Networking is as simple as getting out and doing things with people, but as you become more active, it can be hard to keep track of your growing network. You could use CRM software, but it tends to insist on reducing relationships to transactions and encourages artificial communications. Also, it can be pretty expensive.1
What you need is a simple system for keeping track of who you know and prompts you to connect or follow up. I call my system a networking tickler, and here’s how it works.
Building Your Networking Tickler
You can make virtually anything that lets you organize contacts or notes into groups into a networking tickler. Evernote works great because of its built-in business card scanner, but so do OneNote, manila folders, your contacts app, a small notebook, a box of index cards, etc.
All you need is an inbox and six folders/tags/groups/notebooks/buckets:
- Follow Up
(What you name your buckets is not all that important as long as you know what they mean.)
Here is what my networking tickler looks like in Evernote:
(For Evernote users, the reason I name folders “People.Engaged” instead of just “Engaged” is because it is easier to find all the people notebooks when using the search field. As soon as I type the first few letters of “People,” all the notebooks pop up.)
What Goes into Your Buckets
Inbox. This is where you dump all the business cards, cocktail napkins, names, notes, and anything else you may collect that represents someone you want to meet or follow up with. You can just use a regular inbox for this. I use my general-purpose inbox notebook in Evernote, but you could also use the inbox on your desk, in Dropbox, or whatever works for you. You don’t need a special new inbox unless it makes you more effective.
Once a week, process your inbox and sort all your contacts into your other buckets. Don’t do anything else with them right now. Just decide where they belong.
- The note about your best referral source’s favorite sport gets added to the note you already have for them, which you can move to Follow-Up so you can get tickets for the next game.
- The business card from that annoying guy who just passed a stack of his cards around the room probably goes in the trash.
- A cocktail napkin that says “find an estate planning lawyer in Springfield” goes into Initiate/Re-Engage.
- The new business card you got from your best friend who just started a new job probably goes in Engaged. If you already have a note for them, just add the new information.
- Your spouse’s shoe size that you finally remembered to write down so you can buy new boots for their birthday gets added to the note you keep for them in Other.
Initiate/Re-Engage. This bucket functions like a to-do list. Your goal is to move people from this bucket to the Engaged bucket by doing something with them. This could be coffee, a walk, a backyard barbecue, sending a note—whatever suits the nature of your relationship with that person.
Engaged. This bucket contains the people you are actively engaged with, either because you have an appointment on the calendar or you see them all the time. Good job!
Every once in a while, go through your Engaged bucket and make sure you really are engaged with everyone in it. If you aren’t, move them to the appropriate folder.
Follow Up. This bucket also functions like a to-do list, for thank-you notes, reminders, tickets to shows or sporting events, etc. Follow up is an essential part of networking, and this bucket will help you make it happen.
Using Your Networking Tickler
You should plan to “do marketing” on a regular schedule. Block off an hour on your calendar every week when you can sit down and process the business cards in your inbox, contact people in your Initiate/Re-Engage folder, send follow-ups, and otherwise move your networking efforts along.
Set a goal of three networking activities every week. (You can decide what counts as networking, but at a minimum it should probably involve, you know, people.)
Need ideas? Here are some more great articles to help you fire up your networking:
- “How to Network: Get Out and Do Things. With People.”
- “How to Make Small Talk”
- “An Introvert’s Guide to Networking Events”
- “An Essential Networking Ingredient: Followup”
- “Event Planning for Lawyers”
Don’t Try to Automate Relationships
The point of a networking tickler is to help you keep track of your real relationships, not to automate superficial relationships.
If you want to have a strong referral network, stay away from automated solutions. Those “just-checking-in” emails you can automatically send at regular intervals from your CRM software are phoney, and it’s obvious you didn’t put any effort into sending them. It only takes a little more effort to be genuine, and it will pay off in spades.
CRM stands for <em>customer relationship management</em>, and CRM software is designed to help companies drive sales by improving their relationships with their customers by helping them keep track of everything they know about their prospects, leads, and customers. Because CRM software is built to manage relationships with customers, it is designed to facilitate sales. For example, contacts are nearly always categorized as leads, prospects, and “wins.” This works great for selling things, but not so well for managing actual relationships. ↩