You make a great connection at a conference or networking event, but how comfortable are you reaching out to them later? Do you struggle to come up with a good reason to call, believing (correctly) that dialing just to say "hi" isn't enough, at least at this early stage of the relationship?

A lot of people ask me, "Liz, I have no problems making connections at the conference, but how do I tap into those contacts when I need them later?"

To paraphrase a famous quote by Sun Tzu, that "Every battle is won before it's ever fought," I would say that "All follow up is won before you ever pick up the phone." What you do BEFORE the follow up will make the process easy or hard.

Here are 10 steps to make sure your new contacts don't disappear into thin air when you need them:

1) Direct your initial conversation towards meaningful topics. At an event where you'll both be mingling with lots of other participants, you have a limited amount of time for conversation. Therefore, don't spend 10 minutes talking about the weather. A little small talk is okay at first to break the ice, but move quickly to topics that move the relationship forward (see #2).

2) Ask questions to learn more about their goals and professional interests. After the initial ice breaker, asking a question about the conference is a great way to quickly transition the conversation into a more meaningful direction. Two great examples are: "So, what do you hope to get out of the conference?" Or, "What was the single most important takeaway you got from the conference?" Then you can move on to broader questions about what they do for a living and what their larger goals are.

3) Establish a reason during the conversation to follow up right after the conference. It's always easier to make the follow up call or send the follow up email if you know they're expecting it. So, connect with something they said during your conversation that could lead you to send them a recommendation, suggestion, or contact info for someone in your network.

4) Make sure the reason to follow up is a value-add for them. Look for a reason to give information that will have value for them, not just something that benefits you. In other words, unless they specifically asked for it, promising to email your sales brochure or your resume doesn't count.

5) Get a business card so you have complete contact info. This is much better than jotting down just a name and email address on a napkin because now you'll have several ways to reach them (email, phone, fax, mail). Even if you never intend to send them a fax, it's good to know that you have that option.

6) Write notes on the back of YOUR business card. You always hear the advice to write notes on the back of business cards you receive so that you can remember something about the people you talk to. But how about trying the idea in reverse? Writing down some notes about who you are and what you will follow up about on the back of YOUR card is a great way to stand out and be remembered.

7) Follow up within 2 business days. If the conference ends on Thursday, and you'll be traveling all day Friday, it's okay to wait until you're back in the office on Monday to follow up. However, if you know you won't be back in the office until later in the week, at least send a short email within the 2-day time period to say how much you enjoyed meeting them, and that you'll send the info you promised once you're back from your travels.

8) Don't ask for too much too soon. Even if you need something at this very moment, you might hold off asking for it until you've had more back and forth dialogue and built a deeper connection. It all depends on how big your "ask" is. If you're looking for the name of a good real estate agent, that's easy, but if you're looking for an introduction to their CEO or biggest customer, remember that they're putting their professional reputations at stake, which they might not feel comfortable doing for someone they just met for 5 minutes.

9) Keep using value to connect and re-connect. You want to keep proving yourself as someone who's worth having in their network. Send more information on areas that are important to them. Offer more help if they ever need it. And the best thing you can do? Send them customers. Not tire kickers who will take up their time with informational sessions, but people who are ready to buy their product or service.

10, When you're ready to ask, be specific and give context. Explain what you're looking for and why you thought they would be the best person to help. That shows you've put some deliberate thought into reaching out to them with this specific request, and they'll be more likely to respond.

If you subscribe to the philosophy of networking smarter, not harder, then follow up isn't a numbers game. You don't have to spend time meeting hundreds of new people every year hoping that a handful of them will convert into good contacts. By following these 10 simple steps, you can turn just about any contact you make into a lasting connection.

© 2003-2008, Liz Lynch.

Author's Bio: 

Liz Lynch is a business networking expert whose products, programs and seminars help entrepreneurs and business professionals get clients, build their business, and reach their goals through networking. If you're ready to start networking smarter, get your free networking tips now at