In business, your network is your strength. I don't think I need to tell you this, but it never hurts to be reminded just how much of your business, employees, funding, and ideas come from introductions and casual dinners with friends.
If you're like most people, your network ebbs and flows; you make connections at conferences, perhaps email a few interesting people, and then lose touch. This is the wrong way to network. Think about it: how many favors have you performed for people you've only talked to once?
While you can change your habits now to become a more savvy networker (the subject of a future article), what about the pile of business cards that you've collected throughout the years? Luckily, with a bit of boldness and some effort, you can reignite this network of once-forgotten connections and keep them strong in the future. My point is simple: it's never too late, if you are willing to step outside of your comfort zone a little.
1. Do: email anyone that you've met and want to connect with, even if he or she gave you his/her card years ago. Simply tell them that you looking to reignite your network and that you found his/her card in your old stacks. If they don't respond, it's not really any loss to you; if they do respond, it could be of tremendous value. You never know.
2. Do: follow up an email or call with a LinkedIn invite, but don't try to "cold call" with one. If your first point of contact after a year is an invite, you're most likely going to be rejected because the recipient has little context as to why you're sending him one. However, if you email someone and he or she responds, that means that person has some interest in connecting and will know who you are when you send the invite.
3. Do: take and suggest action. Don't be afraid to kindly ask to do coffee with local connections "whenever it is most convenient for you" or to simply ask that person for advice. Engagement is the key to long-lasting relationships, which is also why I suggest using Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks to keep the engagement going.
4. Don't: pitch. Don't pitch yourself or your company; this is about presenting yourself as a human being they want to relate to, not about being a salesperson.
5. Do: schedule follow-ups. Tools like etacts and Google Calendar will remind you to email or call an old contact, helping prevent your network from going stale. Schedule follow-up contacts based on how close or important the contact is to you.Image courtesy of iStockphoto, P_Wei