One of the most popular questions I receive as a career coach is, “How do I develop an ongoing relationship with a new contact?”
It’s a valid question because a “one and done” approach isn’t really networking, even though many approach it that way and then wonder why they’re not seeing results.
The primary goal of an initial meeting or introduction to a new person when networking should always be to get a second meeting. While you may also receive helpful guidance, valuable feedback or even an introduction to another contact, those are secondary to building the relationship. A great tip or piece of advice might help in the short-term, but the true value of networking (to both parties) comes over the long-term, so don’t be shortsighted in your approach.
Here are 11 ways to build lasting relationships when networking:
- Invest in them. A common error people make when reaching out to a new contact is not investing in them first by learning about their career, achievements, publications and other public information that contributes to their success. If you expect someone to hop on a 20-minute call with you, you need to invest at least that much time researching them. Ideally, you’ll have followed them on social media for a bit, read their articles or listened to their podcast appearances. Why this works: Investing in a new contact demonstrates you’re committed to building a relationship, not just having a tactical conversation with the hopes of getting something from them. As you continue to follow their work, “like” or share their content and reach out occasionally to comment on something you’ve noticed or read to remain top of mind.
- Get an introduction. Although not always possible, an introduction increases your odds of getting a response from a stranger because there is already a level of trust built with the mutual contact. Why this works: When you share a contact in common, it creates a triangle relationship, which means there is an increased likelihood of running into the new contact in other contexts and a shared commonality that will keep the connection warm. A related strategy is introducing your network to others who may be mutually beneficial to create more triangle relationships that expand over time.
- Have an agenda. If you don’t have a plan or clear direction for the informational meeting, it will seem like you’re wasting the contact’s time. Investing in the contact prior helps with this step. Your goal should be to ask questions your contact is uniquely qualified to answer and you can’t find answers to on Google. I like this format as a strategy, because it both inspires interesting conversation and relays some strengths you bring to the table. Why it works: You’ll me more memorable if you are organized, thoughtful and confident. Most professionals are happy to help others, especially if they are impressed by your initiative and preparation.
- Follow their advice. Even if subtle, most times you’ll walk away from a network conversation with some potential next steps, so listen for these tidbits as they can be both helpful to your career, and also to building the next step of the relationship. Perhaps your contact mentions an association they belong to, or a favorite book or thought leader they follow. Even if not directly recommended, take these ideas and run with them. Why it works: If you take something you’ve learned in your brief interaction and implement it, your contact will immediately feel valued because they were able to help you. Follow up after a few weeks to let them know what next steps you took based on their advice and specifically how it helped you. They may offer additional advice, which creates yet another opportunity to follow up and continue the conversation.
- Have an ask. You know not to ask for a job in an initial networking meeting, but you should ask for something, whether advice, a recommendation on a next step or potentially even an introduction if the conversation goes really well. Some contacts may offer this outright, but if not, you can ask in a non-threatening manner such as, “You mentioned that your former colleague Jim had a similar career trajectory as me. Would you be open to introducing us?” Why this works: You’re more likely to get help from your network if you ask them for something they can easily provide with little time investment or risk to their reputation. If they hedge or hesitate, it’s likely they don’t feel comfortable, so don’t push it. But if you don’t ask, you’ll never know.
- Keep track. When you’re networking regularly, it can be easy to forget who introduced you to whom, what the common experience was, or specifics you learned in the meeting. Keep a journal, spreadsheet or other record of when and how you met, any advice they shared, personal details they mentioned (e.g., favorites, children’s names, pets, etc.) and their contact information. Why this works: Most people are impressed when you can recall specific details about a conversation or about them personally. Remembering things that are important to your contact shows you value the relationship and will help to build trust over time.
- Send a thank you. This one should be obvious, as should sending a personalized note to connect on LinkedIn. However, since I’ve seen many overlook this step, I’m including it. Not only is it the courteous action to take after someone offers you their time, but it’s also an easy second contact point. Use your message wisely by including something personal or particularly helpful from your conversation to show you were paying close attention and reiterate how valuable the interaction was for you. Why this works: Mostly this establishes you as an emotionally intelligent human who respects the cultural norms of being gracious. However, it can also create a follow up if you include something like, “And I plan to read the book you mentioned and will let you know my feedback after.” Then be sure to follow up in a few weeks to establish you’re someone who keeps your word.
- Tee up a next meeting. Getting permission to follow up always makes the next outreach easier. While the opportunity may not always present itself, take advantage of it when it does. For example, “I’d love to reconnect with you after I officially finish my program in a few months” or “Your recommendations have been very helpful and I’d love to keep you updated on my progress in this area.” Then, be sure to follow through with a brief update, not another ask. Why this works: It’s rare that a contact will refuse a request to stay in touch in the initial meeting, and sharing how you’ve implemented their ideas confirms that their time and advice was valued.
- Use technology. Advances in social media and other technology platforms have made staying connected as easy as clicking a button. While not the best way to establish a new relationship, social media can be a tool to support your network and remind them you’re out there. Create a workable strategy that fits your lifestyle such as spending 15 minutes scrolling through your LinkedIn feed each morning and commenting on or sharing your network contacts’’ content or posts. Send birthday wishes or anniversary congrats when the opportunity pops up. Why it works: It’s a simple technique to create brief touch points between more meaningful interactions. Also, it keeps you informed and may inspire additional reasons for future meetings.
- Make it a habit. While most think of formal networking when building professional relationships, you may be surprised at how many helpful contacts you can meet through everyday life. Consider social gatherings you attend, community events, friend of friends or family, sports activities and other personal interests and hobbies. Ask questions, be curious and remember that everyone has something of value to offer, including access to their own network. Why this works: It’s easier to build relationships in casual situations or when enjoying a shared hobby since there isn’t that awkward elephant in the room. Plus, if you have a common interest, it’s likely you’ll have opportunities to continue to connect, which is how relationships are cultivated.
- Ask how you can help. Again, this may not be possible in the moment, but it’s a nice gesture and one that your new contact may take up at a later date. Perhaps you’ve heard something that gives you clues to how you might reciprocate, but if not, don’t make it awkward. A simple thank you note after your meeting can go a long way, as does taking your contact’s advice and letting them know. Why it’s helpful: Simply offering to help in the future should the opportunity arise adds the context that you’re viewing this interaction as developing into an ongoing relationship versus a transactional meeting.
And lastly, here are a few actions to avoid when networking:
- Don’t force it. You won’t build a relationship with everyone. Some people won’t respond, others will feel like their obligation is complete after the initial meeting, and you won’t click with everyone you meet. It’s just a reality, so don’t take a blanket approach to networking. Evaluate each potential relationship individually and don’t force it if you sense the connection isn’t there. Being forgettable with an influential contact can often be better than leaving a strong negative impression.
- Don’t bring your resume. Giving someone your resume automatically creates a transactional experience, so leave it at home. However, know that a new contact will likely view your LinkedIn profile prior to meeting, so ensure your brand and market value are clearly communicated there. Unless there is a specific job opening your contact can refer you to directly, it’s best to keep a resume out of it initially and focus on building the relationship.
Even if you find it difficult to network, you’ll see it begins to feel more natural the more you practice. And when you build in a follow-up plan before the initial outreach, you’ll start to see how simple it is to create repeated contact points that have the potential to develop into long-term connections.