We often think of networking as a way to accumulate more contacts. It is, but what about the contacts you already have?
Meeting new people and adding them to your contact management system without nurturing and deepening current relationships will lead to burn-out and missed opportunities.
You could have 10,000 names in a database, but if you don’t know who those people are, what they do and the networks they represent, it’s actually just a list of names. Such a database is good for sales and mass communication, but should not be confused with a strong network of people who you can tap into when times are tough.
To effectively tap into your network, you first need to understand who is in it. Export your contacts into a spreadsheet and print it. Go through all the names one by one. Who is no longer accessible to you? Are there people with whom you’ve lost touch and should reconnect? Are there people within your database who you could connect? Who are the top 15 people with whom you’d like to strengthen your relationship?
Develop a network tracking system that works for you. The easier it is, the better. Trying to manage any more than three categories of contacts can make the exercise too cumbersome to maintain in the long run. A simple A-B-C or 1-2-3 works well:
Category A: The people in this category are your target market. These are people who should move into the sales process or who can send you referrals. Managing these contacts is a priority as these are people who can lead to business growth.
Category B contacts are people I like to call “connectors.” These are movers and shakers in your circles of influence. Though there may be no immediate business opportunity, these are the people with whom you are most likely to have long-term meaningful relationships. Nurture these relationships, because they are often the most enjoyable and the most powerful over the long term.
Category C represents your general contacts — basically, everyone else. This could include family and friends who aren’t involved in your professional life as well as random business contacts with whom you have not yet created a reason to connect. This will be the bulk of your network and is a wealth of opportunity. The ideal situation is to move people from Category C into categories A or B as you develop and strengthen your relationships.
Organizing your contact list won’t take too long, but it is a powerful exercise. You may surprise yourself by the number of people who you already know and the opportunities presented.