You've made it through the pomp and circumstance and you've got your sheepskin in your hot little fist - now what? Well, now is the time to start working your network like a maniac on the floor.
Back in the day if you wanted to be a baller you had to know how to rock a Rolodex. Today there are all kinds of contact managers, "smart address books" and CRM (customer relationship management) tools that promise to do the hard work of relationship building for you. Mostly what they do is vacuum up your phone numbers, addresses and friend-lists, leaving you in a Katamari Damacy hell of useless followers.
Choose Your Platform (it's all about searchability)
Networking is pretty simple - you reach out to someone you may or may not know very well - and see if you can find some common ground. Maybe this person can help you with your goals, maybe you can help them with theirs. The trick is to be able to recall this conversation weeks or months later. And that means taking good notes.
Fortunately help is as close as your smartphone. You just need an app that can link a person's contact information with the notes you keep after a conversation. And you need to be able to search these notes. That way when you go to a Meetup and meet someone who has a passion for Civil War reenactment you can introduce this person to the person you met last week who has a collection of 19th century Howitzers. Before you know it you'll be one of the top go-to persons in your network.
You'd be surprised how many fancy-pants CRM applications don't let you search your notes. Fortunately Google Contacts or the Contacts app on the iPhone have everything you need to start working your prospects. They are tag-able and searchable and they can synch across all your devices.
Just don't try using Google Contacts at the same time as another address book or you'll soon find yourself drowning in a sea of rapidly spawning duplicates (see"hell" above).
Tag Your Prospects
Start with a few names of people you know, or people you'd like to know better. Tag these as "Prospects." Reach out to these people by phone, Facebook or email, explaining who you are and what you're about. Make sure you also find out what these people are all about, keeping notes about the conversation in your address book. At the end of your conversation ask if they can think of anyone else you might talk to.
Once you've had the conversation you can ditch the "Prospects" tag and tag this person as a "Contact." Make sure you follow up in a few months just to stay on that person's radar. Apple's Contacts app for Mac OS lets you create Smart Groups and filter by date so that you won't let too much time go by before following up.
Using tags (groups or labels) to organize your contacts is a pretty easy way to establish a good networking workflow, or what the pros call a "sales funnel." Starting with everyone in the known universe you build up your contact list with people you'd like to meet, people you have met and people who have paid you. The trick is to move people from one stage to the next.
You can get an awful lot done with simple tools like Google Contacts. Networking is all about meeting people, finding common ground and remembering. You really don't need anything fancy but if you're ready to kick things up a notch here are few things you might try:
Contacts Cleaner - If you're on a Mac this little app makes it easy to merge and purge duplicate or incomplete contacts.
Plaxo - This cloud based contact manager works great for removing duplicates and synching contacts across devices. The free account can help you with basic clean-up but full scale synching will set you back a small subscription fee. You might even want to use Plaxo as your default address book.
Cloze - Here's a "social inbox" that screens your calls for you. Messages from your VIP list appear at the top and Cloze does a decent job of figuring out who your important contacts are. The application works seamlessly across iOS and browser-based devices. Some of the behavior is a little weird - you can dismiss email messages by sliding them but social messages only fade away after you've read them. But Cloze a good way to keep your eye on the headlines.
Hootsuite - This is a social media aggregator that gives you a dashboard view of social media networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. They have a free account option.
Nimble CRM - This is a big relationship management tool for sales teams but you can get a free individual account. Nimble does a really great job of integrating social media, gmail and other conversation sources alongside your contacts. The application tries to match contact information with social media accounts and it does a pretty good job of collecting information for you.
You can set tasks, reminders and add notes - but notes aren't searchable. One cool feature is that you can schedule outbound Tweets and Facebook updates. This way you can burn the midnight oil and still know that your audience will see your messages when they are more likely to be online.
Some other tips:
How to Use Evernote as a CRM
How to Build Conversations when You're Just Starting Out
How to Network Successfully, 22 Pro Tips
Image: Poolcode, Wikimedia commons.