Networking is one of the best ways in which you can advance your career and expand your business contacts. Whether you’re attending events, connecting with those in your industry through online platforms or simply talking to people you meet because of your job, networking can lead to amazing opportunities you may otherwise never have come across.
Many people think that the hardest part of networking is putting yourself out there and striking up conversations, but initial meetings and making a good impression in person are only the tips of the iceberg. If you want a networking contact to turn into a valuable connection then you need to put in the work afterwards and follow up successfully to keep the conversation going.
Everyone has different reasons for networking, from attracting new clients for their business to seeking job opportunities that will help to progress their career. Following up after an initial meeting is the best way to ensure that the impression you made is long-lasting and that you get what you want from new connections.
In many cases, you may have shared information about your business or role with the person you networked with and offered to send them more information, or they may have expressed interest to find out more. In these cases, you must follow up after your meeting as soon as possible in order to capitalise on their interest and show your enthusiasm.
Even if you’re not specifically aiming for anything with your networking efforts, it’s still good etiquette to get in touch with someone after a conversation or meeting just to thank them for their time and lay the groundwork for any future conversations.
If someone has given you their email or business card at a networking event, the best way to follow up is with the contact deals they have provided. In the majority of cases, this will be with an email.
A follow-up email should be brief, friendly and sent shortly after your initial meeting. You can add personal details and relevant comments if necessary, but a good basic structure to follow is:
What to say in a networking email will vary depending on the context in which you met, what was discussed and whether you are trying to achieve something in particular through your networking efforts. You’ll learn which approaches are the most successful as you go and hone your follow-up email skills with experience, but the above template is always a good place to start.
If you haven’t been given any contact details after networking then you can still follow up using social media. In the majority of cases, you’ll use LinkedIn to do this, but more informal circumstances may sometimes lead to contacting someone through a platform like Instagram or Twitter.
If you know someone’s name and where they work, it should be relatively easy to find them on LinkedIn. Send them an invitation to connect, and a short message along with this invitation.
You can use a very similar structure to the one listed above for an email follow-up as the template for your LinkedIn message. Ensure that you remind them where you met, summarise any important discussion points and then close with what you would like to happen next.
Ideally, you should send a follow-up message to someone 24-48 hours after you met them. You don’t want to jump down their throat as soon as you have said goodbye, but you want your follow-up message to come soon enough that your conversation is still fresh in their mind.
Sometimes, it can be useful to let your networking contact know when you plan to get in touch again. If you have promised that you will send a message by a certain deadline then make sure that you stick to it, as this shows that you are organised and punctual.
Your first follow-up message shouldn’t be paragraphs and paragraphs of introductory text. Try and keep things short and simple; remind the person of your conversation, recap any important points that you discussed in your conversation, and suggest how you would like to continue your conversation or progress this professional relationship in the future.
You want this message to come across as personal but don’t go into too much detail, as some people may be put off the moment they see a huge chunk of text and not bother to read it at all.
There’s no point in following up with someone after networking if you don’t have anything relevant to say to them. If you’re networking successfully then the connections you are making should all be connected to a goal or aspiration, and you should have laid the groundwork for this in your initial conversation.
Therefore, ensure that the follow-up messages that you send are relevant. Remind the recipient of who you are and what you talked about, and let them know precisely why you talked and what you would like to get out of a further conversation or relationship.
Sometimes, you can put in all the work and a networking connection just doesn’t go anywhere. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve failed in your follow up, but you should know when to keep trying or when to call it a day.
If someone doesn’t respond to your initial message, it can be worth leaving it for a week or so and then politely trying again. But you should never repeatedly send messages to someone in a short space of time or keep trying long after they’ve given a clear message with their lack of response; this could damage your reputation and harm your chances of success with other people in the industry in the future.
Just as making your follow-up message relevant is important, you should also try and provide value when you first make contact. Not only will this make your message stand out from any others that a contact may be receiving, but it will also improve the chances of a beneficial relationship in the future.
If the person you spoke to mentioned something specific in your networking conversation, bring it up in your follow-up message and offer insight or a solution. You can also provide value in your message by sharing a relevant resource that you think your contact might be interested in, especially if it is one that you have produced yourself.
It’s important not to make this feel forced, however. If you can’t think of a way to provide value in your first message, then don’t. Save this for another time, and use all the other techniques we have listed here instead.
If you’re attending a lot of networking events or frequently find yourself following up with potential business contacts, it can be useful to keep templates of follow-up messages to save you time. This is particularly useful if you have found a certain format that works well, as you can hopefully recreate the same results every time.
Whilst using a template as the basis of your message is a good idea, always make sure that you personalise it before sending it. If a message sounds like a blanket response then you won’t get as much engagement with it, and it’s important to put the effort into making your follow up relevant and valuable to whoever’s receiving it.
Another piece of advice that will help you to stand out after networking is to remember the unique details you find out about the people you meet. Whether it’s their birthday, details about their family, their hobbies or any specific interest they have, this is all information that you can use to personalise your conversation later and help to stand out.
If you can refer back to a unique detail in your first follow-up message then this is great, as you’ll make yourself more memorable and give the impression that you really care about building a genuine relationship. It’s worth keeping a note of the details you gather in the long run as well, as wishing someone a happy birthday or sharing resources or content you know they will be interested in can be very useful at any stage.
Networking can be a brilliant way of building supportive and lasting relationships with others in your industry. Whilst most of the people you meet are probably networking with specific intentions in mind, it’s important to remain genuine, open and friendly instead of just spouting business buzzwords and disappearing as soon as you’ve got someone’s contact details.
However, networking aimlessly and without any real goals will not get you anywhere and can make it very difficult to know what to say and do when you’re in situations where networking is possible. It’s always a good idea to have goals in mind when you’re following up on conversations so that you can prioritise where to put your efforts and have an idea of what you’re ultimately trying to achieve, as this will make networking more rewarding and give you the motivation to succeed.
Networking is a really important element in business across numerous industries because it allows you to access opportunities that you may have otherwise missed out on. This can lead to acquiring new clients, getting funding or sponsorship for a new project or idea, and even new job opportunities or career-enhancing experiences.
Networking is also an important part of business because it helps you get to know the people who work in your industry. It can be really beneficial to have connections who may recommend you to others or get in touch with useful leads and opportunities, as well as having other professionals to talk to about the latest trends or obstacles you and your company are dealing with.
If you’re new to networking then one of the best ways that you can start is by attending a networking event for people in your industry. If you’re a recent graduate looking to make connections then this is partially relevant, as there are many networking events specifically held for people like yourself who are just starting out.
Another good way to begin networking is using online platforms such as LinkedIn to connect with relevant companies, business owners, and employees in your industry. Sending someone a message online can be a lot less daunting than networking in person, so if you’re particularly shy or inexperienced then this can be a good place to start.
Following up after networking is often the hardest part about forging a professional relationship with someone, but with practice, you’ll soon find an approach that works best for you. As long as you are prompt to reach out, polite and helpful in your message and make it clear what you are looking to get out of the relationship and what you can offer, you should be successful time and time again.
If you’d like to find out more about networking skills and how to build positive professional connections, we offer an ‘Influencing, Negotiating and Networking’ online training course as part of our personal and professional development resources.