Events are great for networking. Let's say you've attended a networking event, had many great contacts, and returned home? You have a pocket full of business cards but no idea what to do with them. Worse than that, you suddenly started to feel as if all your network started to fade away.
Off course, business cards have no value if you don't use them, so you should always find some useful ideas to help you maximize the initial interaction you had with your contacts. A networking event can be defined just as a jumping-off point for starting a new professional relationship but your follow-up is the key to developing it. And since the time doesn't work for you, when you do nothing but only wait, it's best to start at step 1 as soon as you meet with someone within 24 hours.
Here is a useful action item list to follow up like a pro;
Send a quick email within 24 hours
Take your new contact's email from the business card they gave you and write them an email. Simply say that you enjoyed meeting them and try to mention a point in your mail from the conversation you had together the day before. Something like, "It was so nice to meet you at the Exhibition Area yesterday! Best wishes with your new position!" If you'd like to have a follow-up, you can say that you'd love to continue that conversation and ask for a private social gathering like drinking a cup of coffee or having lunch together.
It doesn't have to be long or a formal meeting, but you need to make the first move.
Use the power of LinkedIn
Since LinkedIn offers so many free tools to keep your contacts front-of-mind for you, 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.
Record your conversations and file them
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 & other important dates of your contacts
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 good 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-to-one meeting after the event
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 a connection to open other 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.
There you have it: 7 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 of weeks. That way, you can slowly and naturally integrate them into your follow-up routine. Here's to you building a stronger network!
This article is a brief summary of Darrah Brustein's "How To Master The Art Of Networking Follow-Up" which first appeared in FORBES on SEP 23, 2014. It has been shortened and tailored for MBlog readers by myself. I'd like to extend my gratitude and special thanks to Forbes Magazine & Darrah Brustein for their valuable work and their understanding.