I am an expert networker – I’ve organized networking events for most of the decade, I even run one of the first conferences on the study of Networks – MeshForum. My MeshWalk events have drawn over 100 people to spend a day walking and talking with each other. Here in the Bay Area I make a point of attending many events and conferences, helping out when I can.
As a result I end up with lots of business cards and lots and lots of contacts, connection requests on Facebook, LinkedIn, followers on Twitter, and the occasional other social networking tool.
Here are a few tips for everyone, but especially for entrepreneurs. Some are seemingly simple but even the simplest tips are, I hope useful. I do not always adhere to my own advice, this post is as much to remind myself as to, I hope, educate others.
Tip 1 – a useful business card
I just reviewed nearly 1000 business cards which I had collected over the summer. Almost half or more of these broke the advice I’m about to give – and as a result, I am less likely to follow up with those contacts. Here is the advice: a business card should be easy to write ON and contain enough information to identify who you are & why someone will follow up with you
This means no glossy business cards, no cards with all graphics, no small moo cards (can’t write on them) and ideally no cards with just your name and email address (I have a bunch of these, usually can’t remember who that individual is/why I might want to follow up with them) Perhaps an exception can be made if you are easily googleable – but even then a card with your company name, job title/one line description, and preferred contact means can go a very very long way.
And even in today’s hyperconnected online world, at a minimum include your primary city – when I’m in a town I like to catch up with people whom I know who live or work there, if all I have about you is your email address, I’m unlikely to invite you to dinner or lunch.
And yes, one of my businesses is exactly about this process – Never Eat Lunch Alone. But if I don’t have your city at the very least, I am unlikely to use my own software to invite you to lunch.
Why no glossy paper you might ask?
Tip 2 – shortly after you get someone’s card, write a note and reminder to yourself on that card
And I do mean shortly, as in minutes after you get the card. Jot down the date and/or the event where you met, write down anything you just promised to do (send an introduction, pass along an article, take a look at a beta, more on this point in the next tip). Make a note which product or project you are working on they might be interested in, or even if you didn’t promise to do it someone you know whom they absolutely should connect with. In short, remind yourself what to do when you next follow up.
If they mentioned a mutual contact, make a note of that.
If they added information in the conversation to what is on their card, jot that down as well.
Are they an investor? A potential partner? A competitor? A prospective employer or employee?
When I have a note to myself on the back of a card, I am reminding myself in the future why I have that card. Without it, I am relying on memory and proximity in a jumbled pile to realize when and where we met, and I will likely have to research who the person and company is before remembering why I took their card in the first place.
Tip 3 – don’t be shy about discarding cards from people whom you do not want to follow up with
Of course do not be rude, but if you meet someone and your immediate reaction is “I don’t trust this person”, or you look into their company and realize it is not a firm you have any interest at all in, save yourself future headaches and memory exercises and discard the card as you are going through the business cards you picked up – and do this quickly (if discretely).
In a related point, most of the time you should only collect business cards from people whom you have actually met in person and have a reason to follow up with. Cards just left out on a table or at a trade show booth are much less useful to you, you don’t have as much context to follow up with someone (and most likely they don’t have the context to recognize you from a conversation when you do follow up).
Tip 4 – have your cards with you and exchange them, along with context as you do so
Something as simple as introducing yourself to a speaker after a talk, getting their card and giving them yours means when you do follow up (and you will won’t you! Soon after the event is best, btw!) you can add to the subject or right at the beginning of the message “we exchanged cards at [name of event] and as I promised I’m following up with you to…”
So if you promise someone to make an introduction, or you mentioned a book, article, blog post, or website to someone, follow up on that promise and deliver.
Tip 5 – networking is about giving.
I have mentioned this before in a previous post about networking, but it bears repeating. Always approach networking first and foremost with the attitude that you can help others. Listen to their conversation and think about how you can help them – is there someone at the same event, even someone whom you have just met who they should talk to? Have you recently read something – on or offline – which might be relevant to what they are doing? Do you know someone who could help them (and who, in turn, would appreciate talking with them)? In short, focus on how you can be helpful – while remaining aware of in turn what help you yourself at looking for.
Oh, did I mention that last point before? Be clear when you start networking – and yes this starts with when you set up your business card and get them printed – what your goals for networking are. Do you want to reach investors? Customers? Partners? Employees? Find a new job? Learn about a new subject?
In short what are you focused on as your own needs. Then, does your business card help contextualize you in the context of those goals?
i.e. if you are mostly seeking to network in the context of a new business, your cards which mostly promote your personal hobby of building model airplanes (unless that is also your new business) are most likely not helpful and at worst a distraction. This is not to say that you shouldn’t include personal as well as professional details – but that you should think about the overall context and focus.
On my own card I have some fairly personal elements such as my personal blog (this blog), my twitter and my skype accounts. I do so a number of reasons, one of which is to in part communicate my attention and focus on fairly cutting edge technologies online – there are probably not too many people currently who put their skype and twitter accounts on their card – I am thinking about what else to put on my card and/or how to communicate other new wave networking elements such as my LinkedIn and Facebook profiles – or some more unified ID for myself online.
Tip 6 – convert business cards from paper to digital data quickly and sync the data widely
It almost does not matter which address book you use, but you should be using some form of a contact manager and in turn you should sync that contact manager widely across your frequently (and to some extent infrequently) used tools. Plaxo is a great help here, though there are other options. [full disclosure, NELA.mobi is a business partner of Plaxo, we will be integrating NELA to Plaxo address books for our users]
Increasingly I’m finding Facebook a very useful business contact tool, often my contacts on Facebook share the best and most direct ways to reach them in their profiles, and they often include useful information and details not found on their business cards (personal blogs for example).
A related habit which I am in, though it does take a commitment of time to do this, is to add to the data found on someone’s card when I entered them into my digital address book. Here are the data elements which I ideally include in every contact’s listing:
- Full Name w/gender note
- Company (or companies)
- phone – noting if mobile (so on sync to my phone I use that for SMS)
- primary email address
- work address (at minimum city, but usually company address is findable online)
- blog or other personal website
- corporate website
- photo [can be hard to find – best is one I have taken or corporate headshot]
- note on when & where we met
- note on why I kept this card (i.e. transcribe notes I wrote on the card)
- short bio – from conference directory, linkedin, facebook, corporate website, personal blog etc
- tags and/or notes about where/how we are connected (i.e. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, ryze.com, same college, etc)
In short I try to write a short but useful to me profile on each contact. The photo and bio, along with notes on when/where we met are to help jog my memory in the future. The keywords and other tags are also to help me slice through and search my contacts. I have literally 1000’s of contacts, the ones which I have built these rich profiles for are the ones which I am most apt to follow up with in the future – they are the ones which are easiest for me to search and easiest to remember why I might contact them.
In the best case over time I’ll add to the notes with some additions and/or add keywords. Many good tools also note some of these connections automatically – noting the emails I have sent to them etc.
I hope these tips help you. Now I have to get back to following up with all the folks I’ve met over the summer, I’m behind in following my own advice.