When it comes to building up your network of professional leads and connections, the follow up is where the magic happens. But what if your new connections, like most of us these days, are very busy people? What if they are constantly being bombarded by a hoard of others looking for a piece of their time, attention, or expertise?
While there are plenty of articles out there offering an assortment of tips and tricks to help you master the art of the follow up (and I’ll offer some of my own favorite tips below), few of them really delve into the psychology behind it all, and even fewer of them talk about how to properly pace yourself and set effective networking goals.
That’s a problem that leads many well-meaning business owners down the road to wasted time, money, and plenty of frustration.
Why Good Follow Up Means You and Me
Follow up is a vital bridge between the initial connection you make with someone and the ensuing relationship. Your goal is to not only jog your new contacts’ memory in order to remind them of the interaction you had and give that interaction some context, but you also need to give these people a really good reason(s) to stay interested and stay connected.
Plenty of people get networking wrong, and it is usually for one of two reasons:
- They are too focused on themselves and on what they can take from each new connection
- They are focused on the other person, but they do not fully emphasize the value that they can personally offer to this individual or his/her company
Both approaches, by themselves, are wrong, and they typically happen because aspiring networkers are out of touch with why they are networking in the first place.
To put it very simply: your goal is to “buy” your connection’s future interest, loyalty, and support. You want to be showering this person with value right from the beginning, and you need to be pairing this up with a sincere appreciation for the other person’s worth, accomplishments, skills, needs, etc.
This is Relationships 101, folks.
In other words, if you really want to succeed in the networking scene, you have to do your research, recognize what your new contacts need, and then look for ways in which you personally can give it to them or at least help point them in the right direction.
This process starts in the follow up.
So, I’m going to stop right here, because there are two quick points I want to make very clear:
- Even if you are going into the relationship looking for something in return, you’ll have a much better chance of succeeding if you truly value and appreciate the person you are trying to connect to. (For a little inspiration, take a look at this post at Firepole Marketing where the writer describes how he was able to connect with Susan Cain.) And don’t forget to be human… express an interest in the things that your connections share publicly or to you in private, offer your support, encouragement, and help. This is the way to get ahead in every area of your life. Business is no exception.
- Realize that when it comes to building a network from the ground up, it’s all about the hustle. What I mean here is don’t just think about the long term, “I need to get 500 connections on LinkedIn…” Try to be focused on only a small number of quality connections at a time. See who responds to your advances and put your efforts into these people. Do what ever you can to build up these relationships, and realize that the more popular and influential the person, the more demands there will be on this person’s time. So, you are going to need to be patient, but persistent.
Tips to Effectively Follow Up with Busy Contacts
Go against the grain. In that initial follow up, don’t be afraid to do things a bit differently from other people. For example…
- If you meet some great people at a conference, don’t follow up right away. Why? Because that’s what most other people will do, and that means you’re going to have a lot of competition. (Plus, if you or contact is introverted, you’ll need some downtime after the event.) So, why not wait a week or two till everything settles down a bit for you and your new connections? Then, when you do contact them, make sure to include some context to help them remember who you are, such as mentioning something about a story or a piece of information they shared with you or something that happened when you met.
- Back to the conference… Look for “unofficial” networking opportunities, like standing in hallway to catch people in between sessions, meeting up with participants after the event has ended, or volunteering to help run some part of the conference.
- Send a customized postcard, letter, or note via… snail mail. Most people choose to follow up via email or over the phone, so why not stand out by sending something physically in the mail instead? I mentioned in an earlier post that direct mail offers a great opportunity for cash-strapped small business owners to build their network and connect with current and potential customers because fewer businesses are doing it. There are even online platforms that allow you to create a series of postcard and letter templates which you can easily customize for each contact. One such platform, Enfront, takes this a step further. They will also print and mail out these customized pieces for you in a follow up sequence of your choice.
In other words, if you are willing to work a bit outside the box, the possibilities are really endless.
Get the value on your end going right at the beginning. As I mentioned above, you should look for ways to “acquire” your new contact’s interest and attention when you first start following up with them and throughout the relationship. You can do this by sincerely helping them reach their goals or fulfill some need. For example…
- Point them to a really great tool or resource that you know of and that you know will be of interest to them or offer one of your own for free.
- Offer your skill, knowledge, expertise, etc to help them with something you know that they are struggling with.
- Introduce them to other people within your network who can help them. Just make sure you get each others’ permission and that you really think about how that connection will affect your current relationship with either party.
- Even if you are struggling to do these things at the beginning, you can at the very least express your sincere interest and enjoyment over their work or ask them about a new project or event you know they are involved in. Again, you should do this without asking for anything in return.
In short, following up with busy contacts involves several key ingredients: being in touch with your networking goals, looking to give real value and support before taking, being sensitive to the situation and needs of the other person, and at times being willing to go against the grain. But, if you get the mix right, you’ll often find that you’ll get back much more than you put in.