10 ways to maintain your professional connections

I have been contract programming for about five years and have made some great business connections. My hope is to use these people as professional references, job referrals, and potentially to rehire me for additional contract work. How can I keep in touch with these people without being annoying or looking only self-serving?

First, thanks for the question and I hope my answer is of value to you.

To begin, you are very wise to want to maintain your previous business connections for references, referrals, and future work. Many businesses are made and careers are enhanced with the assistance of those with whom we have previously worked. To your question, the key for you is four fold;

• Touch base with your contacts enough that you will not feel uncomfortable reaching out to them for a favor or question • If possible, find ways to provide them value and help so their assistance to you does not feel like a one way street • Be thankful and respectful of those who provide you assistance • Pay it forward by helping others as a thank you to those who helped you

That said, listed below are various ways to accomplish the above criteria:

1. Create a spreadsheet listing the people you would like to keep in touch with, the last time you connected with them, the reason for the contact, and notes from your last conversation. This spreadsheet will help you keep track of how long it’s been since you spoke with them and conversation starters based on the notes from your last conversation. 2. When you read a great blog or news story that you think will be of value to one of your contacts, send it to him/her with a quick note. This shows you are thinking of them at times when you don’t need their assistance. 3. Make an introduction between people you know if you think it will be of value to both parties. This allows you to be of value to two of your contacts at once. 4. If you help someone in a way that one of your contacts once helped you, send an email to your contact that you paid forward their assistance to you by helping someone else. This shows you remembered and appreciated their help and was willing to help others in the same way. People like to be remembered and know that they made a positive impact on someone’s life. 5. Connect to people on LinkedIn and/or other business networking software. Then when you see a change in their LinkedIn status, contact them. If they were promoted, congratulate them. If they were laid off, offer to provide them assistance. 6. If you took someone’s advice and it helped you, send them a thank you email, a hand written card, or food related gift as a thank you. 7. If you have a recreational activity in common: cycling, volunteering, watching football, golf, sailing, etc., send them an interesting column you read online or drop a physical copy of the article in the mail. 8. If one of your contacts reaches out to you for help, act quickly and effectively. This is not only a way to repay a favor done for you, but it can strengthen your relationship in general. 9. If you wrote a book, send them an autographed copy. If you developed a great app for a smartphone, send them a free link. In short, if you did something substantial, feel free to include your contacts in your success. One caution, however, don’t do it in a way that feels like selling or bragging. Your goal here is simply to reach out in a positive manner. 10. Be prolific. That is to say, write a blog, say interesting things on Twitter, and write a column in an industry magazine. Then, who knows, contacts you are trying stay in contact with may in turn be trying to keep in touch with you.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at eric@ManagerMechanics.com or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to grow.

Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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