By Vickie Elmer
The real connections and conversations occur a week or two after the conference or networking events. But, too often they don’t happen because we do not take time to build a stronger relationship with key people we meet when networking.
“It’s the big miss,” said Scott Ingram, founder of NetworkinAustin.com and enterprise sales director for Eloqua. People “put all this time and energy into networking,” and then leave the business cards sitting in a stack in the corner of their desks.
If you want to be in the top 10 percent of networkers, “all you have to do is follow up,” said Ingram, who often speaks on making connections. “Because 90 percent don’t.”
Bryan Rempel, social media and video marketing expert, recently recommended on Twitter: “Schedule an hour the day after a networking event to follow-up with key people.”
It actually may take a few hours and some due diligence if you’re trying to land an in-person coffee with a senior executive at a company where you want to work. But the effort could be worthwhile, since those meetings could lead to consulting contracts or connections with others who are in the midst of hiring.
Here are four key strategies for growing your connections and conversations after the event is over:
1. Take Notes. Jot a few notes on the back of your new contact’s business card, including where you met and “anything memorable about the conversation,” Ingram suggests. Some clues to their interests, priorities or projects could be useful in future conversations.
2. Pick Favorites. Look at the business cards you collected – say there’s five to 10 of them – and choose one or two with whom you want to develop a relationship. The reason: Creating strong connections takes time and effort and you need to determine who is worth the investment. For those few: “I want coffee. I want lunch. I’ll settle for a phone conversation,” said Ingram.
3. Be Helpful. Make sure if you’re giving them links to articles or blog posts that they can relate to their job, field or needs,” said Gail Tolstoi-Miller, a recruiter who runs a speed networking firm in New Jersey. You want them to think: “This information is really valuable,” she said, so they feel positive about you and eventually may help you with your job search.
4. Research Your New Contact. Google them and follow them on Twitter. “This can provide real-time data to improve the content of your communication,” resume writer Lisa Rangel writes in a blog post on follow-up. Most of your first real conversation should take you into their world and their needs, so you can see how you might be useful to them. Even for someone who’s unemployed for months and eager to land a job, the early conversations “need to not be about their job search,” said Ingram.
One smart way to scale your follow-up is to arrange a lunch for eight people you’ve met recently and allow them to extend their networks through you, Ingram said. That group lunch may work well if you bring along a friend you can count on to help create connections and see that everyone feels appreciated and heard.
Remember the best connections happen one-on-one or in very small groups so people can share their biggest issues and problems – and so you can help solve them. Once you’ve given them some aid, then, Ingram says, they may have time to consider your needs and career aspirations.
Vickie Elmer writes about consumer issues, careers and workplace subjects for the New York Times, Fortune magazine, the Washington Post and other top tier media outlets. Her articles are filled with actionable insights, compelling stories and inspiring people. The mother of three also co-owns Mity Nice LLC, a small social cart business based in Ann Arbor, Mich., which donates to more than a dozen charities each summer and fall. Her motto changes regularly, but her concentration on careers, kindness, creativity and high quality writing remains constant.