By Jeff Beals
You know that old saying: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
Perhaps we could add another clause: “…and keep your references closest of all.”
One of my readers recently asked me “to write an article about work and business references in this age of business closures, people moving on, etc.” The reader mentioned that he had lost a few references lately. One had moved, changing his email address and phone number and couldn’t be found. Another relocated to China. A third one blissfully retired to Arizona and no longer seemed interested in talking about anything that reminded him of life before retirement.
The reader brings up a fairly common and very relevant problem that many of today’s professionals encounter. We are living in a highly mobile time in history in which talented people have unprecedented options and opportunities. Despite all the communication channels at our fingertips, it is still possible to lose touch.
Losing track of references can be quite damaging nowadays, because more and more consumers and decision-makers are seeking and questioning third party references before making buying or business decisions.
This concern applies whether we are talking about references for your business or you as a professional as well as career references who could help you land a new job.
Considering the importance of maintaining a healthy list of positive and well-credentialed references in today’s hyper-competitive environment, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Expect Some Shrinkage
Let’s acknowledge that despite your best efforts, you will lose touch with some references. Businesses change. Careers change. Lives change. Ultimately, nothing is permanent. Just as an outstanding company knows it will periodically lose clients to forces beyond its control, you must accept that nobody can maintain 100 percent of their relationships over the course of a career.
Businesses anticipate they will lose a certain percentage of clients each year despite their best efforts to retain them. That’s why marketing and sales departments are constantly prospecting, looking for new business and developing new clients. The same thing applies to references. Constantly build strong professional relationships with new people so you always have a large group of credentialed professionals upon whom you can depend.
Remember how hard it used to be to keep your Microsoft Outlook, address book or Rolodex up to date given all the moves, promotions and relocations of people in your network? Well, if you’re an active LinkedIn member, that difficulty no longer exists. As your professional connections update their profiles on LinkedIn, they are essentially updating your “address book” for you. In order to make this work, make sure you search for and connect with as many of your connections as possible. Remember, it’s best to make those connections now before you need them.
For those references who live in your area, make an effort at least a couple times a year to sit down with them for coffee, lunch or after-work drinks. If you travel, think about people you know in your destination city. Nothing does more to create enduring professional relationships than periodic meetings where you shake hands and look each other in the eye.
Find Ways to Give
Many have heard and try to follow the biblical principle, “it is better to give than to receive.” In the relationship-maintenance game, that verse is certainly true. Being a “giving” professional makes it easier for people to stay in touch with you. Send cards and handwritten notes. When you see an article that reminds you of another person email the link to him or her. Giving tangible gifts is nice too but spending big dollars is not usually necessary.
Don’t Be Bashful
While it is possible to become a sort of “professional recluse,” one has to work at it. In a Google-driven world, you ultimately stand a pretty good chance to tracking down the people you seek. But despite the tremendous research power that exists on the smart phones in their pockets, some professionals are hesitant to reach out and make contact with a reference who has gone “dormant.” Don’t be bashful. Just because some time may have elapsed since your last contact doesn’t mean the connection doesn’t want to communicate with you. By taking the initiative you might make the person’s day!
Give Them Ownership
I’m not talking about literal ownership of a company; I’m talking about a sense of ownership. Make people feel like they are a key part of your personal success and your organization’s success. Let them know they are important to you and that you see them as “part of your team.”
If you want to keep your references engaged, make them your unofficial deputies. Empower them to recommend you. If they see a business or personal opportunity that would be ideal for you, they should feel comfortable recommending you because they know you would appreciate it. Deputizing them also helps establish a sense of ownership.
In closing, remember you can never have too many good references. Those organizations and individual professionals who have raving fans do more business. A large group of references in your pocket is like having a huge marketing and sales staff without having to pay the salaries and benefits.
Jeff Beals is a professional speaker and award-winning author, who helps professionals enjoy greater success through effective sales, marketing and personal branding techniques. He delivers energetic and humorous keynote speeches and workshops to audiences worldwide. To discuss booking a presentation, go to JeffBeals.com or email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (402) 637-9300.
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