Post-Networking: How to Build a Business Relationship Online
I recently received a query from a Mopwater PR + Media Notes reader. A regular networking reception attendee, this reader wanted to know how people were handling that awkward space between just meeting someone in person and trying to get to know them on-line. Particularly when the in-meeting was professional in nature, it’s tough to always know how to follow up, how much to follow up and when following up is considered pestering.
After meeting promising leads in person, this reader says she immediately sets up Google alerts for her new contact’s clients and/or projects so she can send a note that says, “Hey I saw this and it was great” or “Thought this may interest you.” But what else are people doing?
I went to the experts to find out.
Reno Lovison, author of Turn Your Business Card Into Business told me that he sees networking as more art than science.
“It’s difficult to come up with a one size fits all follow-up approach,” he writes. “It begins at the point of contact. I try to learn something unique about the person I meet so that I am seeing that person as an individual not just another face with a business card. In my email follow up I try to share (as best as possible) some information that is pertinent to that person. This helps us both to remember what was meaningful about our encounter.”
Lovison says that lately when appropriate, he’s started blogging some information about his new contacts as as a way to better connect him or her with his network. This gives him a chance to follow up with an email that drives new contacts to his site and also demonstrates that Lovison is really interested in referring business to them.
” In some cases this becomes the beginning of an ongoing dialogue… It is time consuming but the idea is to be personal and sincere and not treat people as a generic commodity.”
Elaine Masters is a yoga instructor who regularly attends health expos where she captures e-mail addresses in order to inform people if they’ve won a prize through her raffle. She follows up with her newsletter Drivetime Yoga Notes, which offers tips on taking the stress out of driving.
“I follow up once or twice a month with another that has special offers on my book and cd, plus one or two very brief items on staying stress free or other interesting notes related to life behind the wheel,” Masters says. “What do I get out of it? A few sales, great testimonials, forwarding to friends, list-building that’s going to be leveraged into affiliate programs and joint ventures. It’s not always the immediate ROI but I’m servicing the clients and it does surprise me once in awhile with offers to present or better. The business is small but growing.”
Liz Kelly owns Brilliant Ink, a business communications and public relations firm based in San Francisco. After meeting new contacts, she does four things. First she sends a follow-up email. Second, she sends a Linkedin request. Then she sends the new contact her newsletter. Finally, she adds the new contact to her business database.
For those lucky new contacts, she takes it a step further.
“For strong leads, I put reminders on my calendar to check in periodically. If I see a client mentioned in the news, I’ll send an email about that, or sometimes I’ll forward an article I’ve read that they might find useful,” Kelly says. “I might occasionally try to alert them to a new blog posting we’ve written that I think is relevant, but sometimes I get worried that this might seem too self-promotional. I generally try to keep these contacts to only once or twice per quarter, so we don’t seem like we’re harassing people.”
Kelly says she also tries to schedule periodic lunches with prospective clients from time to time, not to talk about work, but just to check in and catch up. This year, she sent her prospects and new clients high-end, moleskin-style journals with the Brilliant Ink logo. Since her agency’s sweet spot is content and writing, she wanted to provide a useful gift to clients that also reinforces the service her agency provides.
“To me, the key to successful relationships with clients is building personal relationships,” Kelly says. “I feel particularly lucky and proud to call many of my clients friends – we’ve been to each others’ homes, we’ve introduced our spouses to each other, etc. It makes the relationship so much more rewarding.”