Expert networkers: Help me routinize my networking
September 26, 2014 7:29 PM   Subscribe

I've been freelancing in my profession for about a year. I've always been a huge believer in networking and I'd consider myself an above-average networker. But lately I've been struggling with making the time to keep my network fresh. I get busy with project details and other aspects of being my own manager, and I don't send the emails I need to send, or follow-up promptly enough (for my tastes anyway) with fresh contacts. Looking for tips and tricks to make space for networking in my day.

I've always understood the value of networking. Though freelancing has really kicked up that need a notch. I attend a lot of social functions in my profession, a lot of people know who I am and respect me, I make time to meet with people who are still getting started in the profession and support them when I can (I got some important opportunities through networking early in my career, and I like to pay it forward). And though I'm not the best at cold-starting conversations in a social setting, once conversation is underway I'm pretty comfortable.

What I need now is to do the nitty-gritty of priming my network to produce leads for me. I feel like I essentially need to project manage my networking. Please share any hacks you have for making sure you leave time for this:

-Do you do anything special with the business cards you collect? I haven't been doing a good job of keeping them organized.
-Do you keep your contacts in a spreadsheet?
-Is there a network map template somewhere in the cloud you can point me towards?

Also, one thing I do struggle with is gently keeping myself in the minds of people that I know will be launching projects I can work on. I'm not always good at being straight up about the fact that I want their business. Tips on this welcome too.
posted by dry white toast to Work & Money (3 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
It's hard to contribute to this without knowing what field you are even working in. Networking is vastly different depending on the field.
posted by kldlynx at 3:27 PM on September 27, 2014

The Manager Tools podcast on networking mentions three skills for building and maintaining a professional network. While they focus on large institutional / corporate workplaces usually, some advice still applies, and some is even more important for freelancers. Their third rule applies most to your question, and is simply state: 'Stay in touch.'

The unofficial subtitle of the third rule is simply "Control-Shift-K." Most online calendars have an associated todo list, and their recommendation is to use that (CTRL+SHIFT+K being the Outlook keyboard combination to make a new todo item). Schedule a recurring task, at about every three months, to keep in touch with the person. Email, 7PM voicemail, etc. If you don't have any other todo-list tracker, this is a pretty good start. At once a quarter you'd have to have a pretty big network to be overwhelmed with two minute emails.

Do you do anything special with the business cards you collect? I haven't been doing a good job of keeping them organized.

The physical paper cards? Those can go stale far too quickly! Personally, the most I do with business cards is use them as physical reminders to add someone to my LinkedIn. And maybe follow up immediately if there's a note on the card about what we discussed, and then they get trashed. But your email client can function as a pretty good 'networking HQ' if you take some time to learn about it. Much better than a spreadsheet, if you're only one person. There's a contacts database inside Outlook, Gmail, Evolution, etc. that can be used to document contacts with both structure (name, mobile phone, office phone, address) and unstructured ('notes').
posted by pwnguin at 3:19 AM on September 28, 2014

Response by poster: I work in urban planning. Apologies for the vagueness!
posted by dry white toast at 7:13 AM on September 29, 2014

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