Networking…for some reason the very word strikes fear in the heart of many professionals. But networking doesn’t have to be scary. Or hard. Or a waste of time.
Because it’s really just a fancy business jargon-y word for “getting to know someone.” And who doesn’t want to do that?
The part of networking that is unappealing to me is the old-school professional association “business lunch,” where I would buy an overpriced, undercooked chicken breast and sit at a table with people I may or may not know, who may or may not be telling me the truth about their professional prowess.
Networking now is so much easier because there are so many more choices for finding like-minded professionals, meaning that you can customize to the scenario that makes you feel most comfortable.
That might be joining a group on LinkedIn, chatting with parents at a school function, or actually attending a networking or professional association event.
The key isn’t where you meet the people. It’s what you do with the names after you meet them.
Here are some tips for following up with your contacts in a way that’s appropriate, not pushy.
1. Contact them immediately. Not in stalker-ish “Swingers” fashion, but within two days of meeting someone at a business event, follow-up with a low-key email (or written note…in today’s digital word, this really stands out!). “Great to meet you at (remind them). I enjoyed hearing your views on (reference your conversation).”
2. Include a call to action. Do you want to meet with them? The open-ended “let’s get together sometime” puts the ball in their court, and just leaves everything hanging. A better approach is to make a concrete suggestion. Suggest a range of times that might work for you and a low-key invite, as in coffee, not lunch.
For example, “Every Tuesday morning I am right near your office for a client meeting. Would 10 a.m. be a convenient time to grab a cup of coffee one of these weeks?” The contact might respond, “No, I have a standing meeting every Tuesday, but Wednesdays are good.” Then you can decide that you would like to be in the neighborhood on a Wednesday!
3. Give to get. No one likes to feel like you are contacting them because you want something. Even if you do. Perhaps you are job hunting, or looking for new contacts in a new field. Before you come right out and ask for those resources, invest in the relationship.
a. Know someone they might like to know? Offer a connection. They said they were looking into moving out of their home office and into a new space? Offer them the name of the commercial real estate broker who just helped your friend do the same thing.
b. You’re a marketing person and they’re in finance? Hey, today’s Wall Street Journal has an article on techniques brokers use to find clients in a certain segment. Send it to them with a short note, “thought this might interest you.” Who knows, maybe they’ll ask you if you can help them reach those Baby Boomers with an online newsletter of their own? At the least, you have provided them with something of interest and value, and indicated you were engaged in the conversation and their needs.
c. Were you both loving the coffee that was served at the event? Call the restaurant, find out their supplier, and send a quick email…or better…a pound of beans.
The point is to engage them with information that’s of interest to them, not you.
4. Show interest in their work. Follow them on Twitter and retweet selected posts. Connect on LinkedIn and comment on their updates. Did they get a new job or promotion? Send a note. Did you read about developments with their company or industry? Send a note and a related link.
You want to keep in touch, but the key is not too much, not too often.
And that’s the bottom line. With any of these techniques, be judicious. There is a fine line between being helpful and friendly and being a stalker. No one likes someone who is too pushy, so with any networking follow-up, wade in gently and test the waters before diving in!
by Cathie Ericson