Everyone talks about the importance of networking, from finding a job to securing a board position. Yet an effective networking campaign hinges on two words that, surprisingly, even many seasoned professionals fail miserably at:
If you aren’t committed to following up with new contacts and referrals, it doesn’t matter how much you network.
While this advice may seem like a no brainer, the dirty little secret of networking is that most people make feeble attempts—if any at all—when it comes to following up on the contacts they are given and the people they meet.
So what’s holding them back? Well, all sorts of things actually, like never being taught how to do it, a fear of rejection or being a pest, laziness, discomfort with asking for help, and concern about appearing disingenuous.
For example, one of my clients justified her reluctance to follow up with an important contact she met at her son’s soccer tournament by saying, “He’ll think I faked listening to his long-winded story about his kid’s athletic talents just so I could call later to talk about business.”
Whether you’ve met someone in an impromptu situation, at a more formal networking event, been referred to a contact or just been interviewed for a job, follow this advice when it comes to following-up:
1. Get over it! Leave your reluctance behind, and remember these truisms when you start to falter: if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Most of the time, people truly like helping others, especially when someone is in a pinch or comes highly recommended by a friend or colleague. Make sure that you void these common “follow-up buts”:
“But…he or she’s so important in the business world, and I’m so insignificant.”
“But…I’ll look desperate, or like I’m a stalker.”
“But…he or she will never remember me.”
“But…they’re so busy. I don’t want to bother them. They have more important things to do than give me advice.”
2. Take immediate action. Ask yourself “How best can I break through and get noticed?” Send an e-mail or handwritten note. Make a phone call. Mail an item of interest reflecting something you spoke about. If you try to schedule a meeting, indicate that you are flexible, and then bend over backwards to find a time that’s most convenient for the other person. In all cases, be certain to express your appreciation. As they say, a little gratitude goes a long way.
3. Persevere. First of all, if they don’t respond, don’t take it personally. Then realize that there are no black and white rules for how many times to follow-up before giving up. Use your intuition and judgment to determine an appropriate number of attempts based on the circumstances and your connection with the other person. Generally speaking, I recommend following the “three strikes and you’re out” rule. If someone doesn’t respond after two tries, take a light-hearted approach. For example, send an e-mail saying, “At the risk of having you think I’m stalking you…” Or, “I don’t want to pester you so I’ll wait until I hear from you.” Or, “This doesn’t seem like a good time, so I’ll try again in a month or so.”
4. Employ a contact management system. Plan right from the get go how often you intend to follow-up with each person, be it weekly, monthly, or quarterly. A simple tracking system will help you stay on top of your outreach efforts.
Peggy Klaus coaches executives and consults with organizations on the skills and programs essential for great leadership. She’s the author of BRAG! The Art of Tooting Your Horn Without Blowing It and The Hard Truth About Soft Skills.