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Staying in Touch

By Francis Wade

We say it all the time – “stay in touch!”

Yet few of us have the discipline or the inclination to engage in what one might call networking 101 – “Stay in Touch with Your Professional Acquaintances.”

I recently was lucky to hear from a colleague of mine that I met back in 1988, when we were both young professionals working at AT&T in New Jersey. She tracked me down using my email address, which remains unchanged in 14 years.

It made me wonder what happened to my colleagues from my earliest days as a professional. I was able to keep in touch with some of them until a re-organization divided the company we worked for, AT&T, into three parts: AT&T, Lucent Technologies and NCR, and their contact information changed as they moved to new companies and new divisions. I thought that I could always find them if I needed them.

It is an unfortunate fact that now, I cannot find them.

Many years and mistakes later, I treat my contact book as one of my most important resources, and with a little foresight, a young professional can start now to invest in building a professional network that will last a lifetime.

Here are some easy steps to take to start to build a list of contacts that endures.

Step 1: Create the List online

There are a variety of free programmes that can be used today to maintain a contact database. These including gmail, Yahoo, Plaxo and other email programs.. Stay away from paper as that will only become a burden.

The power of keeping it online as opposed to resident on a PC in the office lies in the fact that the data is secure from PC failure, snooping colleagues and sudden job loss.

Furthermore, with a good web-based provider, the entire contact system will be backed-up frequently, which is a must for something that will become so valuable.

Step 2: Periodically Reach Out To Everyone

Set a goal for how often each person hears from you e.g. once per year or once per quarter. Even if an annual email is sent asking for the most recent contact information, it will still be valuable as a way of showing that you are still alive and that you care.

For example, a Christmas card each year will let them know that you care enough to spend five minutes on keeping their friendship. Another example is to send out a link, blog or website of interest (but not including the “send this to someone else for good luck” variety of email.)

Step 3: Make Sure They Can Find You

Create a lifelong email address that is unconnected to your place of employment, and use it as your primary contact address. Ensure that you are findable on the internet – that is the way that people will try to make contact with you. Make Google your friend, and put enough information in different places to ensure that the data that you want appears at the top of anyone’s searches when you are he one being searched.

At the same time, make sure that you put nothing in cyberspace that you hurt may later, or that you cannot show your mother!

Step 4: Upgrade Your Content and Methods

While it might be fine to send a “Wassup?” email in your twenties, by the time you hit your thirties you are probably starting to communicate with executives who are much older than you are, and who do not take as well to abbreviations, slang and joking around.

One way to get more serious would be to developing a few ways of getting together valuable information.

Example 1: put your best thinking into words and package it either as entries in a blog, or in an ezine or as white papers. Then send out the links to the people on your lists and give them a good reason to stay in touch with you -- because you have something new and different to say.

Example 2: embedded in your list of contacts are probably a significant number who share the same interests. Create a free discussion group in Google or Yahoo to get them talking with each other, sharing ideas and having conversations on their topics of interest. It works for any single topic of interest – I have done it for groups as diverse as my extended family, my cycling club and a globally dispersed set of consultants working on the same project.

While the young professional who engages in these activities may be the exception, and even earn the scorn of their peers, they know that they will be the ones who benefit in years to come from having a powerful network. While our network may be small when we are younger, and our “professional contacts” might look more like a list of friends, it is likely to grow tremendously the more we stay in touch.

Often, it does come down to “who you know” and “who remembers you,” but more importantly, it actually can be about something we have control over -- “who you are willing to get to know you.”

To view some examples of ezines, blogs, discussion groups and white papers, browse the newsroom at my company’s website -- www.fwconsulting.com

The author is the owner of Framework Consulting, a firm specializing in conducting high stake interventions for Caribbean companies, and the author of FirstCuts monthly e-zine.
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