My post How to Work the Room Like a Pro got some attention (thanks for the shares) and I received lots of follow up questions. What most of my readers, clients, and LinkedIn contacts want to know is: once you’ve connected with someone, what exactly do you do with them after that first conversation? How often do you contact them to keep them in the loop without bugging them? What do you say? In short, how do you keep the relationship going, especially when it’s new and the person is not someone you see every day at the office?
No matter what people may think, maintenance is the hardest part of networking because it requires planning, consistency, and ongoing action or you’ll find yourelf with a list of people who are virtual strangers to you. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, though, especially with all of the tools at your disposal. 4 simple strategies:
Event Follow Up: So you met someone at an event, and you had a great conversation. You exchanged cards, and suggested you meet up again. It was great. And then a few weeks passed, and you realized that you didn’t follow up with your contact. Oops! Okay, this isn’t optimal but we’ve all been there, so the trick now is to stop procrastinating and reach out before more time passes. Send an email that reminds them of who you are and the conversation you had at X event (don’t assume you are so memorable that a brief exchange has imprinted you on their memory forever – do them the courtesy of jogging their memory). Apologize for the delay in responding, and let them know that you really would like to continue your conversation. Then you can ask for that cup of coffee, informational interview, whatever. Alternately, if you don’t really need anything from them, send them a customized invitation to connect on LinkedIn that reminds them of the conversation you had, and lets them know you want to stay in touch.
Informational Interview Follow Up: You sent the customary thank you after the informational interview, but then what? You’re at a loss as to what to do to keep the relationship going. First, send an invitation to connect on LinkedIn, if you haven’t already. Go to their profile, click on Relationship and then go to Reminder and set a time for following up. 3 months is an appropriate amount of time between emails, unless you have something to share with your new contact. Alternately you can use the calendar on your phone, tablet or computer to set up a reminder to email them within a set period.
How to Stay Connected: Aside from the fact that I love LinkedIn, why do I keep telling you to use it for maintaining your network? Updates! This is quite simply the easiest way to maintain your network. Most people ignore the updates from LinkedIn, but it’s a nice way to stay updated on changes in your contacts’ professional lives. Work anniversary? New job? Blog post? Article comment? Fantastic! You can “Like” an update, or you can comment on it. It only takes a few seconds to say congratulations, or add your .02, so budget 5 minutes 3-5 times a week to check in with your network. Your attention will earn you good will, increase profile views, and may even lead to some opportunities because you popped up on someone’s radar at the right moment.
Contact Spreadsheet: Spreadsheets? Really? Yes! A simple sheet, table, whatever works for you, will allow you to add in names, email addresses, employer, industry & interests. Why go to this trouble? You can set up Google Alerts for things that are of value to your network contacts, and when you get a hit that sounds particularly interesting, share it with them. It’s an easy way to maintain contact (heck, people, it’s even automated!) and you look like a hero for remembering what was important to them. Too much work? Here’s a post I wrote that describes how you can use LinkedIn Tags for similar purpose.
These strategies will help you to stay in touch with your new contacts. Remember that people who have granted informational interviews want updates. They want to know that their advice has helped you, and that you’ve succeeded. That’s their ultimate goal because it makes them feel good, and that they’ve made a difference to someone else. Other new contacts don’t necessarily have an agenda, so follow up the conversations you’ve had and let the relationship grow organically.
Have a networking issue? Question? Comment? Email me about it at firstname.lastname@example.org. If I feature your issue on the blog, I’ll trade you a 30-minute coaching session for your idea.