Networking events are one of the best opportunities to connect with other professionals in your industry. But just collecting business cards won’t get you anywhere in your career. Here’s how to master the art of follow-up and cultivate new connections.
Imagine you just went to an event or conference and had a great conversation with several people, and one them is the head of human resources at your dream company. You have their business cards — now how do you follow up with them?
A networking or business 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 within 24 hours.
Here are a few key things to remember when networking:
- Building a successful relationship with people requires that you quickly add value. It’s critical in the conversation to discover what the other person’s biggest challenge is, and how you can help them. Can you offer an introduction or information that could help their business or career?
- When someone hands you their business card, write some helpful notes about them on the card. Beware: In some cultures (such as in Japan) it is highly offensive to do this.
- At the end of the night, spend a couple of minutes sorting through the business cards you’ve collected according to your priorities and categories.
- Rank the importance of each business card by how they fit into your network and how you can help each other.
- Follow up with a personal email or phone call within 24-48 hours.
- Add each new contact to your LinkedIn network. If you are not on LinkedIn, join today. It’s a great way to connect.
- Invite each new contact to a future event you are attending or keep them in the loop about these events. This is a great way to interact with more of your contacts face-to-face.
What to say during the follow-up
When following up with someone you meet while networking, thank them for their time, briefly remind them who you are and your value proposition, restate the main details from your conversation, and update them on any action items you discussed. Also, suggest a few possible times to meet with them.
When you do meet with your new contact, ask them two questions to help yourself, such as, “What ideas do you have for me?” and “What people do you recommend I speak to?”
Of course, some people may not respond, so don’t worry if they don’t follow up. People may be busy, and a lack of response likely has nothing to do with you. Consider contacting their office or assistant — do whatever it takes to get the meeting. Be persistent and creative.
Stay in touch
The most important aspect of building and maintaining a professional network is staying in touch. (Click here to tweet this quote.) Sending quick, casual greetings on a regular basis will keep the connection alive so the next time you see someone, you won’t be faced with a blank stare.
To maintain these secondary relationships, connect on a quarterly basis with a congratulatory tweet related to a personal or professional milestone or with an email.
Finally, remember your contacts’ birthdays. Instead of greeting them online alone, send them a handwritten birthday card — this gesture will be much more memorable than a casual social media mention and will keep your connection strong. If you don’t like your handwriting (or don’t have the time) try a service like hellobond.com, which sends a handwritten note on your behalf.
Remember, follow up will set you apart from everyone else and lay the foundation to create extraordinary professional relationships, which is essential to your career.
Jason Treu is a life mastery and relationship coach helping men and women to create the business and life they love. Connect with him and get coaching at BeExtraordinary.tv.