Sunday, June 17, 2012

10 Important Steps To Maintaining Your Valuable Networking Contacts

Many people spend hours mingling with other professionals or business owners during networking events, trade fairs or business conferences. You may collect a wallet full of business cards, but do you ever contact them once the event has finished? If not, you're certainly not alone. You may not feel comfortable dialing the number of a new contact without having anything to say.

Hence, I'm going to discuss some steps you should follow so you can utilise these valuable contacts at a later date. You have to remember that the steps you take before you actually follow up will determine how easy or difficult the task will be. If you want your new contacts to be available when you need them, take heed to the following 10 steps:

1. Direct Your Conversation To Meaningful Topics

Remember, you normally have a very limited amount of time to chat with other conference participants. Hence, you don't want to waste any time discussing non-important issues such as the weather. You can spend a few minutes breaking the ice, at which point you should move to more important topics. This will enable you to maximise your time spent with as many event participants as possible.

2. Inquire About Their Professional Interests & Goals

If you find initial conversations with strangers a bit awkward, you can always ask a question about the event you are attending. This will not only break the ice, but also lead the conversation in the direction you want. Two useful examples are "What did you find the most useful point you learned from today's conference"? or "What are you hoping to learn from today?" These types of questions will pave the way for more general questions such as their other goals or their profession.

3. Create An Excuse to Follow Up Soon After The Event

Another helpful tool is to create a reason for you to contact any new people you meet during a business event. For example, listen closely to the other person and advise them that you would be happy to send them a suggestion, call them with relevant contact information or email them a recommendation. This will make it much easier to contact individuals because they will be expecting to hear from you.

4. Create A Follow Up Reason That Creates Added Value

Make sure you find a reason to contact the other person that will actually add value to them, rather than just benefiting you. Hence, there is no point sending a person you recently met your company brochure or resume unless they have specifically requested these documents.

5. Obtain A Business Card With Complete Contact Information

Don't risk losing valuable contact information when networking by scribbling names, email addresses or telephone numbers on the nearest available slip of paper. You should always request a business card so you have many available methods to contact them.

6. Write Notes On The Back Of Your Own Business Cards

Instead of jotting down notes on the back of someone else's business card, try the reverse tactic. Make sure to write down some ideas or specifics that you will follow up with on the back of your own business card. This will jog the other person's memory when you decide to contact them at a later date. This is also an effective method of making you stand out in a crowd.

7. Make Sure You Contact Them Within 2 Business Days

If possible, you should follow up with your networking contacts within 2 business days. If you will be away for a few more days, make sure to call or email as soon as you return to your office. If you plan to be away for at least a week, you can send a short email message to explain that you enjoyed meeting them and will follow up when you return.

8. Don't Start Off Asking For A Lot

You risk scaring off new contacts if you start requesting big favours. Wait until you have established a more solid connection. Minor requests such as the name of a great real estate agent generally aren't a problem. However, larger requests such as an introduction to the head of their company or access to main customers should wait. Very few people are willing to risk their professional reputation for an individual they have recently met.

9. Continue To Add Value Whenever You Connect

If you establish yourself as an individual who continually adds value, you will quickly build up an extensive network of contacts. Continue to send information on relevant areas or offer your assistance if someone needs help or has a question. Another great way to build up your contacts is to send people customers who genuinely wish to purchase their service or product.

10. Be Specific & Provide Context When You Ask

When you're finally ready to request a favour or information, make sure you specify exactly what you require. Explain that you felt they would be the best person to contact. This reveals that you have taken the time to deliberately contact them which will increase your likelihood of receiving a favourable response.

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