There are a ton of pieces out there on how to network and build one’s network.
But sadly, no one ever seems to talk about the people you have, and more specifically, how to cultivate those relationships, instead of just making more.
Below is a description of how I personally keep in touch with my friends — it’s not necessarily the best way, just the way I happen to do it. If you have some ideas you think are uber cool and useful, feel free to share them in the comments section.
At first glance, this system is going to seem a bit crazy – the definition of going overboard. Who buys gifts for 20+ people or sends Mailchimp newsletters?
But I care a lot about maintaining my friendships and I’d argue the craziness of this system is pretty proportional to how much I care about my friends. Put simply, friendships are something I’m willing to spend time, money, and resources on.
So yes this system may seem a bit intense but you don’t have to replicate all of it — taking bits and pieces which you think would be meaningful to you works just as well.
As usual, I hope this helps and if you have any great (or better?) tips, let me know. 😊
Elements of the System
My mechanism of keeping in touch with friends and maintaining relationships has 5 key components:
- A Mailchimp Email Newsletter
- Regular Videochats
- Birthday Phone Calls, Emails, & Facebook Messages
- Visiting in Person
- Miscellaneous Elements
I. A Mailchimp Email Newsletter
Yep, you read that right. A Mailchimp Newsletter.
I fundamentally think we all want to get updates from friends in ways that are not too personal but not too impersonal. We all have friends we’d love to hear from or would love to keep in touch but aren’t close enough to actually do this through means of messaging or texting.
In other words, while Facebook is far too impersonal and texting/messaging is far too personal, an email newsletter sits perfectly in between.
The feeling of being on one and in the ‘inner circle’ of the email newsletter is great, but it’s also not too extravagant of a motion because it’s quite obvious it’s going out to multiple people. In other words, it allows you to honor your 2nd and 3rd degree friends and provide them with a way of staying in touch with you.
On your end, it’s simply easier to send the same update to many people, and still keep in touch with your inner circle via messaging. It’s literally the perfect solution.
Personally I have two newsletters segments:
Segment I: The Inner Circle
These are the people I consider super close to me – the people who would truly enjoy hearing about my everyday life updates, including the more boring ones. Since these are people I consider pretty close to me, I’ll usually send out updates more frequently than the other segment — about every 3-7 weeks.
Segment II: Friends & Acquaintances
These are people who like you and are interested in you but probably don’t want to hear from you tooooo often. I generally send this segment updates every 2-4 months.
A Note about Newsletter Segments
Note that these segments can be dynamic — if you grow closer to a friend, naturally you can easily add them to your Inner Circle segment. On top of that, as you meet more and more people throughout your life, you can continue to add them and stay in touch.
How to Implement This
- Make two lists on Excel – one of the people in your Inner Circle and one of the friends & acquaintances you’d like to keep in touch with.
- Create a Mailchimp account and set up one list in Mailchimp (titled ‘Email Newsletter’). From there, you can create 2 Mailchimp segments for your Inner Circle and friend segments.
- Send update emails as frequently as you like!
II. Regular Videochats
The thing about relationships is that life gets in the way of them – all the time.
Friendships as a result, end up on the backburner, well behind career deadlines, watching Netflix, and romantic relationships.
It’s almost as if we’re reactive to friendships, not proactive. To avoid this, I make a point of scheduling regular phone or video chats with people I genuinely enjoy interacting with. Between my close friends, I’ll usually chat with 1-2 people every week.
The key to making this work regularly with minimal effort is to schedule the next videochat at the current videochat. If you don’t, you’ll have a great one-off videochat and you’ll forget to schedule the next one until sometime next year. Beyond that, this has 4 other upsides:
- It reduces the awkwardness of having to message your friend a couple months later asking for another videochat.
- It makes the videochat way more likely to happen.
- You don’t have to remember to reach back out in X months.
- It leads to overall more communication.
How to implement this
- Make a list of friends you genuinely enjoy talking to, who hopefully also enjoy talking to you. Reach out to them to schedule an initial catchup phone chat or video chat.
- Towards the end of the initial video chat, say something along the lines of “hey, it was awesome catching up! Let’s schedule another videochat – maybe in _ months?”. You can always move the time around closer to the date — it mostly functions as a reminder to videochat.
III. Birthday Phone Calls, Emails, and Facebook Messages
I make a point of remembering my friends’ birthdays and reaching out to them on their birthdays –– either with a personalized phone call, email or as a last resort, as a Facebook message.
I think it really goes a long way to do so and there are a number of tools I’ll describe below which you can use to better remember to reach out to people.
How to implement this
Since I have a horrible memory, I’ve actually sat down and manually entered calendar reminders of my friends’ birthdays, which pop up on my calendar on the day of.
Various reminder tools you can use include:
- Schedule friends’ birthdays in Google Calendar.
- Set up a Zapier email notification based on a Google Calendar event.
- Apple reminder system.
This action has a high startup cost (sitting down and setting up reminders) but zero cost thereafter and I think taking the time to make a friend feel valued is so worth the cost of setting the system up.
IV. Visiting While in Town
As soon as you know you’re heading to a city, message the friends you know who live there. Nothing beats an in person meeting, especially if you’re willing to treat them to coffee.
How to implement this
1. Have an organized sense of where people are located.
I maintain a spreadsheet of my friends, which includes a column for ‘city 2017’, allowing me to quickly look up the friends I have in a given city when I’m traveling. This allows me to not have to spend time figuring out who’s in which city every time I travel and more importantly, prevents me from accidentally forgetting to meet up with someone. 🙂
2. If you want to meet people you don’t know too well, make group chats.
A friend (shoutout to you, Nora!) did this when visiting New York from Oxford. I knew her as an acquaintance at Oxford and it would have been a bit of a stretch for her to directly message me to hangout, as we weren’t that close at Oxford. Instead, she made a group chat with a close friend of mine and I, and on account of the close friend, I was totally down to come. That allowed Nora and I to solidify our friendship further, to the point where, if I was back in Oxford now, I’d be entirely comfortable meeting up with her individually.
All in all, this serves 4 functions:
- It serves as a more efficient way of hanging out with people, especially if your time in a given city is limited.
- It allows you to re-connect with people you may feel uncomfortable meeting one-on-one.
- It incentivizes people who may not know you too well to feel comfortable meeting up with you.
- It’s less talking pressure –– multiple people means it’s easier to listen / not have to talk, if you have an introverted side in you, like me =)
V. Miscellaneous Elements
Generously ask people for advice
When I have a problem, I’ll usually go ahead and message 5-6 friends and get their input on the matter. The benefit of this is 5 fold:
- It sends a message that you value their advice and trust their opinion.
- People love giving advice and you provide them with the opportunity to do so. In some sense, you’re giving people a reason to feel great by allowing them to provide their opinion.
- It sends a message that they’re important enough to you that you’d reach out to them for advice.
- You get their advice on the matter.
- You create an environment in which they can come to you for advice and you can return the favor to them. There’s no better way of connecting with people than by helping them out!
That’s a pretty powerful ROI for one action item.
My friend recently called me for career advice on whether to move across the country and accept a full-time return offer at Goldman Sachs, the company she was working at. Over the course of an hour and a half, we worked through the problem and by the end, (I think) I was of help to her and on my end, I felt way more connected to her than before.
In a sense, it was a double win for her; by the end of the day, she was able to
- Get further insight on the issue bothering her at the time.
- Strengthen the relationship with each person she connected with.
(If you’re interested in reading more into this, this notion that asking others for a favor leads them to like you more is actually something that has been well researched and validated, coined the Ben Franklin effect.)
Actively seek reasons to connect
If people post about a new job or life event, I make a point of messaging them a huge congrats!, and asking about how they’ve been since we last talked. It’s a great excuse to just reach out and say hi.
As you can see, maintaining relationships for me is no small matter; it’s an active habit I maintain in life, as important and time consuming as maintaining my health and loving my family.
But it sure as heck pays off; I feel secure, loved, and supported and suffice to say, it’s been very much well worth the effort =)
Other Posts in the Career Guide: