If you frequently attend networking events, your desk may have several decorative stacks of business cards on it. Perhaps they are sorted into piles of 'I really should...', 'when things settle down...' or 'not sure....' In the worst cases, you may not even remember where you got someone's card and why you took it.
Of course, we all understand that networking time is not well invested if we don't follow up with new contacts, yet here are the cards, and we haven't done a thing.
If the cards on your desk are no longer completely fresh (say you received them more than a week ago), the situation is even more awkward. Will connecting via social media or by e-mail after all this time make us look bad? Most likely, a message that reads, "Hi, remember me, we met 6 months ago, but your card has been in my drawer since then" will not result in preferred vendor status, so what to do?
Here are some thoughts about handling the opportunities associated with new contacts:
Make notes on the back of cards
Review contact information as soon as possible after a meeting, while you can still recall some of the conversation and the reasons for connecting. If you attend events by different organizations, include a note about the occasion or date so you can refer to it later. Programs such as Evernote let you take a picture of the card and add some comment to it, but handwritten comments are just fine if the use of technology is likely to create another obstacle.
New contacts are not unlike the fresh vegetables optimistically bought at a market to cook healthy meals. They are far less appealing when they are old and stale. Quick follow-up, ideally within a day or two, also yields the best return on your networking investment.
Although we may tell ourselves how "busy" we are, the biggest reason for letting new contact opportunities linger is that we worry too much about a negative response. "I don't know what to say when I follow up with someone I met," explained one of my clients. "What if they have no use for my services and find my message annoying? What if I am not available when they want to order something?" At the same time, what is the worst that can happen? The cost of not doing anything is far greater than the occasional rejection.
While a contact request to a prospective client may be deleted or go unnoticed, it is important not to let the "what-ifs" paralyze your outreach efforts. Networking without follow-up misses much of the potential associated with reaching out to others. You never know–your own card may be part of someone else's "really should" pile and your message will come at exactly the right time.