When was the last time you called your grandmother? Texted your high school best friend? Emailed your first boss? Reached out to a former colleague? Or followed up with a friend of a friend who did you a favor that one time?

Staying in regular communication with our family, friends, mentors, colleagues, and clients (people we “know”) is crucial when it comes to maintaining strong relationships. The simple act of sending a short text, an Instagram direct message, or a casual email goes a long way in showing others that you care and think about them. The same goes for people you don’t know (that well or at all). Small acts of kindness early on can have a lasting effect on people that may impact your future interactions, positively or negatively. How and when we communicate is not only the key to building solid relationships but essential to networking.

So why do we often lose communication with people in our lives? For several reasons: We are too busy, we forget, or worst of all, we don’t need anything from them at the moment. Imagine how you would feel if you didn’t hear from someone in years, and then out of the blue, you received an email from them asking for a favor. How would that make you feel?

This brings me to my second point: While regular communication with our network is key to maintaining strong relationships, the intent behind our outreach is far greater. When you called your grandma, was it because you needed money? When you texted your high school best friend, was it because you wanted an introduction to their company’s HR department? When you emailed your boss, was it because you wanted them to write you a letter of recommendation? 

At some point, every one of us is going to need help from someone we haven’t spoken to in a while or from someone we don’t currently know at all. So how do we do so authentically? Through thoughtful and regular (when applicable) communication that focuses on giving before taking. In other words, consider what you can offer someone (resources, a compliment, an introduction to someone) before asking them to do you a favor. As Karen Wickre, author of “Taking the Work out of Networking,” puts it,

“If you can approach networking based on what you can give someone else, it lessens the awkwardness you may feel about what you need.”

How else can we lessen the awkwardness of asking someone to do us a favor? By networking when we don’t need to or, as Wickre says, “Nurture [Networking] before you need it.”

Regardless of how busy we are, we all have time in our day-to-day lives to practice what Wickre calls “loose touch.” It’s a genius habit she practices daily, and one that she swears will keep you in touch with an awful lot of people. The idea is to spend 10 minutes every morning sharing stories, articles, or social posts with people you haven’t been in touch with in a while. For example, if you come across a tweet that reminds you of a former colleague, share it with them and say, “This tweet made me think of you; I hope you are doing well!” If you see a funny Giphy on Instagram that reminds you of your second cousin, DM it to them and say, “Miss you, let’s catch up soon!” If you are trying to finesse a more professional relationship, perhaps you read an article on LinkedIn that is relevant to your contacts field of work, and you tag them saying, “Thought this was a read you’d appreciate. I’d love to invite you to lunch sometime soon to hear all about your latest projects.”

Ten minutes of “networking” daily equates to 50 minutes weekly and 200 minutes monthly! Imagine all the new conversations you will stir up by simply sharing the news/content you already read every morning. And who knows all the other people you will meet through these connections.

While many portray networking as “the unpleasant task of trading favors with strangers,” it doesn’t have to be that way. If you nurture your relationships early on through simple touch-points, you can build rapport with people you know and don’t know. And remember, “networking” or reaching out to people is not something you only do when you need a favor. Consider touching base with people without the intent of receiving anything in return. Because when the time comes that you need a favor, you will already have nurtured that relationship, and the favor will come easy.

So please do yourself a favor and call your grandma/pa, your high school best friend, your former colleague, or someone you haven’t spoken to in a while and thank them for something they have done for you in the past. You just might be surprised what happens next.

By: Rebecca Zimmermann, Assistant Account Executive at Double Forte