Most professionals understand the importance of networking, but what good is it if you lose track of the valuable contacts you make throughout your career?
Kathy Conant of Brookfield, Connecticut, believes that staying connected with other fitness professionals is crucial. “I keep in touch by phone or e-mail with the IDEA trainers in my area,” she says. “I keep up-to-date on their specialties and make as many referrals as possible. [When] job opportunities . . . arise, [I try] to keep us all in the loop. We also touch base at IDEA conferences to share ideas about equipment, pricing and certifications.”
How do you stay connected with others in the industry and tap your network to benefit your role as a manager? Below are some communication vehicles you can use. Although seemingly basic at face value, these strategies work only if you follow through on them consistently. Consider the ideas and then think about which colleagues you’d like to connect with—and how you’re going to do it. (See “Creating a Plan to Stay Connected” on page 9.)
Do you love to connect with colleagues face to face? Here are some ways you can do so:
Schedule Meetings. Arrange to meet key colleagues either regularly or occasionally throughout the year. Meet
one-on-one or in groups for coffee, breakfast, lunch or dinner meetings.
Or plan to make your meetings active
by taking a walk.
Meet at Conventions. In addition to the educational sessions they offer, conferences provide valuable opportunities to get together with out-of-town colleagues. Don’t leave connections to chance. Set times to meet over breakfast, lunch or dinner or in the expo hall.
Organize a Professional Exchange. Make sure you stay in touch with local colleagues by conducting an informal information exchange for people who work in the same job you do—perhaps
a choreography exchange, a trainer exchange or a manager exchange. You’ll provide a great service for colleagues and deepen your relationship with
them through organizing and attending the event.
Using the telephone can be another great way to maintain relationships. Try these two strategies for connecting:
Schedule Routine Phone Meetings. Arrange a time to touch base with a colleague or colleagues on a regular basis. Jim Labadie of Achieve Total Fitness Inc. in Tampa, Florida, is a former personal trainer who now teaches the “business of fitness” to fitness pros. He stays in touch with colleagues by meeting with his MasterMind group each week on
“The five of us are located throughout the country. Two are in New Jersey; one is in Wilmington, Delaware; another is in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and I’m in Tampa, Florida,” he says. “We
call into a conference call line every Thursday night at 9:05 pm EST to discuss our future business plans, motivate each other and keep each other on track. The calls are a heck of a lot of fun. We’re extremely good friends, and one of the rules of the group is no complaining! We all very much look forward to the call each week, as we always come away from it feeling great and completely focused on our future success.”
Take Advantage of “Wasted Time.” Ever find yourself frustrated that you’re waiting in bumper-to-bumper traffic or a long line somewhere? Use this otherwise “wasted time” to reconnect with
a colleague. (Of course, make sure you can call safely if you’re on the road!)
If you think you’re going to be caught waiting somewhere, bring a list of names and phone numbers of people you’d like to call.
With the phenomenal popularity of online services, e-mail has quickly become a key way to connect.
“One of my main career goals is to
be a conference presenter and industry leader,” says Jackie Camborde, owner of Sante Studio in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “Living here is challenging from a networking perspective. I am very thankful for the Internet and the contacts that
I have made at past IDEA conferences. To date, almost every seasoned presenter whom I have contacted for advice
has been very helpful and given me a
variety of ideas to take my career to the next level.”
Here are some suggestions you can use to keep in touch via e-mail:
- Forward cutting-edge research or other valuable industry insights to your circle of colleagues. Make sure you keep people’s e-mail addresses private by using the blind copy (BCC:) function, and don’t e-mail so frequently that colleagues feel overwhelmed by the volume of messages.
- E-mail your circle of colleagues when something changes in your life or when you need advice. A change may be a work change (like getting a new job) or a personal change (like moving). Tell colleagues that you’d love to hear what’s going on with their jobs as well.
- Create an annual newsletter about your career and/or personal life and send it to your colleagues at a certain time, perhaps during the December holidays or at a downtime in the year.
- Make introductions via e-mail. If you know of two colleagues who you think would find value in connecting, e-mail one or both of them.
In the age of e-mail, written correspondence is much less common. Because it is less common, however, it makes a big impact! Use the following ideas, or brainstorm some of your own:
- Send cards for colleagues’ birthdays or other special events, such as promotions, work anniversaries or outstanding presentations.
- Drop someone a line just to say you’re thinking of him or her. Set aside correspondence time in your schedule every so often, or write notes as you’re waiting in long lines or in a doctor’s office, mechanic’s office, etc.
- Write and mail a newsletter in which you update colleagues about your career and life. If possible, leave space so you can handwrite a short personal note.
Why is it so important to maintain contacts with colleagues? “As we go through life, we accumulate loved ones, friends, work associates, business colleagues and others,” says Bernie Schroeder, senior vice president of marketing and communications at IDEA. “As you march through your personal and career objectives, you will no doubt need feedback, support and even some new ideas from time to time. Consider all these people who touch your life and the combined support and feedback you could get if you simply maintained your network. For me, this has worked quite well.”
From his first friendships to his workplace contacts, Schroeder has always found ways to correspond with his network. “In the days before the Internet, I stayed in touch with a yearly newsletter that let my network know what was happening in my career and family life,” he says. “Once the Internet arrived, it became much easier to simply e-mail my network a few times each year. This has two key functions. First, people let me know what they are doing and provide me with their contact information. Second, they provide me with feedback and advice when I ask for it. For example, [through these contacts] I have accepted several work-related opportunities to fuel my career. Whenever I wanted a point of view, advice or even thoughts on what I should do next in my career, my network was there for me to query. In some instances, my network contacts led me to new opportunities.”
After 20 years, Schroeder’s network consists of several hundred people, some of whom he has not seen in 10 years. “[These people] are there for me simply because I have maintained contact through the years,” he explains. “So whether you are just starting out in your career or you are a 20-year veteran, provide plenty of care and feeding of your network. Someday, that network may just help you change your life.”
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