The value of networking and the positive impact building relationships can have on your career – both today and in the future.

Learning to build strong relationships with other business people is a critical skill for professionals. Often busy schedules, personal priorities and long work hours can prevent us from staying connected. When the unexpected happens – merger, acquisition, loss of position or other events where we find ourselves in need of a strong network to help us to find the next opportunity, we realize how well we’ve succeeded at staying connected or how we could have done better. A recent lunch with a GC who had recently left his position reminded me of how important it is to keep in touch and maintain relationships. He has so many new opportunities because he stayed connected. Here are five tips for doing this in spite of busy schedules.

1. First, clean up your contact list. Evaluate your contacts – cross off names of individuals who you do not remember or know. If you are never going to reach out to them, there is no need to have these names clutter your files. Then, add those individuals who are not in your contacts. Often these are people you are in touch with and just have not yet added their information. Last, identify at least 50 – more if you can manage it – individuals you would connect with who could help you identify new opportunities if need be. Asterisk these individuals’ names and add them to a spreadsheet. LawVision has one called a Contact Activity Tracker. Please email for a copy of this.

2. Add the contacts on your Tracker to LinkedIn. If you don’t use LinkedIn, please do. It’s a valuable resource for staying connected, particularly when you are super busy.

3. Phone or email – phone is always preferable – each individual on your list. This will take some time, perhaps over a three- to six-month period to get to everyone. If it’s been awhile since you connected with the person, just say, “It’s been a while since we connected and I’m calling to say hello to see how you are doing.” The conversation will flow from there. Before ending the conversation, make it a point to say you will keep in touch and invite them to do the same.

4. Follow up two or three more times during the year. Send a holiday card with a hand-written note – preferable to electronic; add an interesting article to LinkedIn with a comment from you, perhaps from CCBJ, Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek or another good read. Find reasons to keep in touch.

5. Last, find ways to introduce people in your network to one another. Try to meet face to face with important contacts for coffee, breakfast or lunch. Staying connected will help you and your contacts in many ways, like being a resource for one another, helping in times of need, or sharing opportunities and ideas. Regardless of whether you are an introvert or extrovert, making the effort to stay connected is a valuable career activity and worth pursuing. Happy networking!