As you get older, you have the advantage of time on your side when it comes to building a great network of smart, interesting people. Unfortunately, a lot of people (myself included at times) leave opportunity on the floor by falling out of touch with this network.
Part of this is just human nature — we aren’t hardwired to keep more than a few dozen people in our minds’ at any given time — and part of it is due to technology.
Just like the junior airline pilots who don’t know how to fly without autopilot, a lot of people struggle to keep in touch with a network when they have tools like LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter that make us think we are keeping in touch without actually doing much.
That being said, some of my career coaching clients have asked how to best stay in touch with people that they don’t have regular reason to reach out to. Here are some strategies that I’ve seen work that also go beyond the basic “happy birthday!” message on Facebook or “liking” a job update on LinkedIn.
Have an Email Newsletter
The lowest hanging fruit for a lot of people is to start a personal website and have an email list.
(Technically these aren’t hand-in-hand and you can do an email list without a website but I think everybody should have a personal website.)
This gives you a way of letting people know occasionally — a few times a year or a few times a week — that you’re alive and doing stuff. It also helps you establish a brand in their minds. If you regularly email about travel, for example, they’ll come to associate you with travel. I email a lot about cold emails, so people associate me with emails and networking and professional development.
But you can go a level deeper than an email list and actually develop two separate email lists, depending on your goals and objectives.
The first email list you can build is a general email list. That’s like the email list on this website. You’ll put people on a list and update that list occasionally. It’s good for positioning and occasionally pinging your network that you exist and are working on stuff.
After you’re done meeting somebody you want to stay in touch with but that you don’t have a specific reason for updating, ask them if you can add them to your email list. This can be pretty simple:
Great chatting today. I really enjoyed getting to learn more about [TOPIC ASSOCIATED WITH THEM]. I occasionally send out an email about what I’m working on to people I’m interested in staying connected with — do you mind if I add you?
Most people will agree. If they don’t like getting the updates, they’ll just unsubscribe later.
You may have people that you want to keep updated about specific projects you’re working on, though. This is where targeted email lists come in handy.
Targeted – “Advisors” Email
I’ve actually already covered these emails on my site:
These emails are ideal for people who you actually want to be advisors, mentors, investors, or partners on a project. They’re very targeted and have a clear structure. This really is less of a “newsletter” and more of an update email list.
One of the absolute best techniques I picked up early in my career for not just maintaining but growing my network is to organize time-bound travel to specific cities. I would choose a city I wanted to grow my network in or re-engage with people I knew, I would pick some dates that I figured weren’t terrible for people (i.e., outside of vacation season for that city), and I would schedule the trip.
Then I would ping the people I knew in the city asking them if they wanted to grab a cup of coffee or a meal. Along with that, I would ask them if they knew some people I needed to meet while I was in town.
(That’s a subject for a separate post. I remember I did this once for Austin, TX, where I only knew one or two people at the time and left the trip having 16 meetings over 3 days.)
The trick here is that you need to ping people you either actually know or have been trying to meet in person (and may just know online) for some time. If you cold email people without a clearly valuable ask and try to get coffee or meet up with them, most will decline. But the Internet has so dramatically reduced the barrier to building an authentic relationship over long distances that this is a great way to meet people IRL for the first time without some excuse.
Finally, a low-hanging opportunity is just to do a throwback: send people cards. Keep your networks’ birthdays on file in a CRM, on Google Calendar, or use Facebook and actually send out cards to folks. This is the one at which I am least good but it is also the one that makes the biggest impression on me when I am on the receiving end. Smart businesses do this for their clients, too, and is a good way to re-engage with previous customers who haven’t recently been active.
Relevant for all of this: if you join my email list below, I’ll send you some of my favorite email scripts that you can use to land new opportunities yourself.