Building strong connections: how to focus on quality over quantity in your network.

A strong network is more than just a professional asset. It’s your most powerful personal resource.

Whether you’re looking for a new job or just hiring a contractor, you need to meet the right people, at the right time.

And a lot of the time, you do. You’ve worked hard to build your network. But inevitably, relationships fade. It’s hard to keep track of everyone, and you only have time to nurture a few key relationships.

So how do you prioritize? Which of your contacts will get the most attention? And how do you know when and whom to ask for help?

1. Identify your strongest connections.

Make a short-list of the 20 relationships you actively want to maintain. Intuitively, you probably have some idea who these people are — family, friends, the people on your team at work. And, for the most part, you’d be right. But there’s this psychological phenomenon that prevents you from seeing your relationships entirely objectively: the availability heuristic.

Basically, the availability heuristic says that, when answering a question, evaluating something, making a list of examples, etc., we rely on the memories that are most “available” at the time — i.e. our recent experiences. (Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor — just a writer who thinks psychology is fascinating.)

So when you’re listing your strongest connections, you’ll recall people who are top-of-mind. Certainly, recent interaction is a signal of relationship strength — but also consider your longest relationships, the people you really enjoy hearing from, and those with whom you have a lot in common.

Now that you have your VIP list, stop pressuring yourself to remember every single person you meet. When someone comes into your life and becomes as influential as your top 20, add them to the list. Just a reminder not to add people indefinitely, though… the idea is to focus on your most important connections and keep relationship upkeep manageable!

2. Prioritize keeping in touch.

Decide how often you want to communicate with each of your top connections, and WRITE IT DOWN (did you know you’re over 40% more likely to achieve your goals if you’ve written them down?).

Again, it’s important not to overload yourself. We’d all like to have infinite energy to go to every networking event and set up regular phone calls with our most important connections… But you’re only human. You already have a job, and adding full-time networker to your resume is a recipe for burnout.

So instead of spreading yourself thin, let networking go with the flow of life. Use holidays, events, birthdays, etc. as reasons to start a conversation. These are milestones that are meaningful to your connections, and all you have to do is add them to your calendar and send a genuine note of recognition once in a while.

3. Ask questions.

None of this statement-based “Heard you just turned 40! Wishing you a happy birthday. Hope you’re well,” stuff. If you’re not clearly calling for a response, you’re basically inviting the recipient to “mark as read” and never look at your message again.

Good thing it’s easy to avoid this problem — just turn one part of your note into a question or a request. “Heard you just turned 40! I’d love to hear about the party — why don’t we get lunch next week?” or “Heard you just turned 40! Happy birthday! Did you do anything special for the big four-oh?” are more engaging.

4. Always follow through.

You’ve got a lot on your plate. If you know you don’t have time to really nurture a relationship, don’t commit to it. Just because you’ve decided to get better at networking doesn’t mean you have to make yourself miserable doing it. Maybe that’s why many of us think of networking as a chore!

Instead, modify your plan and adjust your expectations. Start with 10 top connections instead of 20. Write an email template to use as a foundation when it’s time to catch up with people. Attend fewer events and get involved in a small, close-knit online community instead. There are dozens of ways to make networking easier — the important part is that, no matter how much effort you feel you can make, your relationships are grounded in honesty and authenticity.

Can’t stress this enough. Your best opportunities come from your strongest connections, and your strongest connections come from the genuine conversations we talked about earlier. If someone responds to one of your emails, don’t leave them hanging! Even if there’s really nothing more to say, a simple “thank you,” or “looking forward to it!” goes a long way.

Mutual effort is another important component of a strong connection. When it comes to networking, you get back what you put in, so become an active part of your community. Be generous with your connections and with your time (to the extent you can be) — it encourages engagement and generosity in return.

So, to recap — meeting as many people as you possibly can isn’t good networking. Good networking is actually about knowing fewer people. When you’re selective in choosing quality connections and you put in the effort, your network gets better — which, when it comes to getting good recommendations and referrals — is so much more powerful than bigger.