Keeping in touch with your network often falls off the list of top priorities. However, with a little planning and creativity, you may actually look forward to nurturing your network.
You probably have a drawer full of business cards, hundreds of LinkedIn connections and even more email addresses for people you’ve corresponded with. Any one of those contacts could hold the key to your next opportunity. But because you don’t know which one, you will need to stay in contact with as many as possible. Here are eight creative ways to keep in touch:
1. Holiday wishes. It seems everyone sends a holiday card in December. Don’t get lost in the crowd. Instead, send holiday greetings for off-holidays, such as Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving and Groundhog day. Or pick a more unusual celebration, such as National Gumdrop day or National Cat Day, as a trigger to send your holiday wishes.
2. Birthday greetings. Social media’s prompting reminders have made it easier to remember to send birthday cheer. However, some of your contacts may not have shared this important date on a social profile, and so this important day slips through the cracks. Be sure to note birthdays on your personal calendar, and go a step above by sending birthday cards through the mail. It takes just that much more thought and effort.
3. E-Newsletter. Why would you have a personal e-newsletter? Because the technology is easy, and it’s good personal branding. Your monthly or quarterly e-newsletter should be useful to your readers. For example, if many of your connections are in the tech industry, share current news about new gadgets or reviews of new technology from reputable sources. Don’t forget to include personal updates, such as major milestones, ongoing education or training, events you’ve attended or projects you are working on.
You can send a simple email; just be sure you blind copy recipients to protect privacy. And never spam people by adding them to your mailing list without permission or the option to opt out.
4. Congratulations. When your contacts are mentioned or published in the news, congratulate them on the good public relations. You can use Newsle, Google Alerts, Topsy or Social Mention to customize the news updates on people and companies in your network.
5. Send a token. For extra-special people, you may want to send a book you know they’ll enjoy. If you are looking for less expensive alternatives, consider Starbucks’ “Tweet-a-coffee” feature, which sends a $5 dollar gift card to the U.S. Twitter recipient you designate. Or maybe give a gift card to a favorite lunch spot.
There are also ideas that may seem a bit over-the-top but that might just work. If you share a mutual interest in gardening, send forget-me-not seeds along with a note about how you value the connection with the person. If you both love to travel, send a postcard from your next trip that says, “Wish You Were Here.” Or bring back some swag from a conference, and send it along with a message about your takeaways from the event.
6. Turn bad into good. Remember that job you were runner-up for? Or that potential client that didn’t come through? Don’t give up. One way to stay in front of them is to send your contact a follow-up email or letter about three months after the new hire started or after the deal went through. Sincerely express your hope that all is going well and that you’d would always be open to future conversations.
7. Useful news. Sending a message that says, “just checking in!” can feel like a waste of time for you and the person receiving it. Share a tidbit of useful and current news. Perhaps there are changes in regulations or policies with the industry; why not share these with those in your network who need to know?
8. Pick up the phone. Sometimes, just picking up the phone for a quick check-in can be a welcome surprise. Try calling first thing in the morning, at lunch or at the end of the day, when people are more likely to be near the phone and not in meetings. If you get voice mail, leave a short message with your name and phone number, and think of one tidbit of interesting information to share.
And have you done these bonus ideas?
There are many other ways to share your value with your network and stay top-of-mind:
— Write a recommendation on LinkedIn for a past colleague, service provider or client.
— Connect people you think would benefit from meeting each other. Provide enough information in the email so each person can understand the potential in the relationship and know how to research and contact one another.
— Invite your contact to an event or to fundraiser for a cause you both support.
Create your database now. Begin importing important stats on people in your network: birthdays, names of partners/spouses, children, college attended, organizations, interests, favorite food and so on. You can use a formal customer relationship management system, a simple Excel spreadsheet or the LinkedIn contact notes section.
Carve out time in your busy schedule to make some of these ideas happen. Put activities and important dates on your calendar. Block your schedule once a month for planning and implementing your outreach activities to will help ensure you do it.
Hannah Morgan writes and speaks on career topics and job search trends on her blog Career Sherpa. She co-authored “Social Networking for Business Success,” and has developed and delivered programs to help job seekers understand how to look for work better.