You’ve attended a networking event, but now what? You have a pocket full of business cards and have no idea what to do with them. Business cards have no value if you don’t use them, so let’s go over some simple ideas to help you maximize the initial interaction you had with someone. A networking event is the jumping-off point for starting a new professional relationship and your follow up is the key to developing that new relationship. Let’s get to it and learn how to follow up like a pro!
1. Send A Quick Email
This is pretty straight-forward: take your new contacts’ email off of that little rectangular piece of paper they gave you (ie their business card) and craft an email to them. In its simplest form, just say that you enjoyed meeting them and try to reflect back on a point from the conversation. Something like, “It was so nice to meet you at the Chamber of Commerce event last night! Best of luck with your son’s baseball championship this weekend!”. That would be an email to send to someone with whom you’re not particularly interested in staying in touch. If you’d like to have a follow up, you can say that as well as add, “We started to talk about the synergies we have in our prospecting and I’d love to continue that conversation. How does your schedule look next Thursday to grab coffee or lunch?”. It doesn’t have to be long or overly formal, but you need to move the ball forward.
People have different opinions about with whom they should connect on LinkedIn. My policy is fairly lax: if we’ve met, what’s the harm in connecting? Since LinkedIn offers so many free tools to keep your contacts front-of-mind for you (and you to them), what’s the harm in connecting and seeing them pop up in your email on their birthday, when they have a work anniversary, or get a new job? All the easier to follow up again!
3. Create Reconnect Files
After you have a follow up meeting or phone conversation with someone whom you’ve met through a networking event or otherwise, I love to create what I call “reconnect files” on my calendar. They are handy-dandy color-coded reminders that show up once a month. If we met and you’re someone with whom I see value in keeping in touch on a fairly regular basis, I will create this reminder for you. It will have some information about how we met and what we’ve discussed in the notes. When your name pops up each month, I will reach out to catch up, maybe set up another meeting, or send you something that might be valuable to you like an invite to another event, a great article, or a valuable connection to someone in my network. It isn’t necessary to reach out to them every month they appear on your calendar, but it’s a great way to stay in touch!
4. Remember Birthdays (and the small stuff)
It’s so easy to remember people’s birthday these days. Depending on your line of work, you might have your customers’ birthdays on file. Set annual reminders on your calendar to send a card or email them. Facebook and LinkedIn also make this easy by telling you when it’s someone’s birthday. Send them a note and let them know you’re thinking about them. Is one of your contacts’ having a family celebration soon? A surgery? A child? Reach out and send your well wishes. These small gestures will go a long way. They mean even more if you hand write a note and mail it.
5. Give First – Expect Nothing In Return
When you met someone at a recent networking event, did they mention a need overtly or in passing? Is there some way in which you can help them with it? Perhaps they mentioned that their sibling is a job seeker? Could you follow up and inquire about what he/she wants to do and ask for a resume to pass to a few possible connectors or companies who are hiring? This is one example of many possible scenarios, but what’s important is to seek out opportunities in which you can help someone with a need they have. Take the lead and expect nothing in return. While most people are wired with a reciprocity mentality, you’ll find that the good you put out there will come back to you in one way or another. Let the positive results be the payback for you and keep moving. Continue to do this and you’ll grow a positive reputation as someone who pays-it-forward. People will be attracted to you and will want to help you, and this will be a great reward for the generosity you’ve offered to others without expectation of a returned favor.
6. Set Up A Meeting
After you meet someone, if you think there could be mutual value in meeting, set one up. Be clear about your intentions for the meeting beforehand so the other party can prepare accordingly. Ideally make it somewhere that is convenient for the other person, or worst-case, mid-way between you both, is easy-to-access, has plenty of parking, and will have a quiet (enough) space for you to talk. The first one-on-one meeting is about further developing your rapport with your new contact. You want to get to know them and allow them to ask questions about you as they choose. Rather than forcing your agenda on them by leading with things about you and your business, let them ask. Ideally you’ll find it easy to build off of your initial meeting and will even want to offer to help the other person in some way that benefits them.
7. The 24 Hour Clock
The 24 hour clock starts after each meeting you have with someone, whether it was immediately after an event or after a one on one meeting. You have 24 hours (ideally less) to reach back out to them over email to thank them for their time, follow up on the introduction you promised to make, and/or to set up your next step/meeting/call/etc.
8. The Power Of His/Her Rolodex
While the actual rolodex is outdated with modern online contact management systems, the concept is straight-forward: any contact with whom you interact knows hundreds, if not thousands, of other people. This makes the power of your conversation exponential and it’s always important to remember that when you’re taking to someone, you’re actually speaking to their entire network.
9. Bring A List
Once you’ve developed real trust with someone and you mutually choose to help one another, there are situations in which you’ll want to be intentional about how you do so. If you are looking for a job, a business lead, or some other tangible introduction, it is oftentimes a great idea to offer to open up your list of contacts to someone else. There is even a handy export tool on LinkedIn’s free version whereby you can download all of your contacts and can share with someone their name, company and position to allow them to pull out any people to whom they’d appreciate a connection. Or, someone can scroll through your contacts if you leave them visible to your connections. This allows you to have them self-identify who would be a great contact for them while teaching you how you can help them. It also allows you to reach back out to others in your network to offer a potentially valuable introduction. Once you’ve warmed up the third party on the connection, you close the circle let them connect!
10. Use Creative Resources
We live in an era where staying connected is easy, so take advantage of the tools that exist! You can do that easily (and for free) via social media, but there are other tools worth looking into, as well. One of my favorites is Newsle. It connects to your contacts and sends you email digests to let you know when someone in your network has appeared in the news. It’s a great way to follow up with them and congratulate them! Another favorite is HARO (Help A Reporter Out). You’ll get three emails throughout the day with opportunities from press outlets to be quoted or featured in their stories. It’s great not only for you to use for yourself, but also to share with your contacts who are fit for the stories being pitched. It simply continues to show your contacts that you are looking out for them! Lastly, check out Relate.ly. This is an inexpensive platform that scores how well you’re keeping up with your contacts after you tell the system with what frequency you want it to remind you to reach out to each individual.
There you have it- 10 straightforward tips to master the art of networking follow up! It’s always best to work on one new habit and get it down before going to the next, so consider breaking up these tips and adding them to your calendar, one every couple weeks, so you can slowly and naturally integrate them into your follow up routine. Here’s to you building a stronger network!