Networking is not just about going out and meeting people. Having met someone does you little good in the business world, since when you do not really know that person, you cannot use that one meeting as an entree into asking for business or a referral. The problem is that too many folks have confused going out and trading business cards with building a real network.
To honestly call someone part of your "network" you must know them at a deeper level, and there must be a mutual relationship. It is common to meet someone one time and then not remember the person a short time later. In other cases it is possible to connect with someone who will grow to be a great friend. Advancing the relationship does not happen automatically, and it will not happen at all if you do not actively work to build on that initial meeting.
While there are many different ways to cultivate a business friendship, today I am writing about the first step in advancing from that first encounter. To leave your network to chance is not in your best interest. You need to reach out to the people with whom you want to know better.
The follow up note is a great tool to get to know someone better
When you meet someone at a networking function and determine that you want to follow up with them, the best way to do this is to send them a short note within a few days. While this seems like "business 101", I am regularly surprised by that this is not a common practice. Even in today's high tech world where sending an email is about the easiest way EVER to correspond with another person, very few people take the time to do it.
This note does not need to be long (you are not writing War and Peace). Three or four short sentences can make you stand out from the crowd of people that others meet on a regular basis:
It was a pleasure to meet you last night at the Chamber of Commerce dinner. I enjoyed hearing about your company and wish you continued success.
Please let me know if I can ever be of any assistance.
Better than sending an email is to mail a handwritten note (yes, the good ol' US Postal Service is a great tool in today's business world). While the handwritten note takes more time than an email, it will definitely set you apart. I have always sent handwritten notes to new people I meet, as well as "thank you's" or "congratulations" to those I already know. I write, on average, about ten notes a week. That is around 500 per year, yet I receive less than fifty. It is rare that people will go the extra mile, but those who do are remembered for their effort. You want to be one of those people!
Start today. Look at the stack of business cards from the last event you attended. Pick out the two or three people that you would like to get to know better and send them a follow up note. You will have a much better chance of building that contact into a friend who can refer business if you reach out to them. Don't leave it to chance.
Have a great day