My friend Andy Lopata is a networking strategy consultant.   I’m not sure that anyone else looks at networking in quite such a scientific way. He talks about the strategy you adopt as in who you choose to network with and how you can ensure that you get maximum benefit from your networking. This is crucially a function of the extent to which you follow up, but there’s a great deal more to it than that.

Talking to Andy recently I was reminded of an earlier posting on this blog in which I referred to old colleague of mine who would go to lunch or have coffee with anyone, any time. He suffered from what I called the ‘you never know’ syndrome.  He thought that it was worth attending all and any networking functions and lunches as ‘you never know’ when or where the next piece of work would come from. If time were unlimited this might not be a bad ploy.

In practice we need to either be more discerning or to maximise the prospect of getting value from the ‘you never know’ meetings we fix up. So how can we do that?

There are two basic ways:

1. Pre-qualify

This effectively involves gathering a little info so as to enable you to pre-judge the person. If you value your time and/or you’ve plenty of work flows then you can afford to limit yourself to meeting up with people who fit certain criteria. These will vary depending upon your business and your service offerings.

2. Effective follow-up

My old colleague did very little by way of follow up so as to build on or develop new contacts. he sent an immediate thank you note but beyond that, not a lot. At best the business cards he collected were added to the firm’s marketing database. So his new contacts received newsletters and ‘Budget’ booklets each year. I doubt this is the most effective way to keep in touch (and I explained my reasons on the TaxBuzz blog: Overnight Budget commentaries – what’s the point?).

To improve the value of such encounters I have suggested that it’s important to follow up.  And when is the best time to do that? Well, you need to start BEFORE your first meeting and you also need to do it DURING the meeting. That way you can do it most effectively AFTER the meeting.

Before the meeting, check that you know what booklets, newsletters, info sheets, leaflets and freebies you (or your firm) produce and which might be of interest to the person you are meeting. If you don’t have any such things you may want to spend a few minutes, perhaps even on your way to the meeting, thinking about how you followed up on the last meeting you had with a similar contact (eg: another solicitor, IFA, banker or whatever).

During the meeting, listen to what your new contact is talking about and try to find a relevant time to indicate that you have something in the office that you think they will find of interest. Promise to send it to them when you get back to the office. It isn’t critical to identify what it is you will send them and you will rarely be asked either!

After the meeting, follow through on your promise. Don’t just send a bland ‘thank you for lunch’ note. Fulfil the commitment you made. Evidence your trustworthiness.

Keep track and make a note to follow up AGAIN a few weeks later. Send something else, even if it’s just a link to a website item or blog entry that you have seen and which you thought they might appreciate as it relates in some way to your conversation at the meeting. (You did make a note of those key topics on the back of their business card so you could remember this didn’t you?)

This approach to Follow Up will repay dividends and make those ‘you never know’ lunches, coffees and meetings far more likely to generate some valuable follow up for you.