Back in the day, your Rolodex™ was your breadbox, your money maker and in some cases your lifeline. Today, whether you store your contacts on paper, in Gmail or some fancy CRM system, these descriptions are still valid. A lot of life and business is still about who you know. Those contacts — both online and face-to-face — are golden. While the image of the smarmy salesman making endless phone calls is stuck in many minds, using your virtual Rolodex to build your career and your income is as important as it ever was. Use your Rolodex for good, not evil, and you can take your career to new heights.
These days your contacts and network are about much more than just sales. In a large way, the success of your career depends upon relationships — who are you connected with can help you achieve your goals while also, hopefully, achieving some of their own. Will there be sales involved? Of course, but as every good salesman knows, you have to connect before you can sell. You will also find that sharing and helping others often results in big returns to you in ways you sometimes can’t imagine. Relationships that lead to income are just as important, and maybe more so than the income itself. It is often these relationships that lead to larger projects that far outweigh the more immediate rewards of a quick sale.
First, if you don’t have a decent contact list and contact manager, get one. There are a host of software programs and online services out there to help you stay connected to your friends and business contacts. Since I am a big Gmail user, my contacts tend to reside in my Gmail contacts list, but this list also syncs up with all my computers and, most importantly, my iPhone, so I can access it wherever I am. With the recent addition of the CardMunch app, I now often enter contact information when I meet someone or very soon afterward. All it takes is a quick photo of a business card and all that information is captured. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t require any technology at all to maintain your contact list. You can do it on paper, it just might be a little easier electronically. It is far more important, though to maintain your list than to worry about how you do it.
Second, make a point, every day, to randomly select someone from your list who you haven’t spoken with recently and contact them. If you have something useful to share with them, all the better, but even a simple “follow-up” email is useful. So often when I do this, I receive a response like this: “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about a new problem, project, partnership, but I haven’t found the time. It is great that you called!”
Follow-up emails are a way of gently reminding people that you still exist — that you are still working — and that you might have something they need. We all get tied up in our own busy worlds so a quick “poke” is often what is needed to generate that new project — and hopefully new income.
Third, do the same not only with your standard email contacts but also with those people you only know through social media. I have been randomly choosing one of my Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn contacts each day and checked out their profile, their recent updates (which I might have missed in the timeline as it streamed by), their photos and any other information I can find. This is so important if you want to deepen your relationship with these far-flung contacts. You won’t run into them at the local coffee shop, but maybe they will be at an upcoming conference. The more you know about them — and the more you interact online — the more you can make of your face-to-face meetings.
It doesn’t take much time to connect with your contacts, but it can be dramatically effective in improving your work and career. Take a minute, right now, to find someone in your contact list, or among your Facebook friends, and reconnect with them. Ask them what recent projects they have been working on. Let them know what you have been doing. Work your contacts like a salesman whose income depends on it. Your goal and reward, though, is a closer relationship, not necessarily the big sale. Relationships are what will bring the money down the road and should be cultivated on a daily basis.