Make “Networking” Your New Year’s Resolution!

Most of you have made your personal New Year’s resolutions. By the way, may you successfully stick to every single one!

Personally, I was pretty good at committing to several personal New Years resolutions nothing terribly creative just the usual weight and exercise goals but I seldom did a good job of developing my business or professional resolutions.  So today I want you to think about a networking resolution.

Having been doing career coaching for over 20 years the single biggest challenge the vast majority of my clients have and have had is keeping up with their network. The issue is a double bind. Those who are working say, “the job demands do not allow me to keep in touch.” But when they are impacted by a downsizing or management change 100% of them say “I should have been doing more networking!”

It is nothing new to tell you over the last 10 years job tenure especially at the executive level has been shrinking dramatically along with company tenure. And unfortunately very few managers or executives get much notice when they no longer have a job.

It is also nothing new to tell you that up to 90% of all jobs are gotten through networking.

So for those of you who haven’t kept up with your network I am going to give you a fairly painless tip on how to reconnect using the New Year as “cover”  and how to do it without having to spend a gazillion hours getting it done.

It is simply to send everyone a Happy New Years email.  In the email you first apologize for not staying in touch, then bring them up to speed, briefly, on your professional situation.  If you are working brag about your company whenever possible, then share a personal professional success.  If you are in transition, tell them, then ask for just 10 minutes of their time to go over your list of targeted companies.  Then a sentence or two about how you can help them.  For example you might share you have a great network in Financial Services and you are willing to share that network. Last, invite them to your LinkedIn.

Here are some ideas on how to pull this off efficiently:

Organize your list into two categories:

  1. Your “A” list.  People who you know very well and they know you very well. Examples would be former bosses, peers, subordinates, college friends, and friends from former neighbor hoods whom you use to socialize with.  For the “A” list I would send personalized emails however the basic message should still follow my guidelines in the previous paragraph. I also suggest checking out Paperless POST  They allow you to choose very classy e-mail stationary that looks just like snail mail complete with an envelop with stamp, except it is totally electronic. They also allow you to download from most address books. I had a number of clients do this in December and they were all blown away at the response they got. While this service is fee based I feel it is a real bargain for what you get.
  2. Your “B” list.  People who you should be in touch with once or twice a year.  They know your industry or your function or were associates in a previous life.  Many of them will be well networked.  Definition of well networked is someone with at least 300 LinkedIN contacts. I suggest including consultants and previous vendors in this list too.  Here you can send what I call a blast email.  This would be a straight email, not customized.  The key however is to put all the email addresses into the blind copy box [bcc in Outlook and Mail], when you do that the email comes in looking personalized and doesn’t display the other email addresses .  Again the message is the same as above without the statement, you will be calling.

A further time saver is to set up some email folders based upon logical categories. For example if you have worked for both IBM and Citi Group, you may choose to have these be two different list. The beauty of the folder is when you send the next email you click on the folder and everyone in that category gets the email. So staying in touch becomes painless and you can update hundreds of people in the time it takes to write your message and hit send.

Another painless and highly effective way to stay in touch with key people in your field or industry is to do what I call “professional networking.”  This means calling someone to discuss a specific business issue over a drink or lunch.  For example, you are installing PeopleSoft, and want to talk to someone who has already done it.  The call might go like this: “Hi Linda, my name is Bill Belknap, I am the SVP of HR at ABC and we are about to install PeopleSoft.  I understand from Frank Smith you have just completed a very successful PeopleSoft launch and wondered if I could buy you [lunch, coffee, a drink] to learn how you managed the process.”

In the last 10 years I have not had a single client who was ever turned down with this type request.

The approach allows you to be both value added to your current employer and to start a professional relationship with a new and potentially very valuable networking contact.  It is also “politically safe,” which means if your boss comes into your office and says, “Bill, I understand you were talking to our completion.”  Your response, “Yes I met with Linda Whitehouse to discuss their successful implementation of PeopleSoft and to learn what their major issues were.  She was very candid about the challenges internally as well as with PeopleSoft.”  Think your boss will be impressed?

Hope some of these ideas have been helpful.

Couple of additional suggestions to improve your networking skills:

  • Think about whom you know well who is a great networker then call them and ask if you can pick their brain.
  • Listen to my program called “Advanced Networking For C Level   Executives” a recorded webinar on ExecuNet.
  • Read Keith Ferrazzi’s book, Never Eat Alone.
  • Call me to explore using a personal networking coach.

May 2013 be your best year yet!