The most important aspect of networking actually happens after your first conversation.
By Darrah Brustein (Founder, Network Under 40 & Finance Whiz Kids)
You’ve attended a networking event. Now what? You have a pocket full of business cards and 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 just the jumping-off point for starting a new professional relationship — your follow-up is the key to developing it. And since the clock starts ticking as soon as you meet, it’s best to start at step one within 24 hours.
Let’s get to it and learn the most important part of networking: following up like a pro.
Send a Quick Email
Take your new contact’s email off of that little rectangular piece of paper they gave you and craft them an email. Simply 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!” If you’d like to have a follow-up, you can say that as well — just 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 formal, but you need to move the ball forward.
Link In on LinkedIn
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 these are occasions for follow-up. So after you’ve met, link up on LinkedIn too.
Create ‘Reconnect Files’
After you have a follow-up meeting or phone conversation with someone you’ve met, I suggest you create what I like to call “reconnect files.” They are handy, color-coded reminders that you can schedule once a month. Include some information about how you met and what you’ve discussed in the notes. When that name pops up each month, reach out to catch up, maybe set up another meeting, or send something that might be valuable, like an invite to another event, a great article or an introduction.
It isn’t necessary to reach out to every contact every month they appear, but it’s a great way to stay in touch.
Remember Birthdays (and the Small Stuff)
Even if you don’t have your contact’s birthdays on file, Facebook and LinkedIn make it easy for you to reach out. Social media also provides other occasions to reach out. For example, 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.
Give First and Expect Nothing in Return
During your initial meeting, did your new contact mention a need overtly or in passing? Perhaps they mentioned that their sibling is a job seeker? If so, maybe you can 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. Most people are wired with a reciprocity mentality; 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 in return.
Set Up a One-on-One Meeting
Be clear about your intentions for any meeting beforehand so the other party can prepare accordingly. Ideally, make it somewhere that is convenient for the other person, or worst case, midway between you both, easily accessible, 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. Rather than forcing your agenda on them by leading with things about you and your business, let them ask.
Use the Power of One Connection to Open Many Doors
Any contact with whom you interact knows hundreds, if not thousands, of other people. This makes the power of your conversation exponential. Remember: When you’re talking to someone, you’re actually speaking to their entire network. The same goes for them with you.
So once you’ve developed real trust with someone, you’ll want to be more intentional about how you help them. If someone is looking for a job, a business lead or some other tangible introduction, open up your list of contacts to them. There is even a handy export tool on LinkedIn’s free version whereby you can download all of your contacts and share their name, company and position with your new connection so they can identify people themselves.
However you do it, sharing your list 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, close the circle and make the warm introduction.
Use Tools Beyond LinkedIn
One of my favorite tools 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. Another favorite is HARO (Help a Reporter Out). You’ll get three emails per day with opportunities from press outlets to be quoted or featured in their stories. It’s great to use yourself, but also to share with your contacts who are a good fit. Lastly, check out Relate.ly. This is an inexpensive platform that scores how well you’re keeping up with your contacts.
There you have it: eight simple steps 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 one to your calendar every couple weeks. That way, you can slowly and naturally integrate them into your follow-up routine. Here’s to you building a stronger network!
About the guest blogger: Darrah Brustein is the co-founder of Equitable Payments, a merchant services brokerage, and founder of Network Under 40, a networking organization for young professionals. Darrah recently authored Finance Whiz Kids, a series of kids book that teach the basics of financial education.