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September 7, 2015 How To

Use your most valuable asset — your contact list

Ask any seasoned business leader to reveal the secrets to success, and one of the first things he or she will mention is a strong contact list.

Your network is the lifeblood of your company. Depending on the years you've been in business and the size of your operation, you may have hundreds, even thousands, of people in your network. Establishing a system for keeping track of and communicating with them enables you to fully leverage the network you've worked so hard to build.

I am a people connector. I am always looking for ways to build my agency's network. When I meet someone, I always end the conversation by exchanging business cards or asking for a social media handle.

I also recognize that all that meeting and greeting won't make any difference if I don't maintain my contacts. Collecting business cards and stuffing them in your desk drawer is not going to help grow your circle of influence. Likewise, making a sale without capturing a customer's contact information is a lost opportunity.

In order to really build a network, you must establish a means of recording and cataloguing your contacts. Tagging their industries, noting personal interests and attaching notes from your last conversation are basic database functions that make it easier for you to stay organized and tailor your communications to the needs of specific contact groups.

Invest in your contact list the same way you invest in other indispensable business resources. There are lots of good contact management software products on the market today, including many that are industry specific.

These products range from basic database software to highly complex customer relationship management platforms, allowing you to control and measure all communications, analyze contact information and measure network satisfaction from wherever you are. With cloud-based products, you also have peace of mind in knowing your data is fully protected.

Contact management systems make it easier to cultivate your contacts, but you must work to grow each relationship and keep it alive, whether it's through social media and periodic emails or, for high priority contacts, meetings, hand-written notes and socializing.

Back in the 1980s when I was working in communications at Sugarloaf, my boss, Chip Carey, was considered the PR guru of the ski world. Chip was one of the first in our industry to adopt a contact management system to track media contacts. We tagged contacts to indicate whether they were writing about skiing, golf or real estate. It was an extremely targeted list for its time.

One of the people on our list was a young weatherman who had just landed a job at the Weather Channel. His name was Jim Cantore. We identified Jim as someone we wanted to cultivate and invited him to Sugarloaf. What started out as a name on our list evolved into a mutually beneficial professional connection. Jim and I stayed in contact over the years, trading emails and story ideas. He's now a weather superstar, but he knows he can come to my agency for weather-related Maine video, from fall foliage to snow scenes.

On my desk sits my original Rolodex dating back to 1984. Though contact management software has rendered desktop card indexes obsolete, it serves as a constant, visual reminder of my contacts and the critical role they have played in building my business. It also reminds me that neither technology nor hard data represent 100% of the picture.

You can't rely on digital strategies alone. You've got to get out from behind your desk and work your network. Spend time with people. Shake hands. Turn those names and addresses in your database into relationships you can count on. With a good content management strategy in place and a dedicated effort to constantly build, broaden and strengthen your network, you will have taken two of the most essential steps in becoming a high performer.

Nancy Marshall is founder and CEO of Nancy Marshall Communications in Augusta. She can be reached at

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