I first wrote about my quarterly contact list in August, 2013, but I started following this pattern at least a year or two before that. Since then, my list of contacts has changed dramatically, but my method for keeping in touch with them hasn’t. I’ve updated this post as I’m also including it in CTO Patterns this year.
I first started using a system for keeping in touch with important people in my life in college. I realized that if I wasn’t intentional about it, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with a few dozen coworkers, mentors, friends, and peers, so I started keeping a list of people who I wanted to stay in touch with.
I try to keep the number of people to less than 50, but sometimes it spills over a bit. In order to keep up with them, I set a reminder in my calendar to send each of them a personal email every three months.
Does this take a lot of time? Yes.
Is this worth every second? Also, yes.
A guide to making your own quarterly contact list
1. Figure out who should be on your list
Go through your LinkedIn contacts, Facebook friends, and Twitter followers looking for people from your network who you want to keep up with. Don’t just choose people based on what they can do for you; choose people with high potential who are both above and below your professional level. Good networkers help more than they receive help, and you never know when that kid who just graduated might turn out to be the next Mark Zuckerburg.
2. Choose the best way to contact them
If you’ve emailed with them before, this is probably the best way to get in touch with them. If you’ve only talked to them on the phone, that’s your ticket. Try to take your communication off of social media, but if you have to, send them a Twitter or Facebook message.
3. Save one piece of personal information about your relationship
My quarterly contact list has 4 columns: name, email, phone number, and relationship information. That last column is important because that’s where I keep a record of the last thing we talked about or the last personal update I got from their life. You’d be amazed how excited people get when you send them an email and actually remember that they just had a baby 6 months ago.
4. Make a clear and unavoidable reminder
It’s easy to forget to send everyone in your contact list a message every three months, so make your reminder unavoidable if possible. I set up a Google calendar event with an email alert to tell me when it’s time to reach out to everyone on my list, but you should choose the method that works best for you. If you don’t have a failsafe method, try Follow Up Then for making your reminder.
5. Don’t just ask for something
When you send each person in your list a personal email, it’s okay to mention what you’re working on, but it’s not okay to simply ask them for something. Instead, ask them about what they’re doing; offer to help them; show interest in their life. Good networkers help more than they ask for help.
6. Reserve time to send and respond to emails
A lot of people avoid doing this because they don’t want to invest the time required to follow up and read all the email messages that they’ll inevitably get back. That’s an extremely short-sighted way of looking at things, so reserve a day or two to read and respond to everyone individually. They’ll be impressed with your effort, and know that you care enough to make time for them.
Building and maintaining relationships with professional contacts takes time and effort, but if you take a focused approach, it shouldn’t be hard to do. If you’ve got your own tips for keeping up with people, let me hear about them. I’m always looking to improve my tactics.