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How to Make a Networking Plan

by eHow Relationships & Family Editor

You don't have to keep tabs on everyone you've met since grade school to be successful at networking. Some people are social hubs and find networking easy and natural. Others need to make an effort to stay connected with friends and colleagues as well as forge new relationships. Whichever type of person you are, making the most of networking opportunities is critical to business success.

Figure out how to help others without immediately asking them to help you. This is the golden key to networking nirvana.

Find ways to put people together whom you think would enjoy or at least benefit each other. They're likely to return the favor.

Inventory your existing network. How many people on your list are mere acquaintances? How many would immediately take your phone call? Concentrate on moving pertinent people from the first group to the second.

Arrange third-party introductions whenever possible when you target someone new to meet. This doesn't have to be an in-person introduction, which could be an imposition. Often just a brief e-mail message--explaining who you are and what common ground you might share--will plant the seed.

Do your homework before approaching someone new, not just about his or her interests but also about how he or she can be a good contact. When someone asks, "How can I help you?" that's not the time to start waffling. Answer with specifics.

Join professional organizations directly related to your career goals. Attending meetings, serving on committees and speaking at conferences are all ways to expand your sphere of contacts. See 208 Prepare a Speech.

Write memory-jogging hints on the backs of the business cards you collect: where you met the person, mutual colleagues, product names. Follow up with promising contacts as soon as possible, or you risk their forgetting ever meeting you or your forgetting why they seemed so promising.

Sift through accumulated business cards and enter the information into a contact-management system. The data entry is timeconsuming but infinitely valuable for later search and retrieval. See 11 Organize Your Contacts.

Practice listening well. Pay close attention to what people say, and you'll have a better chance of remembering conversation details as well as being able to refer to them later.

Identify yourself clearly when making follow-up calls. Don't expect people to remember you merely from your name. To avoid putting them on the spot, immediately supply an explanation of when or how you met and why you're calling. Keep in mind that people hate being embarrassed--so helping them get past an awkward moment is key to a successful conversation.

Revive the art of letter writing. A handwritten note always makes a more memorable impression than an e-mail message.

Tips

  • Carry a slim, two-section business-card case wherever you go. Keep your own cards in one section and the ones you receive in the other.
  • Arrive early at functions. The best networking time is prior to the meeting, the meal or the speeches.
  • Explore social networking communities, such as Friendster.com, Orkut.com and Meetup.com.
  • Executive-only networking organizations, such as ExecuNet.com, charge a fee but can be another resource if you're looking to advance your career. See also 166 Organize Your Job Search.
  • Reconnect periodically with people who have been good contacts in the past. Checking in with people lays a good foundation for future networking. Use a system of alerts on your computer or PDA to remember birthdays, or get a continuous birthday calendar that has months and days, but is not specific to a year.