“Networking” is a popular buzz word these days and people from all walks of life are being encouraged to network. Over the past weeks, we have discussed preparation, dress, what to bring to a networking meeting and your message. This week, we are focusing on what to do when you leave the event.
You attend networking functions to present yourself and your firm to attendees. You want to meet people who will help grow your business and connect you to potential customers. At most events, you will be passing out and collecting business cards.
I recommend that you make notes on the business cards whenever possible. Once you get back to your office or hotel room sort through the business cards and any other information you have about the attendees. Choose those that you consider to be potential leads or those with whom a stronger relationship is warranted.
Add these potentials to your contact database. In my case that includes not only Outlook but also Constant Contact. Send them a note either to the email on their card or through LinkedIn. I like LinkedIn because it provides them with a more complete bio on you. If you don’t have an email address, LinkedIn will provide it, once they accept your invitation. Always customize your LinkedIn invitation, do not use the default “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.” I prefer to address the person by name, indicate where you met and give a short sentence about yourself. Then sign with your first and last name, company name and title.
Personal emails from your work account are a very good way to take the next step. Make sure your contact information is in your signature. The language should be comparable to the previous paragraph’s LinkedIn message. If you would like to get better acquainted, suggest to time and location to meet. I normally offer a single option rather than multiple choices. If that time isn’t convenient and they want to connect, they will offer an alternative time and/or location.
Before you meet, review the person’s LinkedIn profile; investigate their company website, read relevant material about their firm or other areas of interest. Then prepare a few opening questions to break the ice, also prepare a few interview questions but only start down this path once you have developed a rapport. If better rapport takes more than one meeting, let the relationship develop at its own pace. Think through what you want from the relationship. What can you provide to the other person? One question I often use is, “How can I help you?”
Listen more than you talk and learn about them and their company. Determine whether you have a solution to their concerns and if not, don’t try to force your solution on the other person. Rather think about others in your circle and recommend the person to a better suited connection. People who feel you genuinely listened and helped them are more likely to provide you a return referral.
Enjoy networking and keep notes. I maintain a master list of those who I want to stay in touch with so that I can reconnect at appropriate intervals.