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How to successfully follow up with anyone

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I’ll bet that some of you have a stack of business cards in a snarl of rubber bands on your desk. It’s right next to that pile of spare change and the cell phone charger that doesn’t match your current device.

Those business cards are a constant reminder of all the following up you’re not doing, but would be doing, could be doing, should be doing.

Follow up is so important. That’s why I write about it often. (I guess that’s my way of following up.)

Not following up with connections you make and the people you meet is kind of like not connecting with or meeting them at all.

Following through is just as important as following up. Following through (the act of continuing a plan, project, scheme, or the like to its completion) is an important part of following up (to maintain contact with someone so as to monitor the effects of earlier activities).

If you don’t follow through, no one will ever follow up with you. Naturally, they’ll be less inclined to follow up with you if you haven’t followed up with them, in which case there’s very little follow through.

Then there’s following someone on Twitter. Or Instagram. Or at the mall — which might be considered stalking. Best just to follow up.

Follow that?

If you’re still with me, here’s when and how to follow up after networking at your next event.

If you meet someone at an event and they tell you they’re interested in becoming a client, you should definitely follow up. But you already knew that. Of course, if you can become their client, get in touch with them. But again, you knew that too!

If you meet someone you like and can help them, you should follow up — or invite them to do so.

If you meet someone you like and they can help you; yes, you should follow up.

The best scenario is if you can help one another. Even better if you can refer each other business. Or job opportunities. Or recruits to be hired.

If none of these scenarios apply, then there’s no reason to follow up or follow through. You don’t have to stay in touch with everyone you meet. How many of those business cards on your desk do you really need to keep?

Reconnecting with someone can be a face-to-face meeting (best), a Skype call (still face-to-face, but not as good) or a phone meeting. Whatever makes the most sense.

Here are some best practices that might help you follow through on your follow-up.

See also: 9 ways to improve your networking skills

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1. Start in the presentation phase.

There are four phases to networking — Preparation, Presentation, Follow Up, and Maintenance. Preparation is doing your homework before an event or meeting. Presentation is introducing yourself (or getting yourself introduced) to others; having great conversations, offering the infamous elevator speech and exchanging business cards. The follow-up starts there, in the Presentation phase, with you saying something like, “Does it make sense for us to exchange cards and I promise to follow up with you to explore ways to refer each other business?” Now when you follow through with an email, phone call, or text (no, really!), you’ve already established yourself as reliable and serious. You will get that email, phone call or text returned.

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2. Reconnect the next day.

It’s a great practice to follow up in 24 hours or the next business day. (I’m typically a phone guy. I think there’s an app for that.) “Hello Sam! This is Michael Goldberg! We met yesterday at the Wholesaler Marketing Meeting. We discussed reconnecting to explore ways of helping one another and I’m doing that. At your convenience, please give me a call back at [this number]. I look forward to the prospect of reconnecting!” That’s my voicemail message. Of course, I would write a more poetic version as an email. These outbound messages almost always get returned the same day. “Thank you for your prompt follow up call. You beat me to the punch!”

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3. Use LinkedIn.

Another effective way of continuing a dialogue is through LinkedIn. Through an invite, you can simply write a quick personal note “inviting” the person you met to connect. And yes, always make it a personal note. It takes 10 seconds. “Hello Sam! Great meeting you last night at the WMM. Let’s connect and better prepare ourselves for a follow up conversation. — MG” After connecting and doing some legwork, you might be able to help each other by sharing valuable personal connections.

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4. Know the place of WE.

In some cases, you might be able to help the other person way more than they can help you. Sometimes, the reverse is true. Recognize and embrace that dynamic. Always remember that relationships (good ones, anyway) are a two-way street, so it’s best to let those that are in a better position to help you know you appreciate them and that you’re willing to do whatever you can to help them right back. It’s not about keeping score — and if it ever comes to that, the relationship might lose steam.

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5. Be specific.

The more specific you are, the more others can help you. There’s a big difference in being referred to “Anyone that needs my services” or to “manufacturing companies like ABC Manufacturing.” People in networking circles almost always want to help. By being specific about who you are, what you do and who you want to meet, you’re allowing people to get to know you and help.

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6. Stay in touch.

Following up is not a “one and done” deal. If you’re good, it’s about staying in touch, developing fun relationships and expanding your network. Having a system in place to stay in touch with your “best in network” (I just made that up) will absolutely put food on the table. Simply establish a system to speak regularly with your BIN. Scheduling monthly or quarterly calls work well for me. Maybe regular lunch or dinner “dates” works better for you.

The key to all of these approaches is for you to take the initiative. Don’t ever wait for the other person to make the first move. Of course, if they do, all the better! The end result should be more business, better relationships and more room on your desk for spare change.