If you're like most small business owners, you know all about working leads and chasing those sales.
Even if you think you're not all that good at it, you are probably conscientious about it. After all, that's our bread and butter, isn't it? If we can't find enough leads and close enough sales, we're out of business, aren't we?
So you probably think there's not much I can say about the all-important art of following up that you need to hear, right?
But I'm not talking about following up on sales leads. In fact, I'm not talking about the sales process at all; at least, not directly.
See if this scenario sounds familiar.
You tear yourself away from your home office to go to the conference. On reflection, you decide that the travel expenses and exorbitant registration fees were worth it because you learned a lot from the breakout sessions and thoroughly enjoyed the pearls of wisdom from the keynote speakers.
Not only that, you also had some great conversations with your fellow attendees and collected a fistful of business cards. So, the conference ends and you arrive home, telling yourself to take action on them.
But first you have to unpack. And catch up on the email you didn't answer while you were on the road. And do some laundry. And check in with your business coach. And field phone calls from little Johnny's teacher about what went on while you were out of town. And write a blog post about what you learned about the conference.
Before you know it, a month has gone by and you haven't made a single attempt to re-connect with any of those salt-of-the-earth colleagues you met at the conference. The pile of cards still sits on your desk, silently accusing.
The longer they sit there, of course, the more impossible it feels to use them. ‘She won't even remember who I am, we spoke so briefly.' you might think.
Or maybe, ‘He's a web designer and I'm not in the market for one of those. He'll wonder why I'm contacting him for no reason.'
Or ‘I don't even remember what we talked about, what would I say?
‘I simply haven't had a spare second but I should be able to get to it next week.'
You can use every trick in the Book of Networking (and if that is the real title of somebody's real book on the subject, I apologize), including scribbling notes on the backs of cards to trigger memories of the conversation, if you like.
If you don't use those cards, said tricks of the trade won't do you much good, will they?
It may even be that you consider this exercise of following up on the seemingly irrelevant connections you make at networking meetings and other professional events to be a luxury that should take a back seat to everything else in your time-strapped business life.
Except, of course, that drumming up business from the leads you get will only work for you if you actually get leads. In that context, networking has to be more than a one-way street. The point of networking is more than simply getting people to take one of your business cards.
Before you can expect any sort of benefit from the connections you make, you have to stop seeing them as tools and start developing real relationships with them. That doesn't mean you need to tell them about the cute thing the puppy did last week. But you do need to take the first steps toward the sort of dialog that leads to mutual respect and liking.
Let's face it, there are probably an awful lot of people who do whatever it is that you do. To get your new acquaintances to refer their friends or colleagues to you instead of somebody else, you have to nurture the connection.
Referrals from them mean leads for you, and we've come full circle.
Because you'll be sure to follow up on those, won't you?
* * * * *
About the Author: Dawn Rivers Baker, an award-winning small business journalist, regularly reports and analyzes small business policy and research as the Publisher of the , where the nation’s business meets microbusiness. She also publishes the .