I’ve written before about finding customers by Networking and how effective in-person business networking events can be for finding not only customers, but equally for finding strategic alliance partners, useful referrals for your clients and like-minded business owners who you can build a relationship with.
In short - getting yourself out there and booked into a local business networking event is something you should be doing and doing regularly to help your business grow.
But attending the event itself and meeting people is not enough. On its own it’s a couple of hours spent out of the office chatting to fellow business owners who you will most likely forget - and who will forget you - once everyone gets back to the busy office.
Effectively following-up after a networking event is key to maximising the benefits you get from attending business networking events.
Here are four ways to effectively follow-up from networking.
Do you ever return from business networking events with a handful of business cards which you promptly leave on your desk to gather dust? If so, you’re not alone!
Whenever you schedule time in your diary to attend a networking event, make sure to schedule time in your diary (you should do this within 24 hours of the event itself) to input the business cards you’ve collected and follow-up.
Typically you’ll only need 15-30 minutes to input a handful of business cards into your contact system. If you’re an iPhone or iPad user then you might check out CardMunch, an app which allows you to scan in business cards for automatic import to your address book. But even if you’re manually typing contact details into Microsoft Outlook, Google Apps or your CRM system - make sure to note down in the contact record where and when you met the individual and why you connected at the event. You’ll be grateful of these notes when you try to find that individual but can’t remember his or her name 12 months down the road!
Following up with an individual by e-mail or by telephone call is a must, if you want to build a relationship with the person you’ve met. But make sure to follow-up in the right way! Don’t assume that the person you’ve met remembers you or indeed where you met - many business owners attend lots of networking events and meet dozens of people each week!
When you reach-out to the person you’ve met you should give them a gentle reminder of where and when you met, and ideally, what you spoke about during your conversation and any other memory hooks. These hooks can be anything from mutual contacts you share to Sports teams you both follow! For instance:-
A quick note to say that it was a pleasure to meet you at the BNI Business Breakfast in Birmingham on Tuesday. I enjoyed chatting to you about our mutual love of Aston Villa Football Club, let’s hope they have a great season!”
It was lovely to meet you at the Chamber of Commerce lunch event in New York on Wednesday. It’s good to hear we share a mutual friend in Scott Calonico - I’ll mention to Scott that we connected!”
Including a memory hook like this allows the person you’re contacting to dip into their memory and much more easily remember you than being perplexed by the typical “Nice to meet you. Let’s stay in touch!” e-mails!
As to whether to follow-up by e-mail or telephone - that depends on the strength of the connection. Typically, e-mail is best as most people are very busy and an unsolicited phone call might seem too much too soon. But if the person you met asked you to call them, don’t e-mail - pick up the ‘phone! Doing so will show that you’ve listened to what they were saying and are ready to connect!
If you’ve met somebody at a networking event and discussed a specific topic or a challenge they’re currently having, look for an opportunity to follow-up by including content they’d find useful.
For instance, if you met a business owner who mentions they are worried about Data Security - why not send them a link to a blog post you read on the subject that contains top tips for data security? Showing your new contact that you’re looking to help them without expecting anything in return straight from the off is a powerful way to make a good first impression.
I should stress that this ISN’T an opportunity to sell, but it CAN be an opportunity to share your own educational material - be they videos, blogs or articles. So a follow-up where you say “We can do that for you!” is unlikely to work, but a follow-up where you say “Here’s a blog post I wrote on the subject” can work. Again, you’re demonstrating that you’re trying to help the person - not sell to them.
Finally, after you’ve input their business card, connected with them via e-mail and shared some helpful content - don’t forget to connect with them on Social Media.
Nearly all of us now have a LinkedIn account. Connecting with that person on LinkedIn helps expand your network - but don’t make the big mistake of sending a “Boiler Plate” request. The stock “I want to connect with you on LinkedIn” is a big no-no! It shows a lack of attention. By far better to write a short note saying where you met and why you think it’d be useful to connect.
“Hi Chris. It was a pleasure to meet you at the BNI event on Thursday. I thought it might be useful if we connected on LinkedIn to stay in touch. Regards, Richard” is often all it takes to make you stand out from the crowd.
Once you’re both connected on LinkedIn, don’t make the second big mistake of not using that connection! Take a look at their profile - read about their background - see who they are connected to - and look for opportunities to continue the conversation. It may be that they have a connection to that business you’ve been desperate to talk to about your services!
And remember that LinkedIn isn’t the be-all-and-end-all. Look to see whether the person is on Twitter too - and if they are, give them a shout-out to say how much you enjoyed meeting them at the event! Everybody likes to be acknowledged and it’s another way to stay front of mind.
Attending business networking events is a powerful way to build up new relationships and find new customers - but only if you follow-up effectively!
Don’t leave those business cards to gather dust on your desk. Input them into your address book, follow-up with an e-mail or ‘phone call that reminds the person where and when you met. Share useful content that immediately adds value to the relationship, and remember to connect with them on Social Networks such as LinkedIn.
Follow these tips, and make sure you get the most out of the time you spend at networking events!