Whether you’re connecting with investors, stakeholders, industry peers, or colleagues, networking is a critical part of building a business. It boosts your contacts, widens your circles, keeps your reputation sharp, and bolsters brand awareness.
At its core, networking is relationship-building. It can be one of the most fun, rewarding, and exhausting aspects of corporate life. Here are a few basic strategies that will strengthen your network and help keep your brand top-of-mind.
Stay in touch.
This is obvious—just like calling a friend is a good way to keep in touch, emailing business contacts to say hello and keep the relationship warm is pretty basic. But how you do so can leave a lasting impact…good or bad.
First of all, reach out when you don’t need anything. You can do this by calendaring times to send notes to your connections.
For example, you might have a contact who celebrates an obscure holiday. That holiday is a great time to email or text them, reminding them that you remember pertinent details of what they care about. You could also use this strategy for all those “National Fill-In-the-Blank Days” i.e. “Hi Marie, Happy National Coffee Day! Hope work is going well.”
To stay well-organized, you can develop a spreadsheet of your top contacts and how often you want to reach out to them. If you’re in a fundraising office or have a particularly wide network of stakeholders, you’re probably already tracking all this in your CRM.
But you can track personal contacts, too. This can help prevent forgetting a certain contact for a couple years (or bothering a busy contact with frequent messages). Similar levels of organization are helpful when you’re searching for new contacts, too.
When you reach out, make sure you get all the details right. If you’re emailing Bob and can’t remember his daughter’s name, say, “I hope your daughter is doing well.” In conversation, you can guess as you try to remember personal facts (“Are you the one who goes to the lake house every year?”). This doesn’t work as well in email. So keep your email succinct, and take the extra three minutes to find and re-read your most recent exchange.
Develop a gifting strategy.
If you don’t already send gifts to your top clients and business connections, consider starting now.
There’s a lot of information and theory out there about corporate gifting. Specialty gift basket company and gifting experts, Spoonful of Comfort, breaks down corporate gifting best practices into 5 W’s: Who, What, When, Where, and Why.
As you work through these questions, you’ll want to decide on a gifting budget. Who spends the most with your company? Who may not spend much, but is always sending prospects your way? Gifts shouldn’t be the sole purview of salespeople and prospects. However, your sales team is probably already distributing gifts, so that could be a good place to start.
Gifts for employees are important, too—they’ll be part of your network long after they leave your company. While you certainly don’t want to pander, you do want to be remembered as an employer who showed genuine appreciation for their people.
When choosing an appropriate gift, it’s helpful to think through the overall situation: time of year, cost, relationship, personality, etc. Spoonful of Comfort recommends looking for something meaningful, useful, and memorable. For example, they offer fresh soup delivery with cookies with the addition of customization options that include personalized add-ons.
When gifting, a bit of thought and creativity goes a long way. If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to crowdsource ideas from your team.
Reward loyal contacts.
Say you have a monthly newsletter that goes to your subscriber list, and one of those subscribers is a successful repeat client. So, shout out their success in your newsletter. The Daily Skimm, a morning news digest, does something similar by including subscribers’ names in the email on their birthday.
If you have a client who keeps extending their contract with you, consider adding a month for free. Offer a popular add-on at a reduced price. Show the people who have already invested in your products or services that you’ll take care of them—and you’ll take care of the people they recommend to you, too.
If you run a business that’s active on social media, invite your followers (or your newsletter subscribers) to exclusive events and meetups. Offer the opportunity for them to meet public figures in your company, or ask a thought leader questions in real time. Open these opportunities to your inner circle before the general public (think recording artists offering first access to concert tickets to their top listeners on Spotify).
Ultimately, building relationships is about genuinely serving those around you.
You can do that as a business leader with your contacts—just put a little thought behind how you can stretch your resources to reach everyone. With a bit of strategic connection, you’ll keep your brand top-of-mind and your reputation top-notch.