You’re out there networking like crazy. You’re chatting with people about your business, you’re attending networking mixers. You’re meeting people at luncheons, workshops and conferences. You even met a couple interesting people in that long line at the grocery store and exchanged business cards. Now what are you supposed to do, other than file a bunch of business cards somewhere? You shared small talk, now what?
The Most Critical Element of the Networking Process
The “now what” question is where many business owners get lost. Here’s the thing: people who are successful at networking, a la connecting with others, are successful because they understand the importance of building relationships.
So, what’s the first step in building relationships with people you meet while networking: follow up!
Follow up is the most critical element of the networking process!
Now you can take the initiative and follow-up with these 3 simple action steps:
Follow-up with an Email
Send the person a quick “Pleased to meet you”, “Nice talking to you about X”, “Had a great conversation with you”, “I’d like to keep in touch for” note. Don’t wait to send that email for fear of looking spammy or aggressive. I understand the apprehension, but you want to continue the conversation while you’re still fresh in their memory.
As an entrepreneur you’re always looking to be first in line for your audience. Sending a brief “nice to chat with you” follow-up email the same day or within 24 hours is not spammy, it’s just good business. Just like you would immediately send a thank you note to the person who interviews you for a job, think along the same lines as you follow up with people you’d like to connect with.
Continue Networking via Social Media
I know this sound so obvious, but for many professionals it’s not so easy. Reach out and find those people you want to keep in touch with. You can find them on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, their website, etc. Take a look at their social media presence, and if you’re moved to do so, connect with them.
However, if you’re looking to connect via LinkedIn or Facebook, do not send an empty request to connect. (For more about that misstep, please review my earlier post on connecting with a personal message.) Use your connection request as a way to re-iterate a couple of points made during the conversation to refresh a person’s memory and show your sincere interest in building a relationship.
Consider a typical example: You attend an event, talk to 50 people and return home with a stack of business cards and promotional literature.
- Person A is someone you met during the event. They send you a request to connect via LinkedIn, and include a specific point about your conversation and how much they enjoyed meeting you.
- Person B is someone you met during the event. They send you a request to via LinkedIn, except they send the canned auto-message.
Who would you rather connect with? Person A of course! Why? Person A took the extra 2 minutes to refresh your memory, and offer a reason for you to connect. Person A showed more interest in building a relationship with this simple action.
Non-personalized connection requests can be viewed as empty gestures. Auto-verbiage is no different than sending an empty message, so don’t make a bad impression, or worse, look like spam. Spend the extra two minutes, and your effort will go a long way in establishing the relationship you’re looking to build.
Set A Follow-up Meeting
Was the conversation meaningful enough that you want to set a follow-up right now? Go for it! We’re all in business to grow, so take the lead and let the person know you’d like to follow-up. If they’re local, offer to meet them for coffee or drinks. If not, set up a call or Skype to continue the conversation.
Keep in mind, you won’t necessarily want to connect with every single person you meet around town and during your networking activity. This is perfectly fine. It’s not about building a network based solely on quantity, because follow-up takes time. Build your network based on quality conversation, quality interests, and quality connections and you will enjoy following up with people. It won’t be a chore, because you’re genuinely interested in these quality connections.
*Gasp* What say you Miss Kemya? Isn’t it important to network based on quantity, the more connections the better? In theory, yes, quantity is essential. However, let’s be practical folks.
A small business owner/solopreneur that manages so many to-do’s by themselves is not going to have time to do the proper follow-up it takes to keep up with so many budding relationships. When your time is limited you naturally look for any excuse in the book NOT to do something. So why try to follow-up with every single person you meet while you’re networking? It’s just not practical in most cases.
When you have a great conversation with someone or just get a good vibe from then, you naturally want to follow-up and connect. Which takes the stress and apprehension of following up out of the equation. Which means you’ll be more likely to follow-up. Therefore, you need to weed out people who you simply aren’t interested in. Save yourself the headache and the procrastination, and you’ll probably get more done.
There’s more to networking than showing up! You have to take the lead to pursue opportunities to build your network. Follow up is the critical action most people take for granted, don’t let this happen to you.
You never know what opportunities you may miss as result of not following up with some great people you’ve met along your journey. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, go ahead and reach back in that business card pile you’ve been amassing all year and start reconnecting with people you’ve met. They just might remember you!