The Next Step in Networking: Strengthening Your Connections
Although meeting new people might seem like a daunting task, the real work actually begins after the initial meet-up.
First impressions are important, but what happens afterwards – how you follow up, build a connection, and develop lasting relationships – is just as, if not even more, crucial.
No matter what career you have in any field, the competition is stiff. Having excellent skills can get you noticed, but nurturing strong connections will let you explore beyond your horizons. After all, furthering your career also boils down to how many people can benefit from those same skills, whether through service, a product or any other means. This is especially important for professionals who are new in their career fields.
Whether you just came home with a stack of business cards from your very first networking event or simply made acquaintances at a volunteer event or industry lunch, here are some things to keep in mind when strengthening your connections.
The first step to turning those business cards and new contacts into something lucrative is doing research and getting organized. Google your new contact or look for them on LinkedIn to learn more about their history and credentials.
Archive all the information you have in a spreadsheet. On top of contact information and institution, note down any specific topics you covered during your meet up or can discuss in the future. Add columns to note the last time you were in touch so you can keep track of how often you get in touch.
Be sure to reach out within 48 hours after the networking event to establish a connection. During the event itself, ask how they’d like to communicate so you know the best way to do so – will you call them, set up a lunch date, or follow them on social media? Either way, be sure to follow through to keep your relationship from going cold.
The art of following up
The simplest way to follow up is to thank your contact for the insights they shared during your conversation, and to express how excited you are to implement them in the future. You can choose to ask for feedback on things you are working on based on what you talked about, or even send them an article that works as a good follow-up. Choose an article or blog post that they would find value in and doesn’t read like a sales brochure. The same goes for inviting your acquaintance to an event or activity to get back in touch. Be sure that it is either free or paid for, and is relevant to both you and your new contact.
On top of these, look out for small things like birthdays, career movements, or family events on networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. Reach out and send your well wishes, as these can go a long way.
The value of a helping hand
One great way to strengthen connections down the road is by being generous with your time and resources. Focus on and try to learn about what you can do for others, instead of pondering over what others can do for you. People are usually wired to reciprocate good deeds. The likelihood is that there will be instances when opportunities come knocking through the people you help out.
Think back on your initial meeting to see if your contact had expressed a need, whether directly or not, and start there. Over the course of your relationship, avoid asking how you can help. Instead, make it a point to ask what challenges they are currently facing or what projects they’re focused on. In this way, you can be in a position to offer resources, knowledge, or even contacts for their own network instead of putting pressure on them to think of ways you can help out.
In truth, effective networking can happen any time, anywhere. Keep an eye out for opportunities to build new or strengthen existing connections. Not everyone you meet will foster a deep and meaningful business relationship with you. But with discipline and an open mind, you're going to find and keep some good people down the road.
Jennifer Birch (JBusinessTips) is a researcher and lecturer based in North Carolina focused on a variety of issues, including professional development in the public and private sector. Always interested in personal growth and meaningful interactions, she loves to write about the value of networking in day-to-day life. When not at her desk or in front of a blackboard, she enjoys badminton and attending pottery-making classes.
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