There you are: in the middle of a crowded room filled with people in business suits, the sound of chatter overpowering the jazz music piping through the speakers, and you’re perspiring a little under the heat of your heavy jacket. The person across from you is winding up his side of small talk, and you’re thinking a move ahead, about how you’ll end the conversation and gracefully move on to the next. He finishes talking about what he does for his day job, and then says, “well it’s been great talking with you! Here’s my business card – let’s connect and continue this conversation later.”

Now what?

After a really good networking session, I am always anxious to follow up with one to five people to keep that connection going after the event has ended.

Here are a few guidelines when you’re following up, to ensure that you’re still keeping a positive image after the business cards have been exchanged.

  • Reach out with some kind of electronic message the morning after. I prefer looking new connections up on LinkedIn first. If someone is easy to find on there, send them a request to connect, but always personalize your message. Don’t leave it as the typical “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.” It can be simple but effective – a good basic message is, “First name – It was so great meeting you at last night’s event! I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn. Let me know if I can be of service to you! – Your First Name” If you talked about something specific that you can mention – that just gives you bonus points. If they don’t have LinkedIn or you aren’t using that site to your full advantage (what are you waiting for?!), a good email can do the trick. Also – make sure that you don’t wait too long, or they will forget about you. I try to always do this first thing the morning after the event, or first thing Monday morning if it happened any time after Friday at 5:00pm.
  • Do not – I repeat – DO NOT add someone to your email marketing list without asking them if it’s okay first. This is one of my biggest pet peeves. Just because you got someone’s business card does not mean that you can spam them with all of your emails. While I really enjoyed connecting with you, I’m probably not interested in your business’s specific market. If it’s something you think they would find valuable, either ask them as they hand you your card or in the follow-up email, “Would it be alright if I add you to my email list? I think you’d really enjoy our newsletters.” Give them the option to opt in.
  • If you are in a sales position and your new contact seemed like a hot lead, follow up with a phone call a few days later. People are busy. And chances are they received a handful of follow-up emails from other contacts they made at the networking event. If you don’t hear from someone, give them some time, then pick up the phone for a quick, “Just wanted to see if you were still interested in chatting about my services” call. But please, no added pressure. They might have just shown interest because you were standing in front of them. Don’t be too upset if they don’t seem as excited as they were at the event.
  • If you really want to develop the business relationship into something strong, pick up a pen and write a handwritten card. Again, the sooner the better on this. There are countless studies on the benefits of sending a handwritten letter, but when we get down to basics – it just makes someone feel special. Take the three minutes to jot them a note to stay in touch.

If we ever exchange business cards at a networking event, you can bet you’ll be hearing from me the next day. Just please…don’t add me to your email list.