If you have experienced moments as I described in posts from previous weeks (Networking 101, Networking 201, Networking 301), such as fears of being imposing, too aggressive, not interesting enough, etc., then following up will potentially, if not certainly, trigger more thoughts of the same.
Even if you felt as though there was a strong rapport and that the person seemed genuinely interested in connecting again, analysis paralysis can strike and cause procrastination, which may present in full-blown failure to follow up. This stage is where you determine the return on your investment of time, energy, and occasionally money, in your networking endeavors.
I’ve been prone to overthinking when needing to follow up, even though I’m consciously aware that the best practice is to follow up the next day while people’s memories are still fresh. If someone you met was wildly popular, I’d wait a couple of days for the eager beavers to filter through.
If you find yourself unable to follow up promptly, don’t abandon hope that you’ll be able to generate opportunity because you are late. Like being serendipitously late to an event, sometimes delays can benefit you.
Firstly, if when you first met you mentioned a resource, introduction, or information that you thought would be immediately helpful, deliver it. Then ask the person to schedule a follow-up call or meeting. If you’re not able to deliver, then at least update them. Perhaps a follow-up conversation would help you deliver better.
The objective, once you have met someone digitally or in real life, is to allocate more time to get better acquainted. This can look like a lot of things, some of which you may even enjoy! We are all time-starved. Rather than resorting to an email, where most people I know are over-flooded with incoming communications, see if there is a medium that is already a part of the person’s daily, weekly, or monthly flow – someplace they’ll already be, but where their attention isn’t diverted to too many other demands.
WHERE TO FOLLOW UP:
In real life
If you both mentioned a love of hiking or some other activity, tie that into your next plans. Perhaps there is a group hike you can both attend where you can not only get to know each other better, but can also help each other meet other people.
When one person I was introduced to told me that she couldn’t talk on a Tuesday because she was attending a flower show that I also had considered attending, I suggested we meet there. And we did. And we wound up spending a whole day together appreciating flowers and flower artisans. We were also able to write that flower show off as work expenses, along with the expenses of getting there.
If this person works or lives somewhere near you or somewhere you want to go, you can double leverage your time and schedule other activities or errands, let them know and offer to go when they have time to meet.
On social media
Perhaps personal interests didn’t come up. Do a bit of personal research. See what you can discern from social media. If you met someone and only talked business, invite them to connect on LinkedIn, but not Facebook or Instagram (unless their business is on Instagram.) You may not be on Twitter, but I have found that people who tweet regularly tend to divulge personal opinions you may not see them sharing on other social media. If you think your audience isn’t using Twitter – think again. It takes but a minute to check. If they are on Twitter and tweet daily, this is the best way to catch them in the flow of their day.
If you send a LinkedIn invitation to someone, you only have 300 characters. Not everyone is active on LinkedIn. If you see that your contact has only a few connections, little content in their profile, and no recent activity, they may not see your invitation for a while, if at all. If this is the case, use a backup method.
How many times do you answer your phone when you don’t know the number calling? Rarely, I’d bet, unless you are a busy salesperson. The art of calling people has really become the art of leaving a message. The rules are simple: don’t be a telemarketer.
Often when I leave a message, I let the other person know that they can respond via text to let me know their availability to speak. I may also let them know that I will follow up with an email or LinkedIn message (if I know they use it daily). This gives them options to respond in a way that is most convenient for them.
Though I don’t prefer it because when I don’t have meetings scheduled I like to save time by staying in leisure clothes (okay, pajamas), I accommodate requests to video chat because there is something deeper about looking at someone when you talk. It can be a bit awkward, however, with delays, cameras that don’t line up with your eyesight (so you look like you’re looking elsewhere), and technical difficulties. It’s still the next best thing to meeting in person, and you don’t have to take time to travel anywhere (just to get camera-ready.)
All of the above
Ideally, somehow you are tracking all of your networking outreach efforts. (We have a toolkit for that). I suggest trying a variety of social media outlets. You may find success with one method where others have failed.
HOW TO FOLLOW UP:
Write or say a sentence that reminds the person how and where you met, and why you decided to follow up, specifically how you think you can help each other.
The logistics of making time to network are challenging for most people. You can make this easy and minimize the time needed to exchange communications just to schedule by sharing a scheduling link. Calend.ly offers free accounts where you can sync with your other calendars and provide people with a link that lets them book right on your schedule. Networking meetings by phone require 20 minutes. You may upgrade your account to also offer happy hour or coffee/lunch meetings that would be longer. You may also give them a choice between the two, but that’s not quite as simple.
Yes, everyone has to eat. You can make that point. We all know, however, that eating takes much longer when you combine it with talking, so you turn a 30-minute lunch easily into a 90-minute lunch.
Send an article, information, event registration link, RFP link, LinkedIn profile link, or something else you suspect will be of value based on your brief meeting.
HOW OFTEN/LONG TO FOLLOW UP:
I have had sales training that taught me that, statistically, it can take a salesperson 12 calls before securing a sale. Thinking about it, I believe I have worked with vendors who were patiently persistent, special emphasis on the “patiently.” If you have someone who has explicitly expressed an interest in what you offer, give them every chance you can to follow through.
Even for general networking, I would say that five attempts to contact someone are sufficient and that often four falls short. As explained by all of the above methods, don’t make touch-base using the same media every time. Maximize your chances of interrupting someone’s attention by using first what you think they use most often, but where you aren’t competing with many others for their attention. At least one of these methods should be a call.
On the last attempt, just as a courtesy to them and out of consideration of their time, let them know it’s the last attempt. You probably wouldn’t believe how often I have seen this work. In fact, to quote contacts that I have reached out to on the 5th contact, as well as many other clients who I recommended follow through with one last (5th) attempt, the contacts said that they “appreciated the persistence.” Truly – people want to help. Everyone’s time and energy is being pulled by different priorities. Making that 5th attempt is a way to acknowledge that someone genuinely wants to connect/help/be helped, but has other priorities which you can empathize with.
Target Company Sponsors and Informants
When one of your contacts has inside knowledge or influence to increase your chances of getting an interview (based on need, not necessarily a formal job posting,) do your homework before you take their time. Come up with five to seven questions, each of which your contact can answer in a minute or less. I suggest comparing what you learn about a company, opportunity, and boss with a set list of 25-50 criterions, including some must-haves and some ideal (jackpot) criteria. Whatever you can’t determine through online research is potentially something you can learn from your contact.
Someone willing to help you by giving you insight may or may not be willing to help you by getting your résumé to the hiring manager. Be direct in your request – “Would you be willing to make an introduction to the Director of Technology?” OR “I’ve tried applying already. Would you be willing to send my résumé directly to the hiring manager?” OR “Do you know who the hiring manager is on this?” I recommend you also ask if their company has a referral bonus program and if you can use their name as the person who referred you.
Some may say “no” based their perceived influence, or lack thereof, their lack of relationship, or lack of access to the hiring manager. Some companies have policies that prevent this. It’s not always about their willingness to help. Again, be empathetic here. If they can’t help you by sponsoring you (being the source of your referral into the company or introducing you to the hiring manager), ask them how most of the people who are hired make their way in, NOT the best way to apply. Applying always implies a website these days; that’s the answer you’ll get.
Respect people’s time/schedule
If you say you are only asking for XX minutes, make sure that you only take XX minutes. Keep your eye on the time and let them know when you only have a couple of minutes left. If by the end of that time you feel that you have only scratched the surface, suggest that you pick a new time right then and there to continue the conversation, and suggest that you allocate more time next time, and perhaps combine it with a meal or activity.
The same way I hope you are tracking your outreach activities and contacts, I hope that you have a way to remind yourself to follow up with people every so often. Within the month of your follow up meeting, then every three months is a good best practice, but not always possible. Some people you may not follow up with for another 6 months. Make a note of when their busy season is and try to avoid following up then.
I hope that you are inspired and feel better prepared to start expanding your sphere of influence and fulfillment. It does get more comfortable the more you do it, and you’ll definitely feel more motivated once you have some great outcomes resulting from your efforts. Imagine those outcomes now. What kind of magic do you want networking to make possible in your life?
Karen Huller, author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days (bit.ly/GetFocusIn30), is founder of Epic Careering, a corporate consulting and career management firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, as well as JoMo Rising, LLC, a workflow gamification company that turns work into productive play.
While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales.
Karen was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends in hiring and careering. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Career Transition Consultant, and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot.
She is an Adjunct Professor in Cabrini University’s Communications Department and previously was an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business She is also an Instructor for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy where her students won the 2018 national competition and were named America’s Next Top Young Entrepreneurs.