to its free service in April providing more functionality to keep up with your connections. If you already invest a lot of time in LinkedIn and like the interface, LinkedIn now has a ton of features that can help you stay on top of things, even with a basic account. Out of all its functionality, the most important one to keep you honest with actively maintaining your relationships is the nagging reminder option. Why? Because once you tell LinkedIn to remind you to follow-up on a specific date, you will get a reminder email on that date and every single day after that until you mark it as complete.
But wait — there’s more! LinkedIn also supplements your desktop experience with the Connected app, which applies predefined triggers (birthday, job change, work anniversary) to identify opportunities for you to connect with your network. I group these together because the Connected app lacks many of the features of the full website. For example, you can’t set reminders on the mobile app. It pushes suggestions of people for you to (re)connect with based on recent events to your phone.
The content is the same as you’d see in your LinkedIn feed, minus all the articles people post. The activity updates of people in our network also have longer shelf-life on the app, so if you don’t log in one day, you can still keep up with what’s happening.
5. Google docs
If you like simplicity, this Google doc option is for you. Create a spreadsheet with the name, contact info, notes and next contact date and voila — you have an easy way to filter and see where you’re starting to slack on your networking. If you’re feeling fancy, apply some conditional formatting for visual cues. You can find a basic example of this here. Hint: red is bad.
Bonus tip: use IFTTT to add new connections to Google Docs automatically.
For the iPhone users out there, Siri does a good job of reminding you to follow-up at a particular time. Once the date passes you need to actively review your reminder list for open items; Siri assumes you are responsible enough and capable of addressing things in the first shot. So, if you need multiple prompts before moving (alarm clock aside), this might not be the best strategy for you.
7. Calendar events
I prefer Google Calendar, but any calendar with standard meeting functionality should do. If you need to get something important done like calling or emailing someone you want to make sure remains part of your inner circle, put it on the calendar. Don’t move it, and don’t book over it. When the notice pops up on your screen or phone saying it’s go-time, you have to make good on that appointment. Simple stuff but often overlooked.
8. Virtual office pool
No joke. Running a good office pool can establish connections that transcend employer boundaries. People like to engage with people who know how to have fun and make them laugh, etc. Fantasy football is a great one. I ran one a couple of years for work where I paired a “n00b” and a “pro” on each of the 12-teams. It started generating such a buzz one of the partners offered up a prize for the winners. It just so happens this partner came up in the firm with the CEO and was able to score 4 of the CEO’s box tickets to a Patriots game for the prize. I didn’t win, but I was able to convince the winner to bring me along for the ride since I set the whole thing up.
If sports aren’t your thing, you can get a little crazy and do a TV show pool (think: Top Chef or Bachelor). Draw participant names out of a real or virtual hat so your colleagues have a vested interest in the show. Lastly, you have to send out a weekly update poking a little fun at the most recent loser. Works like a charm.
9. Commute-time phone calls
Have a long drive to the office? Make the time work for you. It may mean falling a little behind on your favorite podcast, but I promise it’s worth it. You can formally schedule a call or pick a lucky winner who you haven’t talked to in a while to ring up out of the blue. You’ll have a stronger relationship with these people, and your time in the car will fly by. Win-win. Just remember to use your hands-free device while driving!
10. Share a funny article, gif, or video
Come across something on the interwebs that gave you a chuckle and reminded you of one of your connections? Pass it along to that person and remind them of the story that triggered your fond memory. “Do you remember when XYZ happened?” Then bam! Hit them with the .gif.
It was easy, and you made contact without having your hand out for a favor. See? It can be done.
Seriously, is there anything Evernote can’t do? Try creating a notebook for your professional contacts. In it, you can make a separate note for each contact you’re making a point of connecting with. Add tags to each note such as what companies the person is affiliated with or what interests you both share to help make search easier. This acts similarly to the “how do you know this person” function in LinkedIn but doesn’t force you to pigeon-hole people into one category. Lastly, set reminders within Evernote to encourage you to stay connected when you feel like burying your head in work (or something not as productive) instead.
The fact that you can use audio and/or text notes is the icing on the cake that makes Evernote the versatile tool everyone loves.
12. Professional groups on social media
If you and your connections all travel in the same professional circles, it could make sense to engage with them in professional organization groups. They can be online (e.g. Facebook or LinkedIn groups). If they don’t all align to one group, but you can cover 90+ percent of your contacts by being active in 2-3 social media groups, I’d still recommend giving this a try.
Alternatively, you could rely on in-person communities (e.g. National Black MBA Conference, BlogHer, INBOUND, etc) to establish/maintain some of those relationships. It just gets a little dicey when you have to depend on someone buying a flight and renting a hotel for a conference to keep the relationship alive and healthy.
If you’re one of those “busy” people, you just had your excuse for becoming a hermit cut down 12 different ways. If you have a good handle on the art of managing relationships, what works best for you? Let me know in the comments.