I’m going to start by telling you something you already know: networking is not a joke. Think about how important maintaining a fresh, up-to-date network is for you: your personal future, the future of your company, the ability to access top talent in your field, and even your ability to take the next step, to land that dream job, to get yourself to exactly where you want to be. It’s important. Now, think about how you currently maintain relationships with those in your network. Do you reach out to them quarterly to keep yourself on their mind? Do you Google each one to make sure that they haven’t changed jobs or switched email addresses? And what about all those business cards you pick up? How many of those people have you talked with since your initial meeting?

There’s a good chance that you’re not doing everything possible to ensure the health and longevity of, arguably, one of your most important—albeit intangible—business assets. And that’s fine. I mean, you’re a busy person, you’re an asset to your company, the love of your significant others’ life, and, yeah, focusing on those things, those real things that make you whole, should take priority. But that’s not to say that you shouldn’t at least think about contact management from time to time, make sure your phone and email address books agree. After all, that could be enough, right?

Unfortunately, you didn’t get to where you are with goodenough. There’s a 100% chance that you’re the kind of person that doesn’t settle. So why let poor contact management impact your life? It’s not hard; in fact, there are some really great tools out there to help you keep everything in order so that you can focus on what’s really important: your life.

As you probably already know, contact management systems work to help keep all of your contacts stored in one place and as up to date as possible. They act as a kind of meta address book, searching your phone, your email, etc. to locate all those contacts you’ve made, help you prevent dupes, and to create a kind of convenient, central storage-house. Further, many of them have some degree of intelligence: they are able to look through your various social media platforms to determine if your contacts have changed jobs, changed companies, etc. Many are even able to pull information from email signatures to keep everything as up to date as possible.

The truth is that many contact management (CM) tools get a bad rap because they never seem to do exactly what you want them to. For some, the import or add-new processes are too tedious, taking minutes rather than seconds (that, quite frankly, you don’t have to spare). For others, the CM tools don’t quite work as advertised: they’re too unintuitive, they don’t really have the power to sync across email, social, and phone platforms, or, worst of all, they create more work problems that they solve. Many feel that, heck, they want a tool that makes work easier, not more plentiful! I hear you; believe me. Not too long ago, I was sitting under a bloat of under-utilized, disorganized contacts, and the idea of learning a new platform just didn’t quite seem worth it. But it is.

From a technical aspect, you’re going to want to decide what kind of CM will work best for you. Personally, I recommend CircleBack (and it’s not just because I’m currently writing for them) as a CM. In addition to the fact that it works to consolidate all your contacts from your various sources (your phone’s address book, Gmail, Exchange, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), searches and sorts information from those sources to allow you to avoid dupes and have more complete information, and employs the business-card-scanning capabilities of ScanBizCards to make it simple to add those paper contacts to your digital network, we have added a social element as well. But don’t worry. It’s not that kind of social element. Basically, using an artificial intelligence-based algorithm developed exclusively for us by a team of data scientists (some of them from MIT), CB works the magic to provide you the most current information of your contacts. Sound confusing? It isn’t. Basically, while using CircleBack, you will get notifications when your contacts change jobs, phone numbers, email addresses, etc. so that you’ve always got the most current contact information.

You may be thinking to yourself “well, doesn’t LinkedIn already do many of these things?”. No, unfortunately, it doesn’t. While LinkedIn is great for keeping many of your contacts together and providing messaging capabilities, what it lacks is that real, true sense of being current. Here’s a fact for you: the majority of LinkedIn profiles are only updated when someone begins looking for a new job. So, your contact’s info—email address, position within the company—is very possibly out of date unless they plan on leaving their current company. Plus, LinkedIn doesn’t list telephone numbers , which obviously makes a big difference when you want to contact someone. Face it; you need a dedicated CM; don’t fight it.

Never forget how important your network really is for you, both personally and professionally. Your network is what allows you to grow, keeps you from having to “hit the streets, resume in hand” when you’re ready to take your next big step, and, ultimately, can determine the course of your financial future. It takes a lot of work to maintain a network, especially a large one, but it’s certainly not impossible when you have the right tools and are willing to give a little elbow-grease. Otherwise, what have you been doing all this networking for?

What strategies do you use to maintain and grow your network?

Sources: Inc; BufferApp Blog; Hubspot; Business2Community.com; EverContact; zdnet