Building a great network involves more than meeting new people and introducing yourself. Once you get past that networking hurdle, you’ll face the challenges of maintaining and leveraging that network. As it grows, you’ll find it more and more difficult to keep in touch with every individual.
As a founder, maintaining a robust network has been critical to the success of my company. But make no mistake, managing hundreds of relationships is exhausting. This is where establishing a solid system comes in. That way, you can follow it without thinking (much like crossing off a checklist), until it becomes autopilot.
For me, that takes no more than one or two hours a day. I’ve seen the massive payoff from investing this little bit of time on a daily basis. We found our early customers, investors, and champions through my founder network–and we still find many of them there today. Here’s what that process entails.
I update my network by sending a personal newsletter
For a while, I was struggling to extract value out of my network, even though I had grown to know a lot of smart, connected people who wanted to help me. They just didn’t know how.
So I launched a personal newsletter. Once per month, I send an update on what I’ve been working on, and at the end, I have a section for “asks.” This is where I let my network know what I need help with at the time. Now, some of you might cringe at this, but think about it–if you’re looking for a freelance designer to revamp your website, and someone in your network knows a web designer who wants pick up extra projects, you’ve just helped someone by making your “ask.” As long as you respect people’s time and attention, asking for help won’t make you look bad.
The response to my newsletters has been tremendous–people better understand what our company Hatch Apps does (we enable non-technical people to build apps without coding) and are therefore referring more customers, investors, and relevant opportunities. I get replies all the time like, “A friend of mine is actually looking to build an app–can I connect you?” I use MailChimp so I’m able to track opens and clicks, and thereby know who in my network is most engaged.
I have friends who activate their networks via social media, or via a personal blog. Regardless of what medium you use, there are a few things that you should keep in mind. First, make sure that you’re your authentic self. It’s great to share your wins, but you also want to share your struggles, so it doesn’t seem like you’re just looking for an excuse to brag. Secondly, include interesting content. I include sections on “awesome reads” and “brilliant stuff my friends are building,” which my networks tend to click on. Lastly, make sure that you urge your connections to engage with your email. Be proactive about requesting comments or replies. This practice is an excellent way to drive engagement over the long term.
But I still make time for individual conversations
While my update email is an efficient way to reach a large audience, nothing beats personalized one-on-one interactions.
I get that it might not be possible to do this with everyone in your network on a regular basis. But focus on quality, rather than quantity. There’s no reason you need to meet up with everyone on a monthly basis–that’s why I’ve “segmented” everyone in my network by how often I check in with them. Some folks hear from me monthly, and others only hear from me once per year. A simple text with “long time, how have you been?” can work wonders to reactivate a contact.
I also have a follow-up to-do list and use Slack reminders for follow-ups. And every morning, I check Facebook to see any birthdays, and make a point of texting or calling anyone who is turning another year older that day.
I’m intentional about expressing gratitude
A handwritten thank-you note goes a long way. A gift in the mail goes even further.
We all want to feel valued and listened to, and these days, it’s rare for people to get a thank-you note. Whenever a mentor shares some thoughtful advice, I send a handwritten note explaining how her great advice impacted my strategy. If a friend refers a job candidate, I send a bottle of his favorite wine. When a colleague forwards me an article, I email her with my key takeaways. Even if nothing comes out of the attempt to help (the advice is a dud, the candidate is unqualified, or the article isn’t relevant), I still thank them for going out of their way to help me out. I’ve witnessed that when a connection feels valued, they’re more likely to continue their patterns of support.
I find a way to give back
Remember, your network isn’t just about you. It’s about them too. That’s the golden rule of building professional relationships, which I learned from my college mentor, Deb Mills-Scofield.
After all the hard work you put in, you might be tempted to keep your networks to yourself. But this doesn’t do much for you. When you find ways to bring your networks together, you’ll continue to buy goodwill and strengthen your relationships. That means they’re more likely to give back to you and make introductions when you need them. I love to bring my network together through intimate dinners, casual happy hours, or by directly introducing them to one another.
It’s not enough to focus on growing and building your networks. You have to dedicate time and energy into maintaining them. If you find all these steps overwhelming, start small–even something like sending someone an article that you think they’ll enjoy can go a long way. As you continue to build systems around maintaining your network, you’ll find that these habits will become automatic. And you’ll see the payoff when the people in your network become invested in your success.
Amelia Friedman is a cofounder at Hatch Apps, a company that automates software development to make building an app fast and affordable. She writes frequently for the Hatch Apps blog. Follow her on Twitter @ameliafriedman.