"Only connect." — E. M. Forster
Networking. Everybody's doing it — or should be.
Looking back on my own experience as a WISE Within mentor, I realized something profound. Although my participation had connected me to a new professional best friend (another mentor) and strengthened my relationships with several previous colleagues and WISE acquaintances who were also involved, very few of the mentees ever approached me, and of those who I was introduced to and had lengthy conversations and traded cards with, none have kept in touch.
Cultivating and maintaining a wide network of personal and professional contacts is a required skill for anyone active in the business world and community environment and is often the foundation for securing new clients, new business or new careers. In fact, networking has become such a "necessary evil" that many people are offended by the very word. However, when done properly, networking — or simply meeting people — can be fun and quite productive in terms of informational exchange as well as opportunity.
The key is to offer yourself — as a resource, a referral base or simply an ally and friend — rather than going in looking to gain something at the outset. This perspective will change the dynamics in terms of how you approach others and how you present yourself. Get in the habit of carrying business cards at all times, and always be ready with a smile, a firm and energetic handshake, and light conversation topics. Be quick to extend your hand and introduce yourself.
And, then the most important part: Follow up.
Keeping up the connection is often the area that even the most well-intentioned overlook. New acquaintances are like seedlings; they won't grow if ignored. If you are sincere about developing a new personal or business relationship, you need to let the other party know. It is a losing proposition when someone chats you up, takes your card, walks away and disappears forever. He or she is no longer meaningful in any way.
So, if you are serious about maintaining the connection, make sure to:
- Email the contact right away to express your pleasure with the introduction.
- Thank the contact promptly if s/he offered or delivered something helpful.
- Follow through immediately if you offered resources or referral.
- Let the contact know the outcomes of his/her referrals or recommendations.
- Schedule a subsequent meeting or lunch now if one was mentioned.
- Forward relevant links, articles or book titles, but not on a group list until you know your new contact better.
- Invite him/her to a professional or public event.
- Send congratulations or greetings for promotions, press appearances, birthdays or babies.
Just make sure that you yourself are consistently courteous, professional and responsive, and remember, never underestimate the power of a handwritten note.
And, finally, if anyone from WISE, past or present, wants to get back in touch with me, I'm still here.