Recently, I talked about the importance of following up or, failing that, of letting it go and not feeling guilty. But that does leave a pretty important question unanswered: with whom, exactly, are you supposed to follow up?
Me, of course!
Well, ok, not just me. When you’re in business for yourself, you’re always on the prowl (so to speak) for new networking opportunities, and that means you’ll want to talk to as many people as you can. But you can’t just walk up and start random conversations – can you?
Let’s say you’re at a convention or a networking event and you run into me. I’m a pretty easy person to strike up a conversation with, so we chat for a bit, trade cards, and there you have it – a new connection. Unfortunately, not everyone you meet is going to have my easy charm and rakish good looks. How do you get connected to those folks?
The key is asking good questions. At most networking events, this is simple – everyone is there expressly to network. Your job is 90% done before you start (and that’s why I cannot recommend these highly enough for aspiring and established entrepreneurs alike). But at unrelated events, you still have plenty of networking opportunities.
Try to avoid the hackneyed old “what do you do?” It’s become heavily associated with careers and work. As an entrepreneur, I love what I do and I’m always willing to talk about it. But a lot of people don’t want to talk about work, and you can’t really blame them. Instead, try “what keeps you busy when you’re not at an event like this?” That let’s people talk about whatever they’re interested in instead. From there, you can develop a connection with them and see where it goes.
Keep it light! You don’t want to come across as badgering, and a forced connection is no connection at all. Somebody who feigns interest out of politeness isn’t going to help you and you aren’t going to help them, so don’t waste your time or theirs.
Finally, make sure people feel welcomed and warm in their conversation with you. Long after they’ve forgotten the substance of the conversation, they’ll remember the feel of it. Make sure that memory is a warm one.
When you’ve made your connections, keep them in mind. Check in with them from time to time to see how they’re doing. And if an opportunity comes up that would be mutually beneficial for both of you, go ahead and mention it. Over time, your expanding network expands your opportunities and gives you the opportunity to help others achieve their goals. That’s a win for all involved.