By Najaf Ali
When you think of networking, you think of “hustlers” throwing business cards at each other at dimly-lit drinks receptions for startups. Everyone talks quickly, exchanges elevator pitches and rushes to the next person to flick their card at. These events exist, and I’m sure they’re great for something, but I want nothing to do with them.
For success in your career, whatever it is you want to do, the most important thing is your ability to create value. It doesn’t matter that much how well you network. For a programmer, any time spent networking might be better spent at the terminal improving your skills. But having a network in addition to value-creating skills opens up untold opportunities for you.
Having a network of people that want you to succeed makes it easier to find a job doing work that’s interesting to you. It makes it easier for you to hire people. It makes it easier to get advice or mentorship in whatever challenges you’re having at work. It makes it easier to validate your business idea. It makes it easier to find customers for your new business. It makes it easier to find freelance work if and when you need it.
Perhaps more importantly, it makes it easier for you to help others. It’s a way for you to help others get a job more appropriate for them. It gives you the opportunity to provide advice and mentorship for others. It allows you to make introductions between people that you know would benefit from talking. It allows you to help your friends with whatever challenges your friends are going through at work.
In this article I’m going to write about everything I’ve done to build a network over the past ten years in this industry. I’m not a particularly good networker, and not everything here will be actionable for you. But there are probably a few ideas here that you can put to good use.
A goal of networking should be to plant seeds now that you can harvest later. Later could be in a few weeks, months, years, or decades. Your network will go with you whatever you do with your career. The more you focus on it, the more opportunities it will eventually present to you.
I was giving a talk about networking and finding your first job at a meeting for women trying to get into the tech industry. One of the questions I was asked was what should you do to make sure that the person you’re asking out for a coffee date think that you’re not asking them out for a, well, actual date.
My response then is the same as it is now: I’m not really qualified to answer that question. It’s never happened to me. I gave the floor to more experienced women engineers that would likely have more useful things to say in response than I would.
I am a cisgendered heterosexual neurotypical male in technology in the global top 1% in income, with all of the privilege that implies. If you are not those things, there are things I’m telling you to do in this article that will be impractical at best, and put you in harms way at worst.
In a perfect meritocracy, your network shouldn’t have an effect on your career prospects. We don’t live in a meritocracy. In this article, I’m not saying that you should have to build your network. Only that in the world that we inhabit, a network will probably help you do things you otherwise couldn’t.
How networking helped me
Aspiring consultants: 20 high-quality convos, 5~8 coffee dates, 2~4 proposals, 1 gig. If you're not getting enough gigs, find the hole.— Patrick McKenzie (@patio11) 21 January 2016
It’s difficult to envision the benefits of networking until you start to see the results. I didn’t aim to get these benefits when I started out, but I knew that something good would happen if I kept going out of my way to help people.
I’ve been networking actively for almost a decade. Here are a few stories of how my network has helped me. I’ve used initials only, so if you know me you can probably guess who I’m talking about.
BL had a background in journalism and was just his startup off the ground when he saw my talk at LRUG about security. He had just finished a coding bootcamp and was coding his prototype on his own. After my talk he asked me to give his codebase a once-over from a security standpoint. As he didn’t have a budget, I spent a couple of hours looking at the code, wrote up some recommendations, and left it at that. We kept in touch over coffee/beer once a year or so.
Years later, his startup is wildly successful. It has a business model, traction, an enviable growth curve, and investors pitch him. I caught up with BL recently and told him about some of my challenges, the biggest of which is finding work for Happy Bear Software.
BL outlined potential lead generation strategies, and made an introduction to the Director of Sales of a 500-person high-growth startup. That director met with me and spent three hours of his time helping me come up with a roadmap for getting to a predictable level of lead generation for Happy Bear Software. You could easily pay a consultant thousands for that kind of help, but I got the introduction and the consulting for free.
PM has a not insignificant degree of internet fame. I was a big fan of PM’s writing and met him in person at a conference in Las Vegas in 2013. I kept in touch with PM on twitter, and tried to meet him for lunch or dinner if he was ever in the UK. PM always replied to emails about specific questions I had about his advice or writing. I managed to catch up with him in our last family holiday in Japan, where he treated us to some of the best BBQ brisket I’ve ever experienced.
We’re planning to move to Japan soon and I asked PM if he had any advice or introductions to people about the tax implications of operating a limited UK company from there. He introduced me to a trusted company that he had a very long relationship with. They got on a call with extreme patience explained exactly what the big stumbling blocks would be to me moving Japan while still operating this company. Finding a good, trustworthy financial advisor is difficult enough in a country where I have an established network. I would never have received that level of advice had PM not made the introduction for us.
JC is the COO of one of the best Ruby/Rails development teams in London. Under his guidance, the team was run well enough that he convinced experienced London Rubyists to stop contracting and take permanent roles at the company. I had seen a couple of his talks and was impressed. JC had seen some of my articles and emails and was interested in my take on how to run teams, so I emailed him to set up lunch. We chatted about hiring developers, and I mentioned that I’d like to write a short book on the topic but wasn’t sure if I was qualified to write it yet. He encouraged me to write it and the turned into The Hiring Book. JC ended up coming to our monthly dinners, and we kept in touch over email. I’ve subsequently recommended his company to a large number of new developers looking for a good place to work.
SL is one of the co-founders of a former client of ours. I got along with SL quite well, so we meet every few years or so to catch up over beer and talk business. His company is a layer on top of foreign exchange brokers that makes changing large sums of money easier. As we’re moving to Japan and have a chunk of money to change into Japanese yen, SL was my first choice for help. He took time to explain the process to me, had a member of staff assigned specifically to answer all of my queries about payments/transactions and otherwise hand-held me through the process. There is no way I would receive that level of service without a pre-existing relationship with SL.
DP was the organiser of a group that focused on teaching programming to people from groups that were underrepresented in tech. I spent a lot of time with DP discussing organisational issues she had. I wasn’t able to spend much time teaching for the group, but did do one or two day-long workshops and a few talks at a couple of events.
This built for me a bit of a reputation in the group, and this ended up making the group an extremely good source of hiring candidates. We’ve hired something like three organisers of that group so far, and are likely to source candidates from it again, purely thanks to network effects.
This is a short selection of the things my network has helped me with. I’ve avoided mention of how it helps us find work at Happy Bear Software. Every client has come as a referral from someone in my network. We’re a business now that feeds five full-time developers, so you can do some back of the napkin maths to figure out how much the network gets us in top line revenue.
Networking for me is lifelong participation in a goodwill economy. You do favours for people and some of those people may do favours for you. The prime directive of all of your networking should be to find ways to help others and expect nothing in return. You will receive plenty in return. But you won’t know when, and nothing specific will ever be guaranteed.
My networking activity could be thought about in terms of five areas:
- Give people value. This means both value at a distance (articles, talks, books, workshops) and value up close and personal (solicited advice, introductions, and anything else you can help with). Giving value to others makes them want to give you something in return when they can. It also establishes a much better context for meeting someone for the first time.
- Meet new people. Your network grows when you meet new people. I don’t get along with everyone, so for me the goal is not to become best friends with every new person I meet. Instead I try to set myself up to meet new people in a favourable context (where they’ve benefitted from something I’ve said or done) and then double down on the relationship when there’s some natural rapport or shared interests.
- Spend time with people you like. This is the the most important part of networking and the part I spend most of my time on. When you’ve established a professional relationship with someone that you like, you should keep interacting with that person. It will be fun, and there will likely be ways that you can help each other in the future.
- Ask for help. Networking isn’t just about giving people value unconditionally, although that’s definitely where you should start. Eventually you will need to call in favours. Never be shy about this. Asking for help and getting it is a part of your relationship. I ask my contacts for work for Happy Bear Software, to buy tickets to our security workshop, for potential candidates to hire, and for advice/guidance on topics I need help with.
- Make it worthwhile. Never network because you feel you have to. If you don’t like interacting with people then you can have a perfectly successful career without doing any networking. If you’re going to network, then you should only do it with people you like. You should have standards for how people treat you and those around you, a personal code of conduct, and summarily excommunicate anyone that won’t adhere to it.
Everything in this article will help you do one or more of the above. You don’t need to follow my specific advice or use any of these particular tactics. But when thinking about your networking strategy, the above should provide a guiding structure to get you started.
Tactics and techniques
The standard advice you hear about networking is to “give value” to others without asking for anything in return. But as a developer, what value can you give to others? What do we mean by value when we’re talking about networking?
The basic currency of networking is meeting people one-to-one for a chat over a coffee, lunch, beer, or whatever food/drink item you feel is appropriate. This is what most of my day-to-day networking activity looks like.
When you’re meeting someone for the first time, this is a chance to get to know each other and see if you get along. When you’re meeting someone after a while or someone that you had a good conversation with in another context, it’s a chance to catch up and build on your relationship.
You don’t need to have a “goal” for your meeting. You can just sit and have a natural conversation with another human being. However if like me you have the social skills of a cave troll, it can help to have some guidelines so that you don’t find yourself in an awkward situations with little to talk about.
When I meet someone for a coffee, if there’s nothing else for us to talk about, I try to talk about the other person and their problems. Three questions I end up asking a lot are:
- What’s keeping you busy these days?
- How is that going for you?
- What are your big challenges right now?
As these questions are focused on the other person, and things that the other person likely has a lot to say about, it will probably take up a lot of conversation time.
You provide a lot of value just by sitting and listening to their answers. You don’t need to have a solution in your pocket for every conceivable problem. A lot of people in my network are startup founders with problems growing their companies: a set of problems I know vanishingly little about solving.
However, now that you know what their problems are, you should try to help them find solutions if you can. This might be by making suggestions on their specific situation if it’s an area you have expertise in. It could be by making an introduction to someone who has handled the problem before. It might just be you sending them a quick email with a few links to books or articles that could be relevant to the problem. You may or may not help, but to the extent possible you should try to align yourself with people against the challenges they face at work.
At some point in the conversation, they might ask about how things are going with you. When that times come, feel free to speak at length about what you’re focusing on at work. If you have a specific request for them, then this is time to set up the context and ask for the thing you want.
If you do a lot of networking, you’ll find that more experienced networkers (typically founders) will explicitly ask what they can do for you. Sometimes you’ll have a specific ask, and this is the time to make it. Other times it’s just to keep in touch (in my case it’s to keep us in mind for Ruby/Rails work). If they ask you this, then be sure to ask them the exact same question in return right afterwards.
If you’re choosing a venue and it’s in a major city, consider using the same venue each time for your networking meets. This means you can have a good idea of when it will be busy, you can get to know the staff, and you’ll have a good idea of how long it takes to get there (so you can avoid being late). Startup hubs in particular are well served by good coffee shops. On the average day if you sat around dropping eaves at Ozone, Lantana, or Shoreditch Grind, you could probably piece together the product roadmaps of nine or ten nearby startups.
Stand up in front of a group of other humans, string a few sentences together that make sense, and for some reason the humans watching you will hold you in higher esteem. Speaking at industry conferences and meetups gives value to a lot of people in one go. If the talk is recorded and freely available to watch on the internet, your reach goes even further.
To start speaking, come up with a pitch for a ten minute talk on a topic you know something about. Aim the talk at beginners. There will be beginners in the audience, and your take on the subject will likely be a useful reminder of the basics for the more experienced. Keep it short, and remember that your goal isn’t to give the best possible talk: to start with it’s just to get up and give a talk at all.
Years ago I decided that I would give a talk to my local ruby user group about web application security. I thought that I would be laughed off the stage. In my mind, everything in my talk was so basic that it wasn’t even worthy of discussion. My goal was just to give a talk. I didn’t care about how good my content or delivery were.
It turns out that the content wasn’t basic. I had a large number of questions at the end, and have performed a number of consulting engagements based on that talk. The content was a starting point for the Rails security workshop I run. All told we’ve made something like £40,000 in revenue based on what I considered “basic knowledge” at the time, but it took giving that talk for me to realise that value.
Your talk won’t necessarily result in consulting engagements. But becoming a regular speaker will allow you to spend time with other speakers, a lot of whom are contributors to open source projects, founders of companies, or other people it might be nice to get the chance to speak to.
A single talk you give will be a conversation point with people you meet years later. If you have a video of the talk, you can send it to someone in an email if they ask you about that topic. Giving a talk will make you a better communicator. It forces you to condense what you know into a coherent narrative. It will at the very least give you something to say about the subject of your talk in conversation.
Giving talks increases the number of people who know of you and what you’re interested in. It doesn’t necessarily expand the network of people you regularly keep in touch with. It does however make opening conversations with new people easier. To the audience, you’re now seen as an expert in something and they will feel as if they know you from a distance.
Another staple of networking is making introductions. When you know that person A has experience of solving a problem that person B is stuck on, it makes sense that you would want to introduce A to B.
Introductions are an interesting way to give value because the value here is in your network itself rather than any specific expertise you have. You’re getting people together that you know would have a fruitful discussion for their own benefit.
You’re also spending a little bit of your own social goodwill when you make an introduction, so I’d recommend against doing so lightly. If the interaction doesn’t go well, you’ll be associated with that negativity.
When you make an introduction, pre-warm both sides so that the interaction goes well. Ask for permission to make the introduction on both sides with links to the website or LinkedIn profile of the other person. They can then turn you down before you make the intro or otherwise know to expect the introduction soon.
The intro email should address both sides, recapping how you introduced each party to the other. You should spend some of this email re-iterating why you think the two people should meet and then leave them to it. This is a good time to genuinely talk up your relationship with either side.
Sometimes you’ll instead be introduced to someone else. This is the time to be the best, most value-giving version of yourself. Someone in your network has gone on the record as vouching for you. You will reflect badly on them if the introduction ends badly, and they’ll be less likely to introduce you to anyone in the future.
When you go to a networking event to meet new people you’re rolling a dice. You might meet one or two people you get along with, but at most events there will be a lot more noise than signal. Especially when you have other commitments, it can be difficult to convince yourself to spend an evening away from them without a guarantee that the event will be worth your time.
One tactic that has worked exceptionally well for me has been to run a regular, invite-only dinner. I invite different people from my network each month in groups of around ten. Sometimes we get a lot of no-shows and other times we have the entire ten. I run it at the same restaurant every month, which ensures that there are no logistical surprises and builds a relationship with the restaurant. That and asking someone out for 焼肉 (Japanese BBQ) is an extremely easy sell.
Attendees to the dinner are usually a mix of entry-level developers I know, past clients, current leads I’m working with, employees, people I’m trying to hire, and anyone else in my network I think it would be good to sit down and have a meal with. The only criteria to attend is that I (for the most part) get along with you. That’s usually a good enough guarantee that they’ll get along with everyone in the group.
Doing this dinner regularly has a number of benefits for me. It guarantees that it will be a good use of my time. It allows people I think should meet to be casually introduced. It allows junior developers looking for their first job to meet people that might hire them. For our company, it puts happy clients and new leads across a table from each other, which helps in our sales process. It’s another excuse to interact with someone you’d like to develop a professional relationship with. And the connections made across the table are a fast way to let a small group of people in your network get a lot of value out of their relationship with you.
I don’t really enjoy conferences. I have difficulty maintaining focus during a single twenty-minute talk, let alone seven or eight of them in succession. I don’t like huge crowds of people. More than all of that I really don’t like being away from my kids for two or three nights at a time.
However conferences can be a great opportunity to meet and catch up with people in your industry, or kickstart your network if you haven’t already established one. They give you excuses to talk to new people and can put you in the same room as people you wouldn’t have a chance to meet otherwise.
Going to a conference in another country or in a developer community where you don’t know anyone can feel a bit isolating. When you look around you’ll see a lot of people hugging, greeting each other, and catching up as though they’ve known each other for years. This is because they probably have. It’s perfectly natural to feel awkward in that situation, especially if you find yourself on your own a lot. If you’re going to a conference where you don’t already know many other attendees, try to take someone with you or team up with an attendee you’re acquainted with.
Before you go to the conference, try to identify four or five people there that you would like to meet. If you can get their contact details, email them a week before the conference to introduce yourself. Ask them if there’s a time they would be available for a chat. This could be in the time between they arrive and the conference starts, or perhaps between when it ends and they leave. If you can set up four or five dates for yourself around the conference, you’ll have people to meet and can potentially turn that into a group pre-conference dinner/post-conference breakfast.
I prefer single-track conferences with short talks and plenty of time between them. Even in those conferences, to me there at least three “tracks” you can choose from, going upwards in value to your network.
The first and most obvious track is the “attendee” track. This is describes the experience of most conference-goers. You turn up, go to the talks, then go home. If you find talks valuable, then this way of attending conferences is fine. It won’t help your network very much though.
The second track is the “hallway” track. This is the conversations that happen between talks in the hallways. For many conferences, the hallway track is more educational than the talks. This track involves you finding people you want to meet and chatting with them. Sometimes people will seek you out. It’s a chance to talk to people at the sponsor booths, who you wouldn’t normally be able to arrange a meeting with. It’s a chance to catch up with people you’ve met there in other contexts.
The third track is the “speaker” track. Being a speaker at a conference further establishes you as a speaker at conferences. It gets you access to speaker-only events. It makes you a minor celebrity for a day, giving everyone in the room an excuse to talk to you. It gives you access to the other speakers, some of whom might be highly accomplished or at least “internet famous”.
Speaking at conferences is however a lot more work than simply attending. Whenever I speak at conferences I find it difficult to focus on anything else in the weeks leading up to it. During the conference I have anxiety until about half way through the talk before mine (this is why I prefer earlier slots). After I speak I head back to my hotel room to decompress for a few hours before I’m ready to face humans again.
However, overall the benefits to me are worth it. People quote things back to me from talks that I gave at conferences years ago. Some people appear to genuinely find a few things I said useful. It’s helped me develop relationships I otherwise would never have been able to start. And at Brighton Ruby at least, it gets me access to the after-conference karaoke session, which is a yearly fix that I need to stay sane.
me: they didn't respond because they're busy don't jump to any conclusions— jaboukie young-white (@jaboukie) 12 October 2017
my brain: pic.twitter.com/wh30Zq7RNJ
When inviting someone to dinner, trying to set up a coffee date, responding to a lead, applying for a job, or any human activity that requires a response to continue, follow up.
Follow up. At Happy Bear Software, we often have months of following up between when a lead shows interest in working with us and when they actually sign papers with a start date. Those weeks have me sending an email every Monday following up about the project.
The longest unanswered stretch of follow-ups we’ve experienced was about nine months. When the lead finally replied, they apologised profusely, thanked me for keeping in touch, and proceeded to book us for about £60k of work. That’s about £1.6k per email.
The same applies when trying to get someone to RSVP for a dinner invitation, trying to set up lunch, trying to make an introduction, or anything else that requires a response from someone else to do.
You have no idea where your relationships with people will lead. They could turn into your future employers. You might start businesses together. You might end up hiring them. They might end up introducing you to your first customers. It would be a crying shame to miss out on those potential future opportunities just because you didn’t follow up.
People are busy, and that’s why they don’t respond to you. Your email sits alongside a few hundred other emails that people have to deal with every day. Their lack of response means nothing more than that. They have a boss breathing down their neck. They have clients that won’t leave them alone. They have deadlines they’re worried they can’t meet. They have employees that won’t do what’s expected of them. They have a thousand little problems that your email is competing with.
Even when you have an established relationship, the only way to get them to respond is to follow up. Make following up a habit. The only time you should stop following up is when they say no. If they turn you down, stop and leave them alone.
Most organisations have non-negligible levels of dysfunction. This becomes increasingly difficult to manage as an organisation expands. Teams of more than thirty or forty become unwieldy, and it’s sometimes difficult for people in the same company to relate to each others goals and concerns.
Happy Bear Software is a micro-business. We’re less than ten people, so we don’t have these problems yet. But since we’re 100% remote and often work separately on different projects, there can be months where members of the team have no reason to speak to each other. This erodes team morale, and makes it feel like we’re just a bunch of developers on our respective client projects that happen to be paid by HBS.
A part of how we combat this is the idea of “cross” one-to-one meetings. We do one-to-one meetings every two weeks, and in the off week, everyone does a cross one-to-one with someone else in the company chosen at random. This is a chance to speak to someone about their work, to share your current challenges, to give each other advice, and generally build a sense of fellowship amongst the team.
In your company you might not even do one-to-one meetings. You may not have the authority or political clout to implement something like cross one-to-one meetings on your own. But there’s no reason you can’t unilaterally implement cross one-to-one’s for yourself.
Introduce yourself to one person in your company that you wouldn’t normally get a chance to work alongside every week, and set up a video call or coffee chat with them. If you did this for a whole year, that would be around forty five people you would have started a relationship with.
Networking with people in the same company as you makes your company more efficient. It can help you to understand people in other departments that you only talk about in the abstract in your team. It can make their concerns and challenges more real to you and allow your team to better interact with theirs. It can allow you to build far-reaching support for your ideas which makes it easier to convince management.
Separate to your current employment, the people you work with at a full-time job form the backbone of your future network. You spend time together working hard on the same set of problems, with the same pressures, the same cast of characters, and the same story arc. You will probably be networking with these people for years after you leave this company, so it pays to find out which of the people in your company you get along with the best.
Bad networking experiences
The vast majority of people you meet while networking will be nice! But it’s worth briefly talking about when networking isn’t as much fun.
Sometimes you will meet people who seem standoffish, aloof, or dismissive. There are millions of reasons for people to treat you this way, very few of which have anything to do with you. For example, some people battle with social anxiety. Others might see you as “famous” in your own little section of the professional world and feel nervous about speaking with you. From your point of view, both anxiety and nervousness can be indistinguishable from dismissive standoffishness, so it pays to give people the benefit of the doubt when you first meet them.
You might meet someone that you thought you wanted to add to your circle, but on speaking further you discover that there’s just no natural rapport. There’s nothing to talk about, conversation doesn’t flow, and for whatever reason you’re just not enjoying their company. If that happens, you have no obligation to continue a relationship with that person. It says nothing about them and nothing about you, except that you just don’t get along very well. You shouldn’t network with people you don’t get along with.
When you put your work out into the world, it will attract criticism. Some of the criticism will be well-meaning and worth taking on board. Some of it will just be an opportunity for people vent their own personal frustrations. Listening to this unfounded negative feedback can be heavily demoralising, so I recommend that you ignore it.
Sometimes people will talk behind your back out of malice. It will surprise you and make you wonder what you did to deserve it. I try not to focus on these people much, reclaim any time I would otherwise spend ruminating on their words and instead use it for helping people I know I can be useful to.
The ugliest part of networking for me is that over a longer period, you will eventually hear about people in your network behaving in unacceptable ways towards others. The closer perpetrator is to you, the worse it will sting. This is one of the few situations where you should cover your bridges in gasoline and set them alight with no regrets.
Networking for me has been an overwhelmingly positive experience, but it’s worth pointing out some of the less enjoyable parts so that you know what to expect and can think about how you would deal with them.
Asking for help
Spending time on giving other people value, meeting new people, and maintaining your relationships with them takes a lot of work. You should do this without keeping score, without really expecting anything in return.
But it doesn’t hurt to ask. If you’re looking for a new job, trying to help someone else find a job, need advice, trying to line up freelance work, need an introduction, or otherwise need something that someone in your network could conceivably help you with, ask. If you have an established relationship, no one is going to be annoyed by your request. They may or may not be able to help you. You should always give them an easy way to turn you down so that they can say no and maintain a good relationship with you.
When I’m looking for work for Happy Bear Software, my typical first step is to think about ten people I have a reasonably good relationship with and email them to ask them if they know of any projects that might be appropriate. These are people who I’ve had drinks with, invited to our monthly dinner, had over to our house for a BBQ, who have played with my kids, who I have an established relationship with. They don’t mind getting the occasional email from me asking for work (or if they do, they’re free to ignore it!)
I have an unofficial “board of advisors” for Happy Bear Software. Whenever I’m stuck on any one of the five core functions of the business (Finance, Sales, Marketing, Value Creation, and Value Delivery) I have a person in my network that I call to talk through the details. Sometimes if I know someone has specific experience that is congruent with my current situation, I’ll call them to help me figure out what to do next. If there’s a business idea or area of expertise I want to explore, I’ll try to find someone I know that has more knowledge about it than I do and chase them down for a call.
A lot of the time people in your network will want to help you. But they have no idea what you need unless you tell them. Much of the time, they won’t be able to help. But when they can, it deepens your relationship with them, and is another excuse to catch up with them or send them a bottle of something nice.
You may not have time to implement everything in this article. But if you want to be better at networking then there are a few concrete things you can do right now to begin.
Write down the names of three people you used to work with that you think it might be fun to catch up with. They don’t need to live in the same city as you, or even be in the same industry. If you’re relatively young, these can be three people you went to school. The only criteria is that you enjoyed their company.
Track those people down. Email them to set up a coffee date or a call if they live in another city. See if you can do anything to help them with their current work challenges, but don’t worry if you can’t. It’s fun just to catch up with people you like.
Next month, do it again. If you do that every month for a year and only manage to set up two dates, that’s twenty four people per year.
Once you’ve got into the habit of this, you can experiment with some of the other ideas in this article. You can ask for introductions, both for a specific person or anyone that it might be good for you to meet. You can set up a dinner with four or five of your work contacts. You can try broadcasting value a little more by writing an article or doing a talk, (sending a link to it to everyone in your network for whom it might be useful).
However, if all you do is catch up with two or three old work contacts every month, that alone will make you better at networking than most. If you’re shy about emailing your old work contacts, you have an open invitation to email me to set up a call to say hello. Take me up on that, but be sure to follow up if I don’t get back to you in a week or so.