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Following Up: The Key to Networking

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Networking: the mere mention sends some people under the nearest stone. I was never too fond of networking, to put it kindly. It “wasn’t for me,” as I now hear a lot of people echo.

I’d attend when someone invited me to be their guest, but it was out of obligation to them,not the anticipation of being in a room and trading business cards like anyone actually keeps them. To me, networking has always come with subtext; it all felt “forced.”

Of course you’re there to meet new business contacts, so by nature the point is to force you into a space where you can’t escape each other. But… eh; I’d always preferred my meetings happen organically or through a more genuine context.

Shifting a business life after being in the same industry for 28 years, I assumed I’d have to get out again and meet new people – which makes business sound like dating. The business contacts I’d made over those years were all friends by now. They were supportive and excited about the radical career change I’d undertake.

After that many years in business, the last thing I needed to do was go out there and promote myself. Everyone knew what I did. My business growth was on auto-pilot, thank God, because my new customers came from my existing customers. I was delighted that Networking wasn’t a thing for me by this point. I’d done enough of it.

Then I started hearing the words I dreaded from peers in the coaching world: ‘get out there, meet new people and tell them what you do.’ Oh shit. Sounds like networking. They were right. I’d have to get back out there and keep adding to my social circle, meet new peers and potential clients, and expand my world.

I hesitated. I couldn’t bring myself to get ‘out there’. One day, I ended up tricking myself into doing it. I put myself through a little experiment – I’d go to a networking event and only connect the people I met with other people already in my network. The pressure was off of me, and that’s all I was really looking for.

Not only did this get me to the event – I enjoyed it in the end.

Without the pressure of impressing people with my expertise, I’d just kinda hang around and talk to people. If it sounded like one of my own friends would benefit from talking with them, I’d pass on the information.

I wasn’t there to sell anything. I ended up meeting people, getting to know them, initiating relationships, and enjoying my time.

Fast forward 5 years or so and, while I don’t attend too often, the effects of events I have attended have been everlasting. Not only have some of my best friendships come from these events, but I’ve made amazing connections with people that I gelled with instead of businesses I could benefit from.

God has a great sense of humor. Case in point: I now teach people how to network with HEART! I take the ‘what not to do at a networking event’ guesswork out of the equation and empower people to see all the success that comes from serving others instead of trying to get ahead.

I show people how they can amplify their networking efforts and how they can serve their existing network by becoming a great connector.

I’ve done this for corporations, for real estate brokerage firms and entrepreneurs who want to really understand and succeed at networking.

I speak to so many people at these events who are seemingly doing everything right but not getting the results they want. There’s a common denominator with almost everyone who feels they aren’t getting traction – those who feel these events aren’t time well spent.

When I ask them how they follow up, I get a lot of gaping mouths and nods. And there is the problem. Follow up is everything!

Success is in the follow up. What is the point of spending all that time at a networking event if you are never going to bother following up? Are the stale, cold bagels that good where you network?

Here are just a few of the follow-up tips I provide to those who attend networking with heart. Ask yourself if you use any of these follow-up tools after a networking event:

1) Are you handing out your business cards like they’re a hot potato? You can’t control whether other people contact you, but you’re in control of your follow up to them. Instead of becoming a business card distributor, become a business card collector. Look at it this way - if you have their contact information, you control the follow-up. If you don’t, you may never see or hear from them again. Use that opportunity to start engaging with them. Surprise them with a genuine thank you for sharing their information.

2) Are you asking your new contact the right questions? Make sure you ask smart questions to really get to know who they are and what’s important to them. If at all possible, budget your words and become a generous listener. Everyone loves being heard, so learn to love listening.

This is going to make a huge difference in the quality of the follow up and if you were paying attention and asking the right questions, I promise your follow up conversation is going to be remembered on an entirely different level than anyone else they may have met at that event.

3) Follow up swiftly whenever possible. If you are able to, the same day is preferred. Make sure the meeting is fresh in their minds. They will remember you as a great connection if they spoke the most during your conversation. If you did it right, engaged with economy of words, and showed you really cared about what they had to say, they will remember you pleasantly.

4) Because time can be limited at these events, I would recommend that if logistically possible, you schedule a coffee meeting to get to know them better. Did you read that? The purpose of the coffee meeting is to try to get to know them better, not to try to sell ‘your product or service’. If you start this relationship on the right foot – from serving and adding value to their lives, they will always remember you fondly and business will follow.

5) Never leave someone you’ve just met without asking them how you would know if someone is a good fit for them or who their ideal client is. This will let them know that you are very much interested in connecting them with those in your own network who would be a good fit and could represent business for them.

This will go a long way in your being able to send out introductions via e-mail to those who might provide a mutually beneficial relationship. I love mutual introduction e-mails – they are one of the metrics I keep track of to grow my business. This is a BIG one!

While these are only a few of the tips, I wanted to focus on the follow-up because that’s where most people are falling short. Letting great contacts and potential life-long friends ‘fall through the cracks’ should never be an option and it’s a lot easier to avoid that than you may think.

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