So, you’ve pushed back your keyboard and attended events to make new connections. Great start, since networking is the #1 way to find a new job and build professional relationships! But, what's the most effective networking strategy for following up with those who can help you land your next role or grow your business?
Timely and effective follow up after meeting people reflects your personal brand, strengthens your professional reputation and may attract new opportunities. Staying connected also helps you cultivate relationships with contacts who may grow into your champions when you apply for jobs or seek introductions to potential clients.
After exchanging business cards with your new contact, email that person within 1 to 2 days to reconnect while you’re still top of mind. First, reflect on your conversation and what you shared so to tailor your message to the recipient's interests. Review the contact's LinkedIn profile for ideas about how to frame your message. Strive to arrange an in-person meeting, but suggest a brief phone call as an alternative. (People have busy schedules and may not have much availability.)
It was nice to meet you at the [name of event]. I enjoyed chatting about [something you talked about]. In looking at your LinkedIn profile, I noticed that you do a lot of work on [mention topic and how it relates to your interests]. If you have time, I’d love to treat you to coffee or hop on a quick call to learn more!
You might also consider calling your contact, but weigh this option carefully as not everyone is comfortable with unscheduled calls.
Regardless of how you reach out, directly mentioning your job hunt or business needs is poor networking strategy. Your new connection likely understands that you’re in the job market or seeking new business contacts from the initial conversation anyway, so when following up, broaden the agenda. This shows that you’re thinking about interests beyond your own and avoids putting the person on the spot to provide leads for your search or business.
Connect with your new contact on LinkedIn via a personalized invitation. Even if your headshot identifies you, if you reach out first via LinkedIn (versus email), customize your invitation with a brief reminder of where and when you met. Using LinkedIn is essential to effective networking strategy. Sending an invite opens the opportunity for you and your new contact to learn more about each other from your profiles. You may discover that you have contacts, schools or previous employers in common, or you may see a 2nd degree connection you'd like to be introduced to in the future.
If you have a question, don’t ask it in the invitation. LinkedIn only allows the person to accept or ignore the connection request, not reply with further text. Send your question via a separate LinkedIn message or by email after you’ve established a connection.
When you meet with contacts again, focus on them. Ask questions that tap into their professional interests, e.g., “What is the greatest challenge your business is facing?” Or, “What do you think about [certain industry trend]?” As they share their thoughts with you, weave in your knowledge in reply to show your potential value as an employee, partner or service provider. A rich conversation allows room for both parties to describe their career or business objectives and to ask for help or introductions, now or later.
Relationships are two-way streets. If you share information and/or give assistance without immediately seeking anything in return, you’ll establish yourself as a valuable contact. People will see you as a resource or thought leader and may recommend you to others.
For effective following up, offer one or more of the “three I’s:” information, introductions or invitations.
Think about non-work-related ways to help, too. Perhaps a new connection was seeking a good new restaurant, and you have the perfect recommendation. Or, another contact is a runner and you know about a great half marathon coming up. There are many ways to give to others, so listen closely to pick up cues and be creative in your approach.
A word of caution: while generosity is an end in itself, it’s important to conserve your time, resources (and other contacts) when networking. Avoid spending all of your energies in one place; find out one or two important actions you can take to help your new contact and follow through accordingly.
Growing relationships with new contacts consists of more than one or two encounters. Consider how to stay on the radar of those you’ve met.
LinkedIn notifies you of connections' birthdays (if added to their profiles) and work anniversary dates. These are perfect opportunities to send best wishes or check in. (Networking strategy tip: Always customize LinkedIn’s standard congratulatory messages before sending it!) You don’t need a special event to stay in touch, however. A short email asking how a project is going or if you’ll see someone at an upcoming industry event also goes a long way to maintain your connection.
Thoughtful and strategic communication after meeting is vital to your job search and business success. Take the business cards you’ve received from new contacts, reach out soon after events, add value and stay connected. Even after you land a new role or make strides growing your client base, continue reaching out to build solid ties with your network that promote long-term business and personal relationships.