It’s very important to build your network –- and managing and leveraging those contacts consistently, over time, through online and offline networking, is also mission critical. And unless you’re retiring anytime soon, networking is a lifelong process.
Obviously, LinkedIn is the “go-to platform” to build connections. But I take it a step further, by managing a separate contacts database that, in practice, has worked remarkably well for me. …You know how people say, “you should contact so and so, at X company”? Well, I reverse that process, and I concentrate on the company first. In my contacts database, I track my business contacts in the following order, and this is how I get access to “the hidden job market!”:
- I list companies alphabetically (to make them searchable at a moment’s notice in my database).
- Next, I note the company mandate. Usually, to gather this info, I review their “About” page, and make a point to read any recent news releases or blogs. I note what services/product are they providing, for what markets, and why? I note what their recent successes are, or business directions… Short notes, that I can refer to quickly in a phone call, that keep me current on the company and its role in its own industry.
- Then, I identify the name of the business unit in the company that I want to do business with (it could be the executive, PR, HR, Finance, Marketing, Production – whichever business unit your skills & knowledge apply to). I further research stakeholders within that business unit on LinkedIn. I go looking (primarily) for decision makers in the area I want to do business with, but also (secondarily) for any stakeholders in that business unit that I might know, or someone I know who is connected via a third party, who might be inclined to refer, connect or introduce me.
- The next step is to draft my “business case” by answering these 4 questions: a) why would this company want to work with me (…what’s unique about me?) b) why now (…how does it fit into my overall professional goals)? c) what specific kind of role do I want to play with them? …and d) why would I want to work with this company in particular?
- Last, but not least, I make notes in a separate column regarding dates/times I’ve contacted them, why, how it went, etc. I also plan my next steps AKA “marketing touchdowns” in terms of contacting them. I don’t see reaching out to them as a “finite” or “incremental” exercise – I see it as an ongoing process of relationship building, and trust building, over time. As much time as it takes.
Once my contacts database is built and populated with basic information, then I can start “cycling through” the companies and stakeholders on an intermittent basis, and find new reasons to reach out, to touch base, and keep getting my company name in front of each of them, without being annoying. I reach out to them for specific reasons, and give a clear call to action – all key steps to build, and then maintain, your network.
Pro Tip 1: I was once asked at a networking event, “How often can you contact someone?”. Drum roll: it’s ok to contact someone when you have something NEW to bring to the table: a revised resume or new marketing piece you’ve put together (demo reel, blog, etc.); send an article that may be useful to them; send them news on industry trends; you could invite them to an event; or, be social and simply say hello. There are innumerable ways/reasons to connect with people.
Pro Tip 2: Authenticity rules! Look at it this way: if you’ve gone to all the trouble of identifying companies and stakeholders, researching them, preparing your outreach, developing a business case and delivering your message as concisely and politely as possible, why would they NOT take you seriously? It’s the un-prepared job seekers that are annoying. Now, you might not always be responded to, but your level of preparedness will speak volumes. After that, it’s either a yes or a no. That’s business – it’s NOT personal.
You need business contacts to build your network to explore business development, develop leads, and discuss potential business opportunities … Not too little, not too much… just.touch.base. …keep the relationship and dialogue ongoing. Remember that you didn’t come out of the womb knowing how to network effectively (and neither did anyone else)… Networking is an “art”, and you need to develop/work the muscle.
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