How important is networking 'follow up'​?

You’ll often hear networking experts like me say that follow up is crucial. But what happens if you don’t do it? Surely it can’t matter too much, can it?

I’d like to share a quick story about an early networking experience, that a) hopefully shows how much I’ve moved on, but more importantly, b) shows the importance of follow up.

It was a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Greenwich in South East London, and I partly remember that day because it was absolutely pouring with rain (which will become relevant as you’ll soon see). The meeting overall was a success. I’d set myself a goal of the number of people I wanted to meet, pushed myself out of my comfort zone to go and meet them, and during the process of the lunch meeting, collected a bunch of business cards. Of these, there were 5 that had a specific follow up action, while the remainder I would add to my database.

It then came to the time to leave, and as I walked outside, I stepped into the aforementioned pouring rain. Not having an umbrella with me, I had to run as fast as I could to my car. Despite only being in the rain for less than two minutes, I was soaked through by the time I opened my car door, such that temporarily, I completely forgot about the Chamber of Commerce meeting and the stack of business cards in my pocket.

I drove back to my office, thinking that once I got there, I’d start my follow up then. I put the pile of business cards on my desk, right next to the phone, ready for action. However, at this point my everyday world took over. I’m sure you will have experienced the same thing: you’ve been out of your regular workplace for a few hours, and the emails go crazy and suddenly the phone doesn’t stop ringing. I really had intended to get straight on with the follow up but all of a sudden, the whole of the rest of the day had passed me by, and I’d done nothing. I’d get on with the follow up tomorrow.

The next morning arrived: I looked at the pile of cards again, and thought to myself ‘I must follow up with those contacts today it’s important’. But then whatever was urgent that day took precedence, and the cards didn’t get looked at. A day or two later, I started to feel a bit guilty about not calling the relevant people, but I couldn’t honestly remember what I needed to do with each of the cards. 

So I moved the cards to the special place around my desk for important matters: in the top drawer. There, forgotten about, they stayed, likely until I cleared out my desk much later.

So the net result of attending that Chamber of Commerce meeting? Absolutely nothing. I did nothing with the contacts I’d made, and it was a complete waste of time.

But actually, the net result was even worse than that. What did those people who I met think of me when I didn’t follow up? Did I promise to send someone an email? Did we agree to meet for a coffee? Did I say I’d try and put any of them in touch with someone in my network?

I can’t tell you – but the real issue here is that at the first test of what I was like, I failed. My first test of credibility, and I blew it. I genuinely have no idea where those connections could have gone had I done what I said I was going to do. And that’s the surprising thing for many people – following up is only doing what you said you were going to do anyway.

These days – it can be even worse. Business cards, while not completely a thing of the past, are used much more sparingly now. Connections are typically made via a QR code straight to LinkedIn – so there’s nothing physical to remind you. That makes good follow up all the more important.

Don’t let a lack of follow up be the reason that you don’t build the relationships needed to get you the referrals you deserve.