Okay, so you’ve bitten the bullet and attended your professional organization’s monthly meeting. You’ve come home with a pocketful of business cards. What’s the best way to establish a relationship with the people you met?
The key is to focus on giving instead of getting, says Lucy Rosen, president of Women on the Fast Track, an Internet-based networking group. Think of yourself as the host or hostess when you attend an event, and concentrate on finding out what people came for, she says. Once you’ve found out what your potential contact wants, you’ve set the stage to follow up. Here’s some advice:
- Focus on goals. Think about your professional goals before asking someone for his or her business card. You’ll want to stay in touch with some people because they know of jobs or business leads. Some people you’ll just find interesting and want to know better. The business card exchange should follow a conversation in which you’ve gotten to know a little bit about them and found out what types of things they’re interested in. Follow up with everyone you get a card from within 48 hours of meeting them, says Rosen.
- The follow-up note and call. At the networking event, jot down on the back of the business card why you want to contact this person again and how you can follow up with them, says Kate Wendleton, president of the Five O’clock Club, a career counseling and networking organization. In the follow-up note, write about how much you enjoyed meeting them and remind them of who you are and how you met. Also, comment on something specific you talked about. “I really thought the session on marketing was great, too.” Then, briefly describe your background and bullet three or four of your achievements to establish credibility, says Wendleton.
- Relationship building takes time. Relationships don’t happen overnight and building them is a lot like dating, says Rosen. With people who are peers, a relationship can take off immediately. If you’re in publishing and you meet a printer, you could have an immediate network.
- Be on the lookout for information that can help advance your contact’s business. If your contact mentioned that she was interested in electronic organizers, include the title of that article you recently read or, better still, include a copy of the article with your follow-up note.
- Ways to connect. Try to meet with people in their office, says Wendleton. With their Rolodex and phone handy, they’re more likely to take immediate action. Because people are so busy, Rosen suggests finding ways other than lunch to stay in touch. “If you do meet for a meal, try breakfast,” she says. “At least the day isn’t interrupted.”
- Take advantage of technology. Rosen networks with more than 50 people over the Internet because it’s quick and less intrusive. She sends messages using special mailing lists she creates using her e-mail program.
- Show appreciation. Once you’ve gotten a two-way exchange going, thank the person for what they’ve given you. Tell them that you’re now working with