During a break at a workshop last autumn, I was introduced to a man who provides a service my business requires and that I had been wondering how I would address. I was delighted to meet him. “Excellent timing!” I said, “Have you got a card?” He confessed he didn’t have any with him, so I gave him mine and he promised to follow up. It’s been three months, and I haven’t heard a peep. Unable to progress the sales process with him, I will look elsewhere. More than simply losing my business, he’s also lost out on accessing my extensive network of contacts.
How many times have you come away from a networking event loaded down with new business cards . . . but without any plan to do anything with them? You return to your office, and empty your pockets. Maybe you put an elastic band around the newly-collected cards before throwing them in your desk drawer. Perhaps you look up one of two of the people you just met on LinkedIn, maybe even send an email. Either way, I am sure you would agree, your follow-up could be characterised as a bit hit or miss.
When it comes to building an effective network, making a new contact is – literally – just the beginning. It’s what you do with that contact that determines whether the relationship will bear fruit. The problem is, you’ve no way of knowing at this stage, which contacts will lead anywhere.
Two years ago I attended a seminar on being more productive. I didn’t realise it at the time, but a handful of the attendees would become key members of my network. Four have become good friends, and two have become clients.
I didn’t attend the event with a plan. In retrospect, it was sheer luck than enabled me to transform these initial contacts into what are now close working relationships. What I am recommending to you is that you do not leave it to chance. Be purposeful. Do something systematic in the wake of these occasions, something that will ensure that each event becomes a catalyst to enrich and extend your personal network. What I urge you to do, is to follow up.
Not everyone you meet will become a client. Not everyone you encounter will be in a position to give you a job. But everyone you come across has the capacity to be of assistance to you – if they are so inclined.
To make the most of networking, start by shifting your thinking about the duration of the networking event. The conference or course or seminar – it doesn’t end when you leave the room. I propose that you’re not truly finished with it until you have captured the information on the business cards you collected, and done something with it.
Getting a business card and leaving it on your desk is akin to planting a seed, but not watering it. You’ve taken the first step by meeting someone and asking for their card. That effort will be meaningless unless you take the next step.
What I am suggesting is that there’s more to successful networking than meets the eye – but not that much more.
Let’s say you attend an event which lasts an hour and a half. You’ve already invested 90 minutes, not including travel time. I would wager that it will only take another 15 minutes – 30 minutes at the most – to dramatically boost the effectiveness of that initial 90-minute investment.
By spending just 15 minutes on follow-up – less time than it probably took to travel to and from the event – to send an email or a connection request, you have catapulted your initial investment to the next level, and are now in the arena where that investment has the potential to pay dividends. It’s once the follow-up is complete, that you have set the stage for something to develop with a contact you have made. It’s the watering after the planting, that will ensure that this new relationship has the conditions to grow.
As you can see, being an effective and successful networker only requires a marginal additional input of energy. Don’t let yourself down by not closing the circle after your next networking event. Proper follow-up will ensure that you not only extend your network, but that you get the maximum benefit from the time and money you invest in attending business events.
P.S. Next time you go to an event, make sure you bring more cards than you think you will require.