Back when I was a director of communications at a nonprofit, my LinkedIn profile headline read “I schmooze for good causes.” A large part of my job was to attend events, meet people, and bring them closer to the organization and the cause it championed.
I have a knack for networking. I’m a successful networker because I recognize that the most important part of networking isn’t the firmness of my handshake, the number of events I attend, or the wit of my chit chat—though those all matter (and you can learn more about them in GovLoop’s recent 20 Tips for Effective Networking training). It’s that I know that some of the most important networking skills are those I practice after I’ve made the first connection.
Once you’ve gone to a networking event, what can you do to make sure your follow through is as strong as your first impression? Here are my top tips for successful networking follow-up:
Within 48 hours
If you didn’t do so when you met, write a note on the business card about where and when you met the person, a few topics you talked about, and what you want the relationship with them to be. Better yet, transfer their contact information and your notes to your email address book, a spreadsheet, or database. A quick Google search for your new contact can fill in missing details and let you know even more about them.
Depending on the person you met and what you have to say, send an email or shoot over a simple text message saying that it was nice to meet them. They may have met many other people at that same event, so share a tidbit that helps remind them who you are.
Give your time generously before you ask them for anything. Think of ways you might be able to help them. If you promised them something—perhaps more information on a topic you discussed, a resource they wanted, or an introduction to someone else—get that done right away before you forget.
Follow them on the social media channels where you’re active. Don’t expect them to follow or like you back; instead focus on using social media to learn more about them and engage them in the occasional conversation. Be cautious about LinkedIn, since not everyone wants or accepts connections from people they just met. Review their LinkedIn profile before asking to connect.
Within a week
If this person is an important contact, you might try to schedule a casual meeting or quick phone call to move the relationship forward. If at all possible, use your first one-on-one meeting or call to get to know each other rather than asking anything of them
Don’t be mysterious or vague. Share honestly what you want to talk to them about, whether it’s that you want to get to know them better, are curious about their work, or if you’d like to ask for a favor or have another request. This will allow them to prepare for the meeting and prevent unwelcome surprises.
Make it as easy as possible for them by suggesting several days and times you’re available and, if you’re asking for an in-person meeting, offering to meet near where they work. Let them know how much time you need. Offer to take them out for coffee, drinks, or (rarely) a meal and be sure to grab the check before they can. It’s the least you can do since they’re being generous with their time. Be sure to follow up with a thank you after your meeting or call.
Within a month
Stay on their radar by staying in touch. Set a plan for cultivating each of your new contacts and put reminders on your calendar to reconnect in meaningful ways during the months ahead.
Keep them in mind as opportunities present themselves. You might invite them to other events they might be interested in, keep them in the loop on news about a topic they were enthusiastic about, congratulate them when they announce successes via social media, or simply retweet and like their social media content when you authentically appreciate it. Continue to demonstrate the ways in which you can help them and they may reciprocate your generosity and thoughtfulness.
Don’t overdo it. A tactful approach will keep you from seeming overeager, inappropriate, or creepy. Don’t irritate or spam them by getting in touch too often or about things that really aren’t relevant to them. Remember, each time you contact them you’re reinforcing or changing their opinions about you, for good or bad. Respect their time and they’ll respect you.
Within a year…or more
New connections don’t convert overnight, so have patience and stick to your cultivation plan. Some contacts may not show any value for a year or even more. Your timing could be off or they might not yet be in a position where they can give you the help you’d like. If someone has never responded, you might need to take the hint and stop bugging them. However, recognize that it may not be you, they might be too busy to take on another relationship or might not have seen a need to respond.
That said, you might be pleasantly surprised one day to hear from a contact you’ve cultivated for a long while. The best relationships that come out of networking are those that endure.
How have you cultivated new contacts for the long haul? Share your successes in the comments.