It happens without much thought. You meet a new business contact at a networking event, mindlessly exchange business cards and then engage in conversation. Sometimes, the encounter wraps up with verbal plans that leave you buzzing with excitement. Then hours, days or even weeks pass and your chat is just a memory, with no follow-up. What happened?
You missed an opportunity to be networking for business success. It’s OK, I’ve done it too many times myself. It’s easy to get overwhelmed at an event that offers multiple chances to meet key people in your industry. You mentally mix up who was who, making it difficult to follow up later. It sometimes gets so confusing that I start taking notes on business cards and in a notebook that’s discretely tucked in my purse. Now, I’ve been much better at reaching out to connections after our initial business card exchange.
As small business owners, we understand the value of networking and making connections. But are we falling short in our technique? Is it costing us business?
Making Contact Online
Several years ago I was at a conference in Las Vegas, meeting new people in seminars and at lunches each day. It was exhilarating. But it could’ve easily been confusing if I didn’t take notes about each person and what I wanted to chat about with them later.
When you meet someone in person, your next follow-up will likely be online. We’re programmed to check our messages multiple times a day, so sending an email or social media connection request is sure to get a positive response when sent within a few hours a day after meeting.
I’ve found that the best places to reach out for a business connection are LinkedIn and Twitter. But if it’s a more involved follow-up, a personal email shows that you took the extra time to write a message and follow through. As a freelancer, people love to see prompt communication, because it shows how you run your business.
I like to start the message with a quick word of thanks for visiting with me and where we were, just to jog their memory. I might compliment one of the topics we discussed, then I launch into whatever needs to happen next. Or, I might share my writing portfolio and answer a question they wanted to know more about. Maybe I’ll ask for their help, based on the services they provide, or give feedback after browsing their website.
Initiating an In-Person Meeting
In some situations, the next step (or third step) is to suggest an in-person meeting. If it’s appropriate, try something casual, like a business lunch, grabbing coffee in the afternoon or going out for a few drinks.
If it’s the initial contact since your first meeting, recap how you met and what you want to meet about, then suggest a few times that might work. If you’ve been conversing online, explain that you’d like to touch base in person to go over more details or to work through some questions together, and an in-person meeting would be the most productive outlet.
If you just need to touch base and want to keep things simple and quick, meeting for coffee is perfect. It’s understood that you want to make a connection and not spend an afternoon hashing things out. Need a document signed? Want to hand off some products to try? A coffee meeting is the way to go.
If you really want to build a relationship over conversation in a more casual setting, do lunch. Throughout the meal, you can talk and explore ideas together. This will help you get to know the direction and approach you’re both looking for.
When you need to go over paperwork or conduct a presentation, keep it formal and suggest a meeting at your work location or theirs. If you’re working from a home office, rent a co-working space for a few hours. Personally, I like to use the meeting room at my local library. It’s free, professional and centrally located.
Trying to seal a deal? A dinner or drink invitation is a good move. It’s one final chance to woo the other person, talk anything over and feel relaxed all at once. It’s very common to ask for a commitment or sign a contract over dessert.
Presenting a Follow-Up Solution
So, you’ve decided to follow up either online or in person, but what should you be talking about? You know it’s not best to perpetually promote yourself, so why not think about it from the other person’s perspective?
Reiterate the problem or concern they’re having, then explain how your product or service could help them. Share a real story about a past customer or partnership that successfully made a difference. Leave the data and numbers for the wrap-up to make your proposal hit home.
Networking for business success is an ongoing process. Building new relationships within your field starts with walking up and saying hello at the next business meet-up or conference. You never know, your product or service could be exactly what that person is looking for. Start a conversation, follow up and grow your business with stellar communication skills.