It takes less effort to keep an existing customer than to gain a new customer.
This is Business 101. Corporations focus on acquisition, but they must also focus on customer service and retention in order to be successful.
So why don’t people apply this philosophy to their personal network? For some people the word “networking” conjures up events where people pass out business cards indiscriminately, and at the end of the evening they have enough cards to play blackjack, but no new meaningful contacts. Others think back to grad school and the career office’s suggestion to find a job through networking – which meant cold-calling older alumni and asking (or begging) for a job. Meanwhile, they may lose touch with the people they actually know. They are focusing on acquisition, but not on customer service, or retention.
Your friends, your family’s friends, co-workers, buddies at the gym – all of these people are included in your network. Are you nourishing your network – focusing on the customer service side of the equation? Or are you only working on acquisition and letting old contacts fall off your list?
The best way to nourish your network is to help the people in it. Introduce that job-hunter to someone you know in his field. Pass on the name of your favorite B&B to the couple getting ready to celebrate their anniversary. Provide the names of your doctor, dentist, and hair stylist to your old friend who just moved back to town. And although it seems like a no-brainer, always write a note of congratulations on a promotion, wedding, or new baby. It’s done less frequently than you’d think, and will make you stand out from the pack.
Of course, it’s hard to help members of your network, if you have lost touch with them. Try to contact everyone in your network on a regular basis – once per quarter is sufficient. This means contacting them with no agenda except to check in. Find out what’s going on with them, and see if there is a way you can help them. Then when you do want to ask a favor, or tap into their networks,they will in turn be willing to help you.
Action steps for this month: Contact three people with whom you haven’t spoken in some time. Let them know you were thinking about them, and ask how they are doing. Reconnect. Then make sure you maintain this connection, by contacting them once per quarter. Some suggestions to start your thinking:
- a former boss
- a colleague who now works for a competitor
- a fraternity brother
- the pitcher from last summer’s softball team
- a co-worker who has joined a different division of your company
- a former client
Start this week!
Work/life balance checkpoint: Are you spending lots of energy on your business contacts, but ignoring loved ones? Writing notes to former colleagues, but forgetting your sister’s birthday, puts you in the Networking Hall of Shame. Be sure your schedule this month allows for several opportunities to get together with friends and neighbors. And don’t forget to call your mother! (Yes, she paid me to write that.)
(c)2004 Sara K. Collins
Sara K. Collins, M.B.A., is a career and life coach who helps her clients gain focus and enjoy their jobs again. Sign up for her monthly e-newsletter on career development and work/life balance strategies by sending an e-mail with your name and subject line "Add me" to email@example.com. To learn more about her coaching services, go to http://www.sarakcollins.com