Your network of business, professional and personal contacts, are one of the most valuable and transportable assets you have. A properly nourished and up-to-date network can truly work wonders for your career. Previously, I explained the value of connections when seeking and being appointed to boards. People realise quickly that their connections are stale, shallow or not quite right. As such, it is important to get in front of this challenge now because it is much easier to maintain and nourish your network than to play catch-up when you find yourself in need of help from others.
Make a commitment NOW January 2021, to getting your professional network in order.
You can start by doing any or all of the following steps to upgrade and nurture your contacts:
Step 1 – Upgrade your contact list
Who do you know?
Spend some time and begin by thinking about all of your current and past business, professional and personal contacts. The people you used to work with, the alumni of those organisations, old university friends, people you have done business with, those parts of the community and professional organisations you are part of, current or past board and committee members you served with, or even those you know through your personal activities – riding clubs, sporting teammates and of course friends, family, etc.
Collect contact information
Once you have listed these out, then put them into a spreadsheet/CRM. There are lots of ways you can do this but next, spend time gathering their contact details. Often you can do this via LinkedIn or even utilising services like rocketreach. Most important is their email or LinkedIn address. Make sure you include a note of the context of the relationship as well, as this will mean contacting them appropriately will be easier to do.
Qualify your Contact List
Once collated, grade the ‘quality and depth’ of the relationship you have with each contact. A simple “A, B, C” ranking will suffice. An “A” contact is someone you feel is definitely an advocate or champion of yours – someone who, without question, will have great things to say about you. “C” contacts are individuals whom you do not know very well at all and “B” contacts are those who you know fairly well or very well but are not necessarily individuals you’d consider advocates or champions.
Step 2 – Connect with the right approach
Regardless of whether they are an A, B or C, set yourself a goal of having contacted your list of contacts within 30 days. In truth, you should be able to do this far quicker.
Connect, but don’t ask for a job
The purpose of this exercise is to build out your personal connections, not your network. For some on your list that will be really easy to do. Other connections will be stale and feel a bit awkward, to begin with. There are a number of easy ways to (re)start a relationship. A simple, “I just came across your profile on LinkedIn and realised we weren’t connected,” could be a good way to begin. Once you’ve re-established contact with your network, the next step is to maintain ongoing contact.
The goal of this exercise is about positioning yourself for potential opportunities they may have access to, not to get a NED role directly. If the former is the sole driver of your approach, it will seem inauthentic – perhaps even sleazy – and unwelcome. To avoid this, you need to make sure your motivation is right and make sure you take a genuine interest (before your own interests) in what they are doing, their challenges and their needs. This may mean developing a ‘how can I help’ mantra.
Step 3 – Nurture and keep in contact
Remember that perhaps 50% of all board appointments occur via people you see rarely or infrequently. So, the more frequently and regularly your network contacts hear from you, the better your chances of staying on their radar. In doing so, you will remain on the ‘shortlist’ of people that anyone of your network contacts thinks of when contemplating a referral or recommendation to someone else in their network.
This will mean manufacturing reasons to stay in touch. There are countless ways to do so. Great examples of ways to stay in regular contact with your network include:
- Sending birthday cards.
- Making personal introductions.
- Referring work/business opportunities.
- Invite them along to networking events with you (everyone needs a wingman anyway, right?).
- Forward interesting articles you read.
- Share your discovery of a new online resource, a new tool, app or website.
- Congratulate them on their achievements/anniversaries.
Step 4 – Use LinkedIn
A terrific tool to connect with and stay connected. If you are not using it regularly, you should be. By following individuals, businesses and participating in industry groups and the like, not only will you be able to connect with your connections more easily, but you will find plenty of reasons to do so. More on this in my next article.
Step 5 – Do more to reach out
Whilst LinkedIn is a great and appropriate resource to use, it is almost too easy to use. As such, receiving another note via LinkedIn can lose its lustre. Consider picking up the phone, writing an email or doing something more personal. For example, I use Book Depository to send books that I like to people who might be interested in. It costs pennies to do so and the impact is enormous and generally leads to a phone call.
You’ll be amazed at what a well-maintained network of personal connections can lead to. Don’t overthink it. It all starts by spending a little time working out who you know. We cover this extensively in the Board Appointment Training Series which is included in our Executive Membership package.
About the Author
David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Appointments – The UK’s leading board advertising and non-executive career support firm. He has over a decade of experience of putting people on boards as an international headhunter and a non-executive recruiter and has interviewed over one thousand non-executives and placed hundreds into some of the most significant public, private and NFP roles in the world.