The biggest networking time-waster

April 14, 2014

timewasterIf you’re anything like me, you’ve wasted more time attending networking events than you care to acknowledge. You show up, and after conversations with the animated hand gesture guy who forgets he’s holding wine spills it on you, and the woman who clearly doesn’t attend many of these rambles on about her business without ever asking you about yours, you never want to attend another networking event as long as you live.

But we keep going, because every once in a while, we meet someone who seems like they are there for the same reasons as us. They have a long-term outlook and are looking to authentically connect with other top professionals. Unfortunately, while encounters like this initially seem to justify venturing out to an event, they typically end up being the biggest time-wasters of all. Let me explain.

Say you go to a networking event and really hit it off with someone. The conversation is great and you think you could really help each other out. So you schedule a follow-up lunch. This either goes well, or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, then from a time perspective you wasted at least one additional hour and would have been better off meeting Mr. Happy Hands and calling it a night. But let’s assume the lunch goes well. In most cases, these meetings do not produce immediate opportunities. (That’s not why you went though, right?) Most often they end with a mutual “This was great and I’ll keep you in mind for potential opportunities!” and you walk away hoping the time investment will bear fruit at some point in the future.

My question is do you have a plan or process in place for staying top of mind with all of the professionals you meet? If not, you’re wasting more time attending follow-up meetings than you would by striking out at the initial event.

Even if you’re good at staying in touch, it’s unlikely your fellow networkers are as organized as you are. After you’ve spent time with someone, will that person remember you six months from now when an opportunity presents itself? If so, will they know where to find your contact info? If not, why go to networking events and follow-up meetings at all?

I always used a manual process that combined my email and CRM software, and took a lot of time to set up. Recently, however, I discovered a phenomenal service called Contactually (affiliate link). It’s an email integration tool that allows you to create various buckets for contacts based on how often you should be in touch with them.

To give you an example of how this works, let’s say you want to check in with prospective clients every 90 days. Contactually cross-checks your email correspondence with other platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter, and sends a reminder email if you do not contact them within this timeframe. The team functionality, which tracks correspondence between your clients and employees, is outstanding. I encourage you to try the 30-day free trial. There is no software to download and it works with all the major email providers.

Now that you know about Contactually, you’ll do a great job of keeping in touch with your contacts. Perhaps you’re already great at this. Either way, if you don’t have an effective process for staying top of mind, you’re probably better off going to an event and not meeting anyone worthy of a follow-up – or skipping the event altogether. Worst case, it’s one hour of your time down the drain versus three.

Do you already have an effective process for staying in touch with professionals you meet at networking events? If so, I’d love to hear about it.