All freelancers understand the importance of networking. But many screw up how to stay in touch with the people they’ve met.

There are certain people who are worth developing a personal relationship with. When I say “worth developing,” I mean that when you meet them, you have a natural connection. You see that they can help you in your business or you can help them in theirs. This relationship can be built over one-to-one emails, plans to get coffee, sharing gigs and resources.

These relationships take a hell of a lot of time.

That time is, of course, well-spent. But for busy business owners, it’s challenging to maintain even 10 of those personal-business relationships. You end up leaving the 100+ other business cards you have in a stack on your desk, gathering dust.

You may get 70% of your clients from that core group of 10 contacts and past clients. But don’t lose these “loose” connections. This is your largest audience. This is the foundation on which you’ll build your wider influence.

Just remember the now-famous study by Mark Granovetter, who in the early 1970s interviewed a few hundred job seekers and to his surprise, found that people get jobs from information passed on by people they weren’t particularly close to. When he asked people where they got their current job, they kept saying, “Not a friend, an acquaintance.”

It’s crucial for your business that you keep in touch with your acquaintances. So here’s what to do with those 100+ business cards: keep an email list and email them all (the same email) once a month or once a quarter.

An email list is a scalable system. Once you see how valuable it is to collect & use email addresses of people you’ve already met, you can then build tools to get people to subscribe on social media and from your website. It will become your most effective marketing tool.

Email is still the most powerful tool in your belt

No, social media has not killed email as a marketing channel. Email marketing has a 4,300% ROI and is the #1 preferred channel by customers (and clients) for marketing messages. It costs less than any marketing you will do and will take you less than two hours a month after you set it up.

Like it or not, most of us spend our our working days in our inboxes. That’s where your future clients are.

Don’t overthink it

You don’t need to come up with a fully-developed email marketing plan. You don’t need to create stunning graphics and headers. The most important thing is that you do it.

All you need is 1 goal. “I want to share 1 useful tip with my contacts so they remember who I am and remember that I’m smart and on top of industry trends” is a great one.

Take an article you read and comment on it. Share something you’ve learned on a project (without violating your NDA). Share something you’ve seen work really well in your industry. Share a productivity tip. I’ve listed 10 different kinds of emails freelancers can send to clients here.

I’ve tried to write an example of how simple this can be. This is not a perfect email, but it accomplishes a few key things:

“Hey [FIRST NAME],

This month, I’ve been thinking about simplicity and how effective it is in business.

Time and again, I see companies with a complicated marketing message that they think demonstrates expertise, but is really just confusing. They assume that 4 benefits is better than one core benefit.

Here’s what I mean: what would you rather buy?

EXAMPLE A

EXAMPLE B

I’ve been discussing this on @twitterhandle recently and got a few interesting comments, like @thatperson, who said “Interesting quote.” I’d love to hear what you think.”

How long did that take me to write? 5 minutes. I demonstrated that a) I’m thinking deeply about business topics, b) I’m on social media (so they can follow me if they don’t), and c) I’m inviting further participation. Even if only a few contacts actually do this, it demonstrates that you’re an active, connected, thoughtful person.

If you want to learn how to set up your email contact list and start emailing in less than an hour, read this post about email marketing 101.

How do you use email?

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