Have you stared at that pile of business cards after a networking event and thought to yourself, “Now what?” If you have, you’re not alone.

Many of us struggle with follow-up after a networking event. The three reasons I address in my book, Fearless Follow-Up: How to Turn Conversations Into Clients are because we feel:

  • Unfocused
  • Uncomfortable
  • Overwhelmed

If you’ve ever felt this way, you might be making these 5 follow-up mistakes.

1. You think about follow-up after the networking event.

I wrote my book to give people a road map for successful follow-up plans, so I had to figure out when my follow-up was successful and what the common thread was in each instance. As a strategist, it shouldn’t have been a big surprise, but I discovered the times my follow-up was most effective was when I had a plan before the event. This realization led to two actions. First, I changed my mindset; follow-up became part of the event and not something to be dealt with later. Second, I needed tools and systems so I wasn’t recreating the wheel (pardon the cliché) after each event. You’ll find trackers, planners, and scripts in the book. Now that I’m prepared to follow-up from the get-go, I know what I need to do follow-through. I have the answer to, “Now what?”

2. You feel pressured to meet every single person at the event.

You know that massive pile of cards you have from that last networking event? It’s stopping you from following up because it’s difficult to know how to engage each person. There are only three people you need to meet at any networking event: a potential client, a referral partner, and a learning partner/mentor. To learn more about each type of persona, read the post titled, “3 People You Must Meet When Networking.” Think about this. The pile of business cards you used to collect is now reduced to three. Do you think you can write a personal message to three people via email and LinkedIn?

Keep in mind that being social and being good at networking are not the same thing. It doesn’t take long in my presence to figure out I’m an extrovert. I love being in the center of the activity and meeting high energy people. The problem with this is I meet the same kinds of people at each event. I’ve found it beneficial to use these networking tips to expand my network. Don’t forget to be intentional about the cards you collect with either of these methods. Keep the number of contacts manageable for effective follow-up.

3. You walk through the door without a plan.

In my research, I’ve found numerous suggestions for annual networking plans. I’m not a big sports fan by any means, but I know that the best coaches in sports have more than the long range goal of, “Get to the championship game and win.” They have specific objectives and strategies for each game. Have you thought through your “plays” for your next networking event?

Consider the following elements to include in your plan:

Remember how I said I’d developed tools to aid your networking follow-up? I’d like to share my Networking Action Plan with you so you can plan for your next event.

Send me my networking action plan»

4. You go to events out of habit.

If you’re anything like me, there are events you often attend: breakfasts, annual conferences, MeetUps, or luncheons. Have you ever asked yourself, “Why am I attending this event and is it working for me?” Never take an event for granted or you might find yourself slipping into old networking — and follow-up — habits. Even worse, you might be spending resources unnecessarily. To make sure you’re getting the most out of every opportunity, schedule time on your calendar to perform an event debrief.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What did I expect to accomplish?
  • What did I accomplish?
  • What accounted for the difference?
  • How did I add value to the event?
  • What did I learn about my customers or competitors?
  • What did my customers or competitors learn about me?
  • Would I attend this event again?
  • Would I recommend this event to someone else?

Taking the time to evaluate the fit of a networking event to your goals will help ensure you’re going to the events that make the most sense for you. If you are connecting with people that enhance your network and you are adding value as well, you’ll be more likely to follow-up with the people you meet.

5. You expect each event to result in one or more sales.

Now that you’re doing an evaluation after a networking event it’s important to realize that results take time. Networking is about relationships – meeting people and exchanging value. Sometimes you’ll meet someone ready to write a check for your goods or services. Most of the time, however, you’ll work on the relationship before securing a sale. If your follow-up consists of a LinkedIn invitation followed immediately by a sales pitch, you’ve missed the point of networking.

Instead, segment your leads before your follow-up. With just 3-5 cards after each event, the number of contacts to keep track of is manageable. There are three categories into which your contacts can fall: share resources; learn, grow, refer; and opportunity is imminent. You’ll find that your network will flow from your being a resource, through supporting each other’s business, and finally to a sale or referral. Make sure you’re giving events enough time to pay out as your conversations become connections and then clients.

What are your biggest follow-up challenges? Please share them in the comments and we’ll learn together.