How to Implement "Never Eat Alone" to Change Your Entire Life
A reader asked me how I keep track of connections, especially with fellow Chiefs of Staff and other new people I encounter on a regular basis. I just so happened to have recently implemented a whole new system!
My CEO is a natural at building strong and productive business relationships; watching him make relationship-building look easy has inspired me to re-evaluate how I build relationships in my own life and how I add value to my connections. This lead me to pick up Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi, which is arguably the tactical bible for how to track, manage, grow, and leverage your network as a key component of professional success. The core tenet of the book is to focus your relationship efforts in areas that are aligned with your goals, but in a way that adds value for the other person. I’m a natural helper (we Chiefs of Staff often are!) but I’ve found myself floundering in terms of who I help and how. I’m a natural connector, but I had never considered how those efforts could be in service of my professional trajectory. Ferrazzi defined the connection and gave me a blueprint to follow.
Begin by evaluating your entire network.
This is a critical step in order to understand:
who you already know and how you can help them
who they already know and how you can help them
where to target your efforts to meet new people with whom you have no common connections
Unfortunately, Ferrazzi doesn’t provide a physical template for this organizational step. I scoured the internet and found a template for his Relationship Action Planner, but nothing to help me initially organize and analyze my entire network. He mentions a few built-in LinkedIn tools in the book, but they no longer exist. I decided to build my own so that I’m 1) not beholden to the whims of product managers at LinkedIn, and 2) so that I limit the “features” to exactly what I need. I did just that and I’m thrilled to be sharing it with you!
Step one for implementing the ideas in Never Eat Alone started with a comprehensive understanding of my network. I was fortunate in that I already use LinkedIn religiously: I connect same-day with new people I meet, I connect with Twitter “friends” on LinkedIn when appropriate, and I was already in the habit of checking the app on a regular basis.
Step 1: populate your Relationship Database with everyone you know
It took me a few hours per day over the course of four days to initially populate my Relationship Database with all of my connections on LinkedIn. I don’t use Facebook, but if you do I recommend you start with the social networking site you use the most. I had ~800 connections on LinkedIn when I started. I desperately wanted to get through this painful task so I could get down to business and actually use my network.
I populated my Relationship Database with LinkedIn connections in reverse chronological order.
Why? I suggest going through your connections in reverse order because it can be discouraging to start with the oldest connections and struggle to remember anything about them. The initial effort to populate your spreadsheet is a marathon, not a sprint, so you need to stay motivated to complete it! Start with the easy, recent connections and work your way back.
While going through my LinkedIn network, I removed about 100 connections.
These were people who didn’t jog any memory at all. I checked out their profile, had no idea who they were, and found no mutual connections. If a connection met this criteria but is in an interesting/related industry, I kept them and made a note in my spreadsheet to research them. It’s free (and easy!) to message a connection, so it’s worth it to stay connected. Otherwise, I removed them.
Step 2: Start using your file to nurture your network
Once I got through the initial population phase, I moved onto using the file. If you kept the conditional formatting in my template, you likely have a lot of red and green to address. As a reminder, red = you’re overdue to connect and green = you’re scheduled to connect this week.
When I first set up my file, I had a TON of red. Many contacts, in all statuses, with whom I hadn’t connected in well over a year. I had long lists of people who I marked “last contact” as 2017 or 2018. It was overwhelming. I resisted my instinct to knock it all out in one sitting and opted to pace myself. I schedule time for myself three days a week to work in my spreadsheet, often over lunch breaks or before work.
Here’s how I prioritized and conquered the red:
prioritize squashing the red for 1’s
then chip away at the 3’s during your regular weekly 30 mins of network maintenance
Separately, I scheduled a time each week to update it with new LinkedIn connections. The pain of initially populating the spreadsheet is still fresh, so I’m VERY motivated to maintain it on a weekly basis. It takes about 5 minutes to add my new connections to my spreadsheet each week.
I’ve now squashed most of the red and stick to a 3x/week schedule of addressing tasks in my spreadsheet. I’ve found that the more frequently I’m in the database - even 5 minutes a day for a couple of days a week - the more familiar I am with my #1 and #2 contacts. They stand out to me on LinkedIn and Twitter during the rest of the week. They’re top of mind when I read an article (which I then share with them!) or meet a new connection who could be helpful (who I then introduce to them!).
So after all of the hours of putting this together and working with it for a month, what’s changed for me? Everything.
organization = focus
I hate feeling like I need to connect with everyone, but I hate feeling like I’m on an island. I had no idea what to do with my connections or how to focus my efforts. I love keeping it touch with people, but it often felt forced.
Rather than killing time (let’s be honest…) on LinkedIn every other day, I now have focused time with a focused mission: engage with the content published by my target contacts (these are people I follow, but with whom I’m not yet connected), share content related to where I want to go/who I want to be, and engage with the content published by recent connections (status 1’s) in order to build credibility with them.
My trip down memory lane.
Going through all of your LinkedIn connections, in reverse chronological order, is a strange trip down memory lane.
As you get a few years back, you’ll start to remember various events, jobs, or even work-related situations that you had completely forgotten about. This exercise dredged up a lot of memories for me (both good and bad!) and reinforced the idea that my network and experiences are useless unless I actually use them in practice. I was reminded of an all-day workshop I attended for the launch of Eric Reis’s (then new) book The Startup Way. That workshop was so fun and energizing! Why don’t I read more of his content? Why didn’t I do a better of job of keeping in touch with the likeminded people I met that day? See what I mean?
My gaps in coverage.
I’m passionate about the CoS role, but in going through my network I realized that I know a lot of current Chiefs but not a lot of former Chiefs. I really want to understand how to successfully transition out of the role and to be better equipped to answer the question “what does a CoS do next?”. So, I made a point of seeking out some former Chiefs of Staff. If you’re in education right now and want to shift to tech, this type of exercise might help you realize just how oversaturated your network is with education folks. But I’m guessing some of those education connections know people in the Ed Tech world, who can connect you to people in other parts of the tech world.
If this sounds interesting, try my template and give me feedback! I’d love to hear what you think!