For most of us, when we hear the saying “your network is your net worth,” our brains jump to assess the sheer quantity of connections we have. While it is true that a wide net can increase your career opportunities, we have to be careful about casting that net so wide that we never actually form relationships from our initial outreach.
This is where most people struggle. You broke the ice, had a great conversation, and…now what?
Here are three tips for moving beyond the “intro coffee chat” and toward more active, meaningful relationships.
Be a Proactive Listener
Great news: nurturing a strong network doesn’t have to take up much of your time, if you plan effectively.
It all starts in that first meeting. Whether you run into one another at an industry event or turn a LinkedIn DM into a Zoom lunch, the first conversation you share together will be rich with information that you can leverage in your follow up.
Employ the basics of proactive listening: be engaged, ask questions, and make a sincere effort to fully understand them. The deeper you can dive (appropriately…use your judgement), the deeper the well of insights you will have to pull from to spark future exchanges.
EX: If your new connection mentions a big life event (an anniversary, a performance review, a presentation…), ask for details and make a note of the date in your calendar.
I.e., When is your anniversary? Are you doing anything special?
Or… What are you most excited to present during your pitch?
So, when that event rolls around, you can send them a quick note to confirm your interest.
I.e., Congratulations on your anniversary, and enjoy the sun and sea this weekend! I hope to hear about the trip when you get back.
Or… Good luck on your presentation tomorrow! Let’s set up some time soon so I can hear how the workflow proposal went. (I’m sure they will love it.)
Repeat this practice of curiosity, note-taking, and recall for each meeting, and you can easily keep up momentum in the relationship.
Embrace a “Just Because” Attitude
You also don’t necessarily need a “reason” to reach out. A powerful network is built out of multiple authentic relationships. Meaning: it is ok (and encouraged) to check in every now and then just for the sake of keeping the connection alive.
Think about it this way…
Even your best friend of 10+ years wouldn’t take too kindly to not hearing from you for 6 months simply because you “didn’t have a reason” to give them a call.
While it is a stretch to expect contact from everyone in our networks weekly or even monthly (as might be the case for close friends), you can reasonably pace out a “check in” with your professional circle throughout a quarter.
Don’t overthink this one. Truth be told? A note to the tune of “thinking of you” is almost always a welcome reprieve from the bombardment of “can you do this?” emails that most of us field throughout the day.
A simple few lines – “How have you been since last we spoke? I really enjoyed our conversation. Let me know when you might have a few minutes to catch up again soon…” – will suffice (and could even make someone’s day).
If You Don’t Have 30 Minutes, Take 30 Seconds
There are also more ways to stay on someone’s radar that don’t involve setting up a formal meeting with them. The “day-to-day shuffle” is real, and if you find yourself blitzing through your deliverables without much down time, worry not: networking can still remain a priority.
90% of us can admit to compulsory LinkedIn scrolling at some point in our day. Engaging with your network’s posts via likes, comments, or even reposting their content is a quick, effective way to engage and express interest in their pursuits and insights.
If you are a member of a more tight-knit professional community, like The Forem, popping in once per week to celebrate your colleagues’ accomplishments or share updates from your own career is well worth the five minute investment to remain top of mind with new connections.
But even if you’re not on social media, perhaps you are an avid reader or engaged in research. If you find something that might appeal to a member of your network (based on insights from previous conversations), send them a quick email or direct message with the link.
Bonus: if they end up giving it a read, you have fodder to drive your next “face to face” exchange.