I used to be a pretty good networker.
I was disciplined and organized. I’d set aside a couple of hours a week, block the time on my calendar, and I would rarely let other “more urgent” activities (shout out to the late, great Stephen Covey) take that time.
Back then, the tools of my networking trade were simple: a phone, my contact list (first stored in a Rolodex (for the Millennials out there, below is an image of a Rolodex) eventually moving to electronic contact management systems. (I used ACT! and my trusty Palm Pilot to organize the names I had). I used a tickler system to remind me to reconnect with folks on a regular basis. I would sometimes take notes to remind me of our last conversation, their kids’ achievements, etc. – more often than not, I’d just remember. It was done primarily via phone, though sometimes in person over breakfast, lunch or drinks – having an actual conversation. Harvey Mackay, the author of the networking how-to book Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty, would have been proud!
My criterion for whom to network with was pretty simple. I kept in touch with folks I liked, found interesting and enjoyed talking with. Rarely, if ever, did I network with someone purely because I felt they could help me professionally or personally (though I do not object to folks who do). These were people I genuinely cared about – they made me laugh, challenged me, inspired me or simply made me smile. I cared about how they were doing and what was happening in their lives. Hopefully, they felt the same way about me. And while I would not begin the call with ulterior motives, it would sometimes result in a lead or business opportunity. Just about every job I’ve had has come through my networking activities.
Back then I had a couple hundred folks on my Rolodex or my contact database. Many of those I might reach out to once or twice a year. There were 50 or so that I contacted on a more regular basis.
Today I’m awful at networking. And the weird part? I’m “networked” to more people than ever before.
Through the marvel of social networks, I have over 800 connections on LinkedIn and over 500 followers on Twitter. For those of you who are saying to yourselves, “That’s nothing, Jim! I have twice that many connections and three times the number of followers!” – trust me, I’m not bragging. I don’t know 800 people. And I certainly can’t imagine trying to keep in touch with them all if I did.
I recently saw a banner hanging from the ceiling of a client’s office that essentially read, “There exists technology today that allows us to have deeper relationships with more people than ever before.” I agree with the “more” part, but I’m not sure about the “deeper.”
Don’t get me wrong – I love tools like LinkedIn and Twitter (ironically, you are likely reading this blog as a result of a comment or Tweet!) – but they can’t replace that real-time human interaction you get via phone, video conferencing, or face-to-face.
I’m usually not big on New Year’s resolutions. But I’ve committed to one for 2014 – get back to the art of real-time networking. I’m going to set aside time every week to do it. And I’m going to tackle my contact database problem (in addition to my hundreds of contacts on LinkedIn and Twitter, I have hundreds more from my personal email, corporate email and mobile phone) with a very elegant and simple solution.
This holiday season, I bought myself a Rolodex.