Building up contacts quickly

I’m not sure that I will keep blogging only on LinkedIn much longer.  Not because I ‘m out of material, but simply because there’s a lot more to think about aside from just how to build up your LinkedIn contacts.  Since I believe that this tool can be of great assistance to building and maintaining a great network of contacts I wanted to share some quick advice on how to at least get started.  I have heard a lot of people lament not having built up their network until after they needed it (which is why I wrote “Dig The Well“).  I’ve also heard and seen a lot of other things I’d like to write about as I meet with other people who are networking.  So I will probably move on from just LinkedIn and mix it up a bit from here.

In the mean time, those of you who have been wanting to take LinkedIn a bit further are saying shut up and get on with it will ya?  OK, here goes…  So you should have set up your profile with all of your experience and companies listed.  And now you have gone in and searched for people you know who have worked at the same companies or gone to the same school.  But what about the contacts you already have in places like your Outlook contacts list as well as address books from Gmail or AOL/etc? 

Don’t discount the contacts you have and even some of those you have but don’t realize it.  (More on that later.)  The toolbar on the left side of LinkedIn has the “Add Connections” button in green at the bottom.  After clicking that you will come to the now familiar set of tabs to manage your connections.  Click on the “Import Contacts” tab and you will come to a screen that will let you scour all your best sources.  From here you can use LinkedIn to import contacts from any of your web-mail clients as well as Outlook. 

If you are an Outlook user with less than a few hundred contacts I would simply use the import on the feature on the far right that allows you to import directly from Outlook.  If you use Outlook and have more than a few hundred contacts it’s not unusual to have that feature timeout since it talks directly to Outlook.  Instead you can export your contacts from Outlook to a CSV file and then import them using the same screen but clicking on the “Other Address Book” button which allows you to import a CSV file.  So how do you make a CSV file from Outlook? 

Go into Outlook and bring up your contacts (i.e. your address book).  Then using the menus along the top select “file” then “import and export”.  That will bring up a separate screen and you should choose “export to a file” select “next” and then “Comma Separated Values (Windows)” and “next”.  You will be at a screen that asks you to select a folder to export from.  Select “Contacts” and “next”.  The last screen will ask where you want to save the file.  I would use the browse button and save the file to your desktop.  Once complete, you can import this CSV file directly into LinkedIn and it will find all your contacts that are already on LinkedIn and allow you to send them an invite.  It will also ask you to invite the contacts it found that do not have a LinkedIn account.  I will leave this to your discretion as to who you might want to invite or you can simply skip them all.

You will have also found the “Check Webmail” button under the “Import Contacts” tab.  When you click that you can specify which web mail client you use and then provide an email name and password.  It will not store the password but use it temporarily to log into your web-mail and extract your address book into LinkedIn.  Again a handy tool for getting your contacts into LinkedIn quickly.

LinkedIn also has some other tremendously useful tools you should explore rather than wait for me to tell you how.  🙂  At the bottom of each page in LinkedIn is a footer.  It has a list of links for the “Company”, “Tools” and “Premium”.  Look across from “tools” and you will see links for “Outlook tool bar” and “Browser tool bar”.  Both are excellent tools and I would suggest using them as another way for you to quickly capture contact information for use with LinkedIn.

Good luck and feel free to send me a note if you get confused or lost.  I’ll do what I can to help.

– Yeti

So you’re on LinkedIn. Now what?

OK, so let’s just humor me and say that my prior posts have made you think seriously about expanding your professional network .  You’ve created a LinkedIn account or finally logged into the one you created 5 years ago that you didn’t do anything with.  Now what?

Well first things first.  Before we talk about what you can do to import address books in order to quickly build up your network of contacts one of the more powerful ways for you to find people (and for people to find you) is for you to create a history of positions that have your title, dates worked, and most importantly Your employer.   Even if you are not yet sure how you want to fill in the details of what you did for each of those rolls, it’s important to identify the role and show it in your history.

The reason why is that LinkedIn has search features and these are the beginnings of the keywords that people will use to search for you as well as the way you can find others.  So look to the left side of the screen, find the profile section and then click on “edit profile”.  Then use the “add position” button that is across from the header for Experience.  Add in all the places/positions you have had even if there’s no detail yet as to what you have done.  You can (and should) put detail in later but lets just start with identifying positions.

If you’re like me, some companies you have worked at have changed names or were purchased/etc.  You can add a company name to one role and then a different name to another role at the same company.  For example I worked at BBN which became BBN Planet which then became GTE Internetworking which then became Genuity (whew).  So I used those company names at least once each for the jobs I progressed through during my time there.  Why?  Because if someone searched for former colleagues at BBN they would not find me if I left it off.

Once you have all your prior positions listed, along with all the company names, here’s where the fun starts for building your network.  Go back to the LinkedIn home page.  Along the left side you will see the menu and at the bottom is a green button labeled “Add Connections”.  Click it.  Go ahead, you know you want to.  🙂

This brings you to a screen that has four tabs along the top.  Click on the one that says “Colleagues” and you will come to a screen that lists all those companies you put in when you were filling out your positions.  You can then either use the “View All” feature to get a list of all past and present employees of that company, or “Find New”.  If you’re just starting, use the “View All” and this will help you catch up quickly.  Once you have looked through each of the companies and selected people you have worked with that you want to add to your network the system will send them an invite and you will see your network start to grow!  Also, you will see another tab labeled “Classmates”.  If you put your education experience in your profile, then this tab will list the colleges you have attended and you can find old classmates as well even if you did not work with them after graduation. 

Remember the “Find New” button I mentioned above?  This is how you dig the well a foot a week.  Once you have settled into LinkedIn and your profile is up to date (more on what to add into that later), if you come back every week or two, select “Add Connections”, “Colleagues” and “Find New” it will find any new people who joined LinkedIn since you last looked from each of those companies.  I’ve added more than 500 connections by just checking every few weeks over the last 6 years.  That’s one of the ways to build a deep network of contacts without having to be intimidated by it all.

Next post I’ll cover address book imports which is another way to quickly discover contacts and add them to your network.  And remember, you are only doing this so you can then use this network to be able to find and keep track of all your colleagues.  So if all you’re doing is adding to your network but never reaching out to contact some of these folks, then you’re not really doing much to stay connected.  Just remember, if you are looking for work, they can’t help you if you aren’t communicating to them. 

– Yeti.

Using the right tool for the job.

When I was young I learned 2 things from my Dad who was very handy with tools. 

  1. Use the right tool for the job.  It makes things so much easier. 
  2. If you don’t have the correct (or specific) tool, improvise. 

I’d only get schooled by my Dad when he saw me using the wrong tool if he knew the right one was available and nearby.  The job always came out better when you used a tool designed for the job.  You don’t have to stress out if you don’t have all the tools but if you have the right tool why wouldn’t you use it?

So what kind of tools do you use when you are networking?

  • Email
  • Address books (Outlook, Gmail, ACT, etc.)
  • The phone (Yes, I know many of us don’t like using it, but we just have to get over that).
  • Social sites on the web (MySpace, Facebook, Multiply, LinkedIn, Spock, and too many countless others to mention).

If you are going to be effective at networking then you should realize quickly that it’s difficult to reach out and contact folks when you don’t have an up to date email or phone number for them.  That stack of business cards you’re stashing off to the side or the ones you put in your address book are going to be out of date quickly.  You will find tools on the network that are intended to help you like Plaxo or CardScan’s “at your service”. However, these tools can fall short because they put the burden of updating your contacts on the contacts themselves and this is for your convenience, not theirs.  In other words, there’s no incentive in it for them to update their contact info for your benefit.

People on sites like LinkedIn or even Facebook and Multiply update their information without being asked.  If you are linked to them, or “friended” then you get the latest on their personal or professional situations (depending on the site) and it will be easier to stay in touch. 

So if we’re talking about professional networking, what’s the best tool for the job?  How about a tool that is designed to allow users to:

  • Update their professional experiences
  • Search for contacts according to where they work or have worked
  • Discuss industry trends for their line of work
  • Search for job openings or post jobs targeted at industry specific professionals

While you can improvise with other tools and you should still consider them as part of your arsenal in your quest to create an effective professional network, the best and most widely adopted tool for professional networking is LinkedIn. 

LinkedIn is geared specifically towards professional networking and currently has nearly 40 million users and is growing at about a user a second.  While Facebook has 5 times that membership, it is not geared towards managing your professional network.  

So if you want to create a deep well of professional contacts that you can use to find good talent or be found as good talent in someone else’s network, join LinkedIn.

For those of you who did not “dig that well” before you found yourself looking for water, I will post later on how you can quickly get your profile in shape and build up your network. 

– Yeti

Dig the well.

There is an old Chinese proverb that states: “Dig the well before you are thirsty”.  I can’t think of a better way to remind folks of the importance of putting some energy into being prepared for some of the inevitability that life will throw at you.   If you are surrounded by a lot of water and it is abundant, it may seem like a waste of effort to dig a well.  However, when a dry season comes along that well could save your life.  The deeper it goes, the more you are able to draw from it.

Think about it.  The time to save money is when you are making money.  That way, when something unexpected strikes, you have reserves to draw from.  The same thing can be said about your network of professional contacts.  When you are working and find yourself surrounded by other professionals you may not be thinking about building your network.  However, many will come and go and you will have lost the opportunity to stay in touch with all those people who were at one point part of your professional life.  Most of us get so busy with work that we neglect to stay in touch with professionals outside of those in our immediate circle.  We think there will always be time for that later but if suddenly we find ourselves needing those contacts (like from a job loss) then wouldn’t it be a shame to suddenly realize you have little or no reserves to drink from.

So if you find yourself wrapped up in work and life and wonder about how you could ever make time to dig a well, allow me to provide a little advice.  Don’t try and dig the well all at once.  That’s not only intimidating but also not very effective.  Simply dig the well a foot deeper every week.  In other words, for the investment of 15-30 minutes of your time every 1-2 weeks you can slowly develop a wide range of professional contacts that over a course of a year or two will become fairly extensive.  Then if you ever find yourself “thirsty” you will find that you have a deep wellspring of people from which you can network and discover opportunities.

If you haven’t figured this out yet, I’m writing this note for people who are still employed.  It would be a shame that during this time of downsizing and economic uncertainty that you suddenly find yourself wishing you had put a network of contacts together.  Stop putting it off and start reaching back out to folks you have worked with and build up your Rolodex.  If you already find yourself out of work but are short on contacts, I will try and cover networking and building up your contacts quickly in another post.

In the mean time, the best tool for you to use in order to “dig a well” would be LinkedIn.  I can’t stress enough how great a tool this is for building up and maintaining a list of professionals you have worked with.  If you don’t have an account, set one up.  If you have one but it has been largely neglected, then you need to update your profile with your various companies and positions.  Not just so that you can advertise yourself, but also because this is what will help you locate others on this tool who have worked with you in the past. 

I had a “near death” experience back in 2002 as the tech bubble burst and the company I worked for went through a bankruptcy.  Over the last 6 years I have logged into LinkedIn every 2-3 weeks (again not a lot of time at once) and looked up new people who joined that worked at companies that I have also been at.  If I knew them, I invited them to my network.  Over time this has grown tremendously and recently has been a blessing for me as I search for my next opportunity.

I will write more later on LinkedIn and provide some suggestions on how to best use it as well as point you to some of the other blogs where you can get great tips on how to get the most from this tool.  In the mean time, start digging!  It only takes a little time once a week or every other week to pay off big later.

– Yeti.

P.S.

Water really is essential and life giving.  You can change the lives of others by helping put wells into villages that do not currently have access to clean water.  See Living Water International or Living Waters for the world for great charities that change the lives of others dramatically through the building of deep freshwater wells.  They could use your support!