Ink-Dipped Advice: Positive Networking Practices

 

It’s been a busy time for me lately, and in a good way. But I’ve had some positive results of the various networking I’ve done.

When I meet people at events and exchange cards, I try to send them a note or an email within a few days of the meeting, just to say I enjoyed meeting them and to continue whatever conversation we began at the event.

Most places I’ve lived and worked — New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London, Edinburgh, Australia, Western Mass, Vermont, Washington DC, etc. — this is standard. You exchange cards, you exchange messages post-event and build from there, or have the initial post-event pleasant exchange and put the information aside in case it’s needed down the pike. And then use the information when and where appropriate.

Here, it’s quite different. Most of the time, I do the follow-up, and it’s crickets. If it’s a visiting artist/instructor/agent/editor from somewhere else, there’s response, but local? Rare.

If I mention, the next time we run into each other, “Hey, I sent an email after we met last time; did I get the address wrong? I want to make sure I have your correct contact information”  — the answer is usually, “Oh, I don’t have time to respond to emails” or “I didn’t answer, because I figured I’d run into you again.” In my book, those are not solid practices that grow one’s business.

I try to reconnect with those I’ve met about once a quarter. Just a quick “Hey, how are you, thinking of you, how’s it going?”  When I have an address, I often send a postcard rather than an email. Whereas email response to quarterly follow-up is about 3% locally and 15% beyond the bridge, response to postcards (by email, since I add my email address) is usually 25% or more.

I attended an event a few months ago, a lovely networking event, with about forty or fifty people. I exchanged twenty or so cards. Followed up within two business days (standard) with all twenty. Heard back from four (which, around here, is a huge response).  From those four, one was a person with skills that was useful to one of my clients, and I got them in touch and he was hired; the other opened the door to an arts group with whom I hadn’t had previous contact, and we’re talking. So that was pretty decent.

Wearing my playwright/novelist hat, I was a reader at the Provincetown Book Festival a few weeks ago (which was one of the best festivals I’ve attended in years). After the festival, I thanked the organizers and the sponsors (I’m still tracking down contact information for the fellow readers in my event, to say what a pleasure it was to read with them). I heard back almost immediately from festival personnel (not at all a surprise, since it was one of the best-run events I attended). 

I also heard back from several sponsors, absolutely thrilled that I contacted them and told them how wonderful the experience was.

One sponsor stated that they support so many local events and hardly ever hear back from anyone. So they were delighted that the event went well, and that I took the time to contact them. On my part, “taking the time” took probably less than five minutes.

And now that sponsor knows the event was money well spent.

I attended two events last week. Followed up on both. From the first, I heard back from two out of the two dozen or so people contacted. From the second, there were thirteen of us at the event. I followed up with all thirteen. I’ve heard back from and made plans with six of those thirteen so far, which is positive.

Will any of those above contacts end in cont-RACTs?

Who knows? But these are interesting people who love what they do. Interacting with them improves my quality of life, even if it doesn’t end in a contract. I hope they feel the same way. And even if they don’t hire me, there’s a good chance they’ll recommend me if they feel it’s the right match. As I will do, in the same situation.

What’s the moral of this little tale?

Follow up and follow through when you meet people. Don’t just collect cards and stick them in the drawer. Think beyond being hired on the spot. Think about getting to know some really interesting people who enrich your life.

Even if I don’t get hired by any of these people — there are some of them in fields relevant to upcoming books. You can be darned sure I’m going to consult them on their areas of expertise and thank them in the acknowledgements.

Connections are about people. As much of an introvert as I am, I find other people interesting. So I make myself get out of the house and interact, and I am almost always glad I do. Because their stories are interesting, and fuel my work.

Remember, as a writer: Nothing is EVER wasted.

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Morning After Networking

There’s a lot of advice out there about “how” to network and how to present yourself, push yourself, etc., as you try to grow and build your business. Read everything, try new things, find out what works for you. It’s important to create your own style of business.

As creative people, we are harmed on multiple levels if we try to fit into other people’s boxes, even if those people dangle possible payment in front of us. We will do better for ourselves and our clients if we ARE ourselves from the first moment, instead of trying to be what they think they want. Often, they don’t really know what they want, they just want fast and cheap.

As you read the advice, role-play. How would you feel if someone approached you in that tone? Would you respond positively or slap them away? There are aggressive techniques out there, especially on line, that drive me away from businesses.

That includes an interview with a potential client that I cancelled a few months ago. It was for a company, it paid decently, it claimed to offer a variety of marketing tasks. The commute would have kind of sucked in some ways, but the money and the content sounded interesting enough for the interview. Until the perky little twenty-something sent me a document detailing how to dress and how to speak.

Excuse me? I am not in my twenties and just starting out. I am in my fifties with a long and varied career behind me, which includes working in wardrobe on Broadway. I know how to dress. I know how to behave in an interview. This document was demeaning to any potential employee, and showed that this was not a good match.

Next!

Networking can be done at almost any event, whether it’s a primarily social gathering, or a conference, or a chamber gathering. What I’ve found the most effective (since I am an introvert), is going there with the attitude of wanting to meet interesting people.

That’s my agenda for any event that includes strangers: I want to meet interesting people who do interesting things.

Since I am interested in almost everything, that leaves me with many possibilities.

Preparation
What type of event is it? Casual? Formal? Do you have any idea of the type of attendees? Corporate? In one particular arena? I’ve attended environmental conferences because I was interested in the slate of topics and met people who remained a part of my life, personally and professionally.

Is it an all-day event? A cocktail hour mixer? A more formal dinner? Do you know anyone else attending? Be careful not to just stick exclusively with one or two people, especially if you arrive together. Make sure you invite people to join your group, especially fellow introverts who have the “why did I ever sign up for this?” look.

If it’s a conference, I make sure I have a conference or pad of paper for notes. I take a lot of notes at these events, type them up, put them in a binder for reference. If it’s a more casual, social event, I have a reporter’s notebook and a handful of pens in my purse.

I wear comfortable shoes. They can still be gorgeous, but I make sure I can stand and walk in them for long periods of time. I’m always amazed at how much I stand at networking events, and I have paid the price by wearing the wrong shoes

Plenty of business cards. I’m big on exchanging business cards. I have different cards for different things I do. Believe it or not, the card I end up giving away most often is for the blog on the writing life, Ink in My Coffee, which then leads people to the other things I do.

I sometimes carry a few of my brochures, or, if appropriate, a stack of postcards or bookmarks for my most recent release or my upcoming release (recent release gets more traction — people pick up the card and want it now). But I do not hand them out unless it comes out organically in conversation, or set them on tables without the host’s permission. I don’t like to feel cornered or pressured by other attendees, and I extend them the same courtesy.


At The Event

Smile and talk to people. Ask them about themselves, and what interests them. Most importantly, listen to the answers. Don’t just think about the next thing you want to say.

I land gigs because I’ve listened to something in conversation and either remembered it in follow-up or scribbled it down in my notebook in the ladies’ room to make sure I remembered it later. I do NOT take notes during the conversation; that makes it feel like an interview or an interrogation.

Include people in your group who look lost or confused. You won’t like all of them. You won’t like or get along with everyone you meet at an event. But start by inclusion, and make your decisions after the event.

The Morning After
That’s what this post is supposed to be about, isn’t it?

The day after a networking event or a conference, I go back through my notes and the business cards.

I send a written thank you note to the host of the event. If, for some reason, I don’t have a postal address, I send an email. But a handwritten thank you is better.

I send a quick email to everyone I met with whom I want to keep in touch. Most of them are just a “great to meet you, hope to talk to you again.” Where appropriate, if we talked about something specific, I might go more in-depth. If we talked about working together and I either asked for more information or promised to send some, I put in a reminder of it, and, again, where appropriate, I send additional materials. If it’s someone with whom I want to see again one-on-one, I suggest a date to get together. I do this the day after the event, if it’s on a week day, or on the next business day. I do not wait more than three business days to do this. Quick follow-up is vital.

I file the business cards. I note on the card where/when I met the person, and I file it in those clear plastic business-card pages from Staples. They’re three-hole punched, and I have a binder. If and when the connection becomes more permanent, I copy the information into my Rolodex. Yes, I use a Rolodex. Every single time I’ve counted on an electronic address book, it’s been corrupted.

I follow up on the follow-up, when appropriate. If I’ve sent requested information, I follow up about two weeks later, unless we discussed a longer lead time. If I come across something relevant to a discussion, I’ll shoot off an email to that person with the information. Sometimes, I send out quarterly reminder post-cards by mail about my services. I find that gets far more response than email blasts. I send a holiday greeting, at least that first year. Again, by mail, whenever possible. I get a far more positive response from mailed materials than from electronic, even though the bulk of my actual client work is done via email. The tangible connection tends to bring tangible results.

I am not a phone person. I loathe the telephone. I find most phone calls a waste of my time (it’s usually the other person liking the sound of his/her own voice, not sharing relevant information). I find it disruptive to my creative process, and a phone call will kill my productivity for the rest of the day. I charge for phone time in 15-minute increments like a lawyer, without exception. So I don’t do follow-up via phone. If someone says “I’ll call you,” or “call me,” my response is “email is always the best way to reach me.” I do not put my phone number on my business cards, and I have my phone set NOT to accept voicemail. That is unusual, that is somewhat controversial, but it works for me and I do it.

If the phone works for you and your contact, by all means, use it. I know I am an anomaly in my phone-loathing.

Now, over to you: what follow-up have you found most effective after a networking event? What’s your timeline to follow up?