How to keep in touch with new contacts

For employed people, January is a month of great woe. They're struggling to stretch their last few pounds out to the end of the month, counting the minutes until payday, and feeling forlorn that the next Christmas period is a spirit-crushing 11 months away.

Now, we're not going to pretend that everyone running their own business is, by contrast, rolling in it. You're probably just as broke as the monthly-salary bunch. But, lucky for us on the startup scene, the social invitations keep coming thick and fast to pull you through this bleakest of months.

Networking opportunities never end when you're running your own business. There's always some industry get-together or conference going on. We at Smarta have had something on at least once a week this month, often more. January be damned! Try the excellent or read our guide on how to find business networking groups to find some in your area.

But when you're busy meeting all these people at networking events, who should you keep in touch with, and how? With all the buzz about social media, are emails old hat? Should you phone someone after meeting them?

It's not always clear-cut. Here's our mini step-by-step guide for those of you that are unsure.

  1. Swap business cards at the event, but don't start chucking them around willy-nilly. There's no point giving your card to someone unless you've had a half-decent conversation with them. They just won't remember who you are otherwise.
  2. While you're at the event, slip off to the loo and make a note on the cards of people you think could be useful to you in the future, so you remember who's who the next day. The more people you meet, the more confusing it gets. This is especially true if there are free drinks involved!
  3. The next day, sift through your cards. The most important thing to note here is: you don't need to keep in touch with everybody. So sort your cards into piles: one for people who will definitely be useful to your business (potential clients, potential partners, people who mentioned someone they know who'd be interested in your business); one for people who might be useful for your business (people in the same industry, people who could provide services for you); one for people you can't see any way of working with.
  4. Email the people who you think will be most useful to you within the next four or five days, saying it was a pleasure to meet them. Suggest going for a coffee or having a phone call to discuss whatever it is you think they'd be useful for. If you don't get a reply within the next couple of weeks, send a gentle reminder email asking if they'd had a chance to look at your last email (copy it in below).
  5. For people who might be useful, you don't need to email - it can get pretty time-consuming. Social media is a good way to stay in touch. Add them as a contact on Smarta or LinkedIn or start following them on Twitter. If they're not using social media, email them if you have time.
  6. Don't worry about contacting the other less useful people, but keep all the cards anyway - just in case.
  7. All this said, if you don't yet have many contacts it can be worthwhile adding lots of people you meet (regardless of how useful they are to you) on an online business network like Smarta or LinkedIn to get the ball rolling.
  8. Maintain contact by setting reminders in your calendar to drop the most useful contacts a line about every four to six months. Just send them a simple email asking how it's going and giving them one or two lines of your own news. It'll keep you in their minds for any future business or referrals.
  9. Social media provides a perfect way to maintain contact with loads of people with minimal effort. It's free, quick, and keeps you up-to-date, always. Read our guides on using social networking for business to find out how to do it.

Happy networking!

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