In the blog post about joining an association last week, I wrote that no matter what industry you work in, networking is important because your contacts can help you grow your business and give you business insight. Here are my 5 tips for efficient networking and building your contacts list.

1. Create a contact database
After walking away from a networking event with a handful of business cards or getting introduced through email to a new contact, how do you manage the new contact information? While it’s tedious and needs constant updating, a contact database will help you keep track of who’s who and makes following up with contacts easier. To create your database, you have several options. You can add and assign a group, such as the organization you met the contact in or the industry the contact works in, to your new contacts in your Outlook, Entourage, Gmail or other email database. You could also add your new cards to your business card portfolio, use (that’s what we use), or create a spreadsheet. Don’t forget to include notes about the contact, the date you followed-up and maybe even details about your conversation.

2. Participate in networking events
Networking events are ideal because they happen frequently and you get the chance to meet a lot of people. Look for networking events hosted by organizations like the Chamber of Commerce or organizations specifically for your industry and set a goal of attending a certain number of events a month. Then, don’t forget to bring your business cards and be ready to mix and mingle. If you need help remembering faces, jot down a few details about the conversation or specific facts about the new contact on the back of his/her business card at the end of the conversation. This will also help if you promised to send the contact a fact sheet or presentation later.

3. Follow-up with people you meet

Always follow-up with your new contacts. Whether it’s an email, handwritten note or phone call, communicating with your new contact will help build your relationship. This is also a good time to schedule a coffee meeting to continue the conversation from the networking event. You should also make sure to add the new contact on LinkedIn.

4. Re-connect with past contacts
Even though you are meeting new contacts every month, don’t forget about the people you met in earlier months because maintaining relationships is also important. Set a goal of re-connecting with a certain number of contacts a month and meet your goal by sending emails asking how their work is or follow-up on topics from a previous conversation. You can even take this a step further and meet for lunch or coffee.

5. Send handwritten greeting cards throughout the year
While the holidays and New Year’s are the most popular times to send a greeting card, you could also send cards for birthdays or a less card popular holiday such as Independence Day. Or keep a box of blank note cards handy and write a few every month to contacts you haven’t talked to in a while. This is a great excuse to congratulate them on an accomplishment like a new hire or client win. This will help contacts keep you at the top of their minds.

Do you have any other networking tips? How do you expand your network?

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