You did it! You went to a networking event! You’re feeling accomplished for putting yourself out there and you have a nice stack of business cards. But what do you do now?! How do you maximize your hard work and efforts? We would love to tell you that successful networking is all about who can shake the most hands and collect the most business cards. However, that simply isn’t the case. The most successful networking pros know that true connections and follow-up are the key to strong professional relationships.
Public speaking and meeting new people is a cringe-worthy reality for most. After attending a networking event you often feel a sense of completion. You came, you saw, you conquered. If you don’t follow up, however, it isn’t likely you’ll get the results you truly want: connections that help you achieve your goals. To successfully network, you need to be intentional both during and after the event.
At the Event
The work you need to do after a networking event can be daunting, but if you stay focused and intentional during the event itself you will create less work for yourself later. You will also be more likely to enjoy yourself and feel productive! Minimize the work you have to do after an event by keeping in mind these tips while you are networking.
- Keep your ideal connections in mind. Having a clear vision about what kind of relationships you want to find and later cultivate is key! Do you want to find potential power partners? Do you want to help educate people on your industry? Are you looking to hire or be hired?
- Quality over quantity. Networking events can have a number of people in attendance. Not only do you have to gain the confidence to interact with strangers, you have to identify which strangers can be viable connections. Making these decisions while combating nerves and carrying on a conversation is no easy task. However if you keep your goals in mind the decision making process is easier. Whatever your goal, think long and hard about the type of people and connections you want to make. It will make the task a lot less daunting and you will come home with perhaps a smaller stack of business cards but when it comes to networking quality is better than quantity.
- Stay focused on your goals. In many aspects of life, it’s a good idea to set specific goals for yourself because it helps you stay focused. Some networkers like to give themselves a specific number of people they would like to talk to. Whatever goal you set for yourself ahead of time keep it in mind as you mingle!
- Move on when necessary. Although you never know who may turn out to be a wonderful connection for you, be smart about who you stay in conversation with. If you’ve been talking to someone for 10 minutes and you see no means to serve each other in any way, say “it was nice to meet you” and move on. You will not only be doing yourself a service but them as well. It’s ok to move on if you feel you can’t make a genuine connection. Your time is better spent cultivating genuinely productive relationships. Another phrase you can use is, “I’m going to keep walking around.” People will respect your dedication to meeting more connections.
- Beware of tipsy. As they say, first impressions are everything. A networking event with a room full of strangers is a huge opportunity to make multiple great first impressions. You want to be relaxed but the last thing you want to do is come off as rude, sloppy or annoying. Avoid drinking too much alcohol and too little water so that you can be your most polished and presentable self. It will be awkward to followup after the event if you are embarrassed by your behavior.
- Make specific follow-up plans. It is easy to say to a new connection, “Let’s stay connected!” But isn’t it even more powerful if you can propose a direct and specific way you can help each other? You can’t always identify these opportunities during your initial conversation but, if you can, it has a lot of power. Not only does it give you a clear actionable item to followup on, it will help the person remember you. “Mackenzie said she was going to followup with me on being a guest writer on Mission 2 Organize’s organizing blog.”
Just because networking is inherently social doesn’t mean it can’t be purposeful or have an agenda. Deliver your personality along with purposefulness and you will be the belle of the networking ball!
After the Event
It’s no surprise that you need to followup with the contacts you make while you network. Depending on your industry or networking goals, one or more of the following methods could be your secret to networking success.
- Create a networking tracker. Before I developed a system for networking, I suffered from procrastination. I was attending events but not getting any results. It wasn’t long before I realized that if I didn’t create a system with some structure, I would not only waste my time, but torture myself in the process! Try creating a spreadsheet that tracks the name of events you attended, the day they took place, leads that you would like to follow up with and in what way you would like to partner with them. This will help you measure your results, build a to-do list and keep track of your connections.
- Process business cards. No one likes finding business cards all over their home with no clue as to why they kept them, who the person was or how long it has been since they meant to followup. Processing your business cards is a great first step to staying organized and making the most out of attending networking events. Just like all areas of paper management, we recommend tracking in away you’re most comfortable with. There are a plethora of apps out there for uploading and scanning business cards, however some people prefer the tangible. Whether you create a spreadsheet, note card file box or a combination of the two, make sure to process your business cards immediately after an event. Record any notes you learned about that individual, ways you can partner and where & when you met them.
- Choose the best form of follow-up and follow up quickly. When you follow up, make sure you consider who you are reaching out to and what you seek to gain. Although it can be a great tool for keeping track of names and faces, most connections need more than just a LinkedIn request. Did you identify a great power partner but not get enough time to flush out exactly how you can help each other? Plan a call or meeting. When you reach out, be honest about how you would like the relationship to progress. Share what you would like to accomplish during your time with that person. They will appreciate knowing what you want out of the connection and it will allow them to either prepare for or decline your offer. Either way, you’ll avoid wasting time. If you promised to deliver something (like information on your business) or share a resource, try sending an email. Once you craft a good one, save it as a template! You will likely be able to use the same bones to followup with other connections without having to reinvent the wheel.
No matter your networking style or intention, make it genuine. At the end of the day, people network to be helped or be helpful. If you can walk into a room wanting nothing more than to learn about how you can share what you do in a way that is beneficial to others you too can be successful. Take that intention and follow up!
Has it been a while since you followed up with us?! Check out these other M2O resources to help you take your professional life to the next level.