Failing to plan, as they say, is planning to fail. So it goes with outreach. Most people's efforts are scattershot. But if you want to make the most of your network - and give the most to your network - you need to get organized.
Here's the method I use to make maintaining my network of contacts, colleagues, and friends easier. It's a strategy that can be adapted for use with any number of applications out there today for tracking contacts. The basic steps are: Categorize, Prioritize, Track, and Schedule Weekly Outreach.
1. Divide your network into categories. There's no standard method here. Create a segmentation that works for you and your objectives. Personally, I use five categories: Personal, Customers, Prospects, Important Business Associates (which includes both people I'm in business with, and people I plan to be), and Aspirational Contacts. The "personal" category I don't include on call lists, because these are people who I'm in contact with organically; the relationship is established, and when we talk, it's as if we'd been in touch every day.
2. Prioritize the list to decide how often to contact each person. I'll go down my master list (which includes all the categories) and add the numbers 1, 2, or 3 next to each name. A "1" gets contacted at least each month; a "2" gets a quarterly call or email; a "3" I try to reach once a year, probably through a group communication like a holiday card.
3. Schedule weekly outreach. I do this by segmenting my network into call lists. In time, your master list will become too unwieldy to work from directly.Your call lists will save you time and keep your efforts focused. They can be organized by your number ratings, by geography, by industry, and so on. It's totally flexible. I make a habit of reviewing my master list at the end of the week and crosschecking it with the activities and travel plans I have for the following week. In this way, I stay up-to-date and have my trusty lists at my side all week long.
4. Track your outreach. Each time I reach out to a person, I like to include a very short note next to their name telling me the last time I contacted them and how. If last month I sent an e-mail saying hello to a potential customer rated "1," this month I'll give a call.
With a plan in place, I guarantee you'll keep in touch with people you otherwise would have forgotten - until the moment you needed them. In other words, TOO LATE!
Keith Ferrazzi is one of the rare individuals who discovered the essential formula for making his way to the top - a powerful and balanced combination of marketing acumen and networking savvy. Both Forbes and Inc. magazines have designated him one of the world's most "connected" individuals. Keith is the author of the best-selling book, Never Eat Alone. Visit his website