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The Dos and Don’ts of Professional Networks

In a recent post, we offered 8 Tips for Networking. I know, I know. It was a great post and now you feel like you can network any event and leave with a zillion business cards. (I’m blushing! Stop it!)

Actually, there’s more to networking than making a connection. To truly have a network, you must maintain it. But don’t panic. I’m not asking you to run to the nearest computer and email every LinkedIn contact you have.

I like this definition from Lifehacker.com: Simply, a “professional network” is really a group of friends who like each other and are willing to help each other out when times get tough professionally.

I like the definition because it puts in perspective how closely a network is linked to friendship. If you consider your friendships, you’ll realize that they are all very different. They form in different settings and for different reasons, dependent on your personality and that of the other person. More importantly, they are maintained differently.

I have friends who I speak to nearly everyday. And then I have friends I talk to once every three months. And then I have random friends who I’d say hello to at a party or on the street, but rarely single out for one-on-one conversation. Just as I maintain each of these relationships differently, I maintain each of my professional contacts differently.

Nevertheless, there are some basic do’s and don’ts for how to maintain a professional relationship and build your network. Check them out below:

DO:

  • Follow contacts on social media. This is an easy way to stay up to date on what your contacts are doing, without actually having to reach out. And then you’ll have something to talk about, the next time you do speak with them.
  • Advertise changes in your professional life. Whether you send a quick email to your contacts or simply post an update on LinkedIn, this is an easy way to advertise your accomplishments to your network and remind them that you exist.
  • Host things. Anything. Ok, not anything. Don’t invite that CEO you met a few weeks back to your next keg party. But if you have the time, host a dinner or outing that gets some of your contacts in the same place. They’ll see you as an organizer (always a good thing!) and they’ll appreciate the opportunity to expand their own networks. And it doesn’t have to a professional event to be productive. Maintaining a network is all about maintaining relationships, even when you aren’t discussing work.
  • Help without being asked. See an article that might be helpful to a contact? Send it along. Meet someone they might find interesting? Offer to introduce them. These little touches show you’re thinking of others’ goals, and will make them more likely to think of you too.
  • Keep track. The easiest way to let a relationship fail is by forgetting it’s there at all. Keep track of professional friends who are likely to fall off your radar, whether you create a detailed spreadsheet of your contact points or simply set a reminder to look through your LinkedIn contacts once a month.

DON’T:

  • Get in touch just because you need something. Of course, you’ll have to ask for help sometimes. That’s the value of a network! But that shouldn’t be the only time you reach out. Take the time to just say “hi” or forward an article, so that when you do ask for help, it doesn’t seem out of the blue.
  • Spam your contacts. There’s a fine line between updating your contacts and inundating them with unnecessary information and requests. Don’t cross that line. Safe bets for outreach include posting updates to your network via LinkedIn or sending targeted emails to small lists (think less than 15) of contacts. Messaging everyone in your address book just to let them know you wrote a great new article, on the other hand, can makes your outreach seem impersonal and unnecessary.
  • Take up unnecessary time. Similarly, when you do reach out to contacts, try to be conscious of their time constraints. If you’re just giving them an update, be succinct. If you’re asking for a favor, suggest action steps that are least labor intensive for them. And if you do need more of their time, start off by verbally recognizing that you know their time is important.
  • Leave a conversation without plans for a next conversation. I’m not saying you have to set a date or time, but you should plan your next interaction before you leave a conversation. A simple, “This was great, I’d love to talk again” will do. Otherwise, you risk letting the relationship stall.
  • Cold ask for a warm introduction. This advice comes from Circa CEO Matt Galligan. Don’t ask someone you barely know to vouch for you. The chances that a contact will take the time and energy it requires to foster a connection is slim. And even if they are willing, the interaction you’re likely to achieve will be subpar because the intermediary couldn’t pass along any meaningful information about you.

Do you have any more suggestions to add to the list? Let us know how you maintain your professional network in the comments section below.

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