Entrepreneurs are always instructed to network. But what do you do after you meet someone?  If you’re raising money, and you meet a potential investor, the steps are clear. But what about fellow entrepreneurs?  Or anyone else?

As one Unreasonable Institute graduate told me, “I’m sad that I’m not in touch with my fellow entrepreneurs.  But I know how busy they are, and I don’t want to be a bother.”  Sadly, this belief is all too common, as are the results.  Because you don’t want to bother people, you decide to wait until you have the perfect reason to reach out.  But when that time comes, a year or two has passed, and you’re too embarrassed to send the email or make the call.  And so another potentially game-changing relationship withers away.

Here’s a step by step guide to how you can stay in touch without being a bother:

First, make a list of people with whom you want to stay in touch. If you have to rack your brain to decide who to contact, you’ll end up giving up and turning on “Breaking Bad.”  Make it easy to reach out to people by having a list handy.  For years, I drove around with a printed list (complete with phone numbers) in my car.  This was in the days before we programmed names into phones.  Yes, I am old. Don’t make the list too long, or you won’t have time to follow the subsequent steps!

Second, write down the key facts about each person. I use Microsoft Outlook (have I mentioned that I’m old?); you could just as easily use LinkedIn or Evernote. The reason to write down these facts is because they will allow you to make your interactions meaningful and relevant—the key to not being a bother.

Third, communicate regularly *before* you need to ask for a favor.
Think about how annoying it is when someone only calls/emails/texts/knocks on your door when they need a favor. We all know someone like this. And we all resent him for it.  Don’t be this person!  Make sure you have multiple positive interactions before you ask for anything. Here are a couple of easy ways to do this:

Wish the person a happy birthday each year, using your key facts to compose a personalized message that asks about the family/projects/passions in their life.  It shows that you care, and it also helps you gather updates and other useful information to add to your profile.

Whenever you see a useful article on the internet (and by useful, I mean something that ties directly to one of their key facts), send them a link.  It takes very little time, yet it helps people remember you fondly.  (Imagine how hard this was in the dinosaur days when you clipped newspaper articles and snail mailed them!)

If you have a good relationship, make sure you call, and not just email.
Email is fine, but it doesn’t convey emotion the same way that the human voice does.  Call up your old friend, and say, “I don’t have any reason for calling–I just miss you.”  That’s a message that’s irresistible.  Then catch up on their life. They’ll probably ask about yours, and more likely than not, during that conversation, you’ll find a way you can help each other.  Make sure this happens by asking, “Is there anything I can do to help?” (Note: You actually have to *do* the thing to help!)

When’s the last time you got a call from an old friend on your birthday and said, “Boy, he’s such a phoney.”

If you think that this list seems artificial, and you’re worried that you’ll come across as a phoney, let me ask you this: When’s the last time you got a call from an old friend on your birthday and said, “Boy, he’s such a phoney.”  Can you remember a time when someone sent you an article that was uniquely useful to you, and you thought, “I hate it when people help me out.” Staying in touch works.  And as a bonus, you’ll probably feel happier too.

An Unreasonable Challenge:

Make a list of 5 old friends that you wish you spoke with more.  Write down the key facts about them (as many as you can remember).  In the next week, call each of them and have a catch-up conversation.  You’ll strengthen five key relationships…and make five people’s day.

Chris Yeh

Author Chris Yeh

Chris is the VP Marketing for PBworks, partner at Wasabi Ventures, and an avid startup investor and advisor. He is also a co-author of The Alliance and serial tech entrepreneur in Silicon Valley.

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