Most of us come in contact with a lot of people in the course of our lives. By the time we reach adulthood, we’ve met hundreds, if not thousands of them. But we don’t stay in touch with everyone. In fact, we don’t even stay in touch with all the ones we like.
There’s a limited amount of time and energy to spend on maintaining relationships, so we’re forced to make choices about which ones to invest in keeping in our networks. How do we make those choices?
It’s not an exact science, of course, but here are some people you might consider putting at the top of your priority list:
1. Past clients or colleagues
Whether we work for yourself or for an organization, chances are we erve someone in some way. When we come across someone we really enjoy serving, that’s a keeper. These are the people most likely to understand and appreciate what we bring to the table, and best positioned to make referrals and hire us again. It’s worth keeping in touch.
People with whom we’ve worked side by side for any amount of time (whether as coworkers within organizations or as independent collaborators) understand our talents better than most. If the relationship is a good one, there’s no need for it to end when the job does. They are also well positioned to be referral partners, or to find ways to work together again.
2. People who get it
We each have our values, our worldview; our particular take on things. Sometimes it can feel like nobody else understands where we’re coming from. When we meet someone who does, who’s a kindred spirit, it makes sense to join forces and maintain a connection. They can support our endeavours, validate or help develop our ideas, and spread the word about how great we are. They are what marketing guru Seth Godin might call your “true fans”, and they are worth their weight in gold. Hold them close.
3. People we like
Some people just hit it off, just enjoy each others’ company. Even though there might not be a clear cut bunsiness reason to keep in touch with them, it makes sense to do so. It’s just a good idea to have people in our lives who make us feel happy, who are fun to be around, who are easy to talk to. Do we need a better reason than that?
4. People who are from different worlds
It’s really great to feel validated and hang out with people who make us feel comfortable. On the other hand, there’s also huge value in having some people in our lives who get us out of our echo chambers. If you only know one person who lives in a certain city or neighbourhood, one person from in a different economic situation, or one person from a different cultural group than you, for example, that’s a good person to put some effort into keeping in touch with. They provide a new and often fascinating perspective on life and an opportunity to grow as a person. If you need a pragmatic business reason to keep in touch with these people, it opens up whole new markets to you, as well as the insights to appeal to those markets.
Some people represent larger groups of people and can serve as an entry point to those wider networks. For example, if we are looking to cultivate relationships with a lot of doctors and we are lucky enough to know someone who works at an organization like the local college of physicians and surgeons, that might be a good person to keep in touch with.
I hope this list helps you focus your efforts as you play the long game that is good networking. People who make the sustained effort to keep in touch over time are rare treasures, but it can feel like a slog. Setting some priorities might make it into a more achievable practice for you.