For a small business, networking is vital… if not totally necessary. This is your way of making connections and contacts that could eventually become customers or the folks that refer customers to you. It’s never too late to get started, so get out and meet some people!

Networking, however, is a process. It can be tiring. Sometimes you come up empty and feel like you wasted your time. But, keep at it and you’ll eventually make that connection.

So what do you do when you do manage to hit the right event and meet a few good connections?

Start with business cards

The easiest and most logical place to start is with the stack of new business cards from everyone you just met.

I’ll be honest, not everyone you meet will be worth following up with or contacting at all. But, I wouldn’t suggest throwing them all out right away. You never know what the future may hold for your business or even you personally. One of these seemingly useless contacts may be a huge benefit to have down the line. So, just set them aside for now.

For those people you did meet who you see as a potential customer or referral connection, set them aside in their own special little pile. Think about what exactly you can offer them, or they can offer you, before you move on.

Stalk Find them on LinkedIn

The people from the good pile are sure to be on LinkedIn, so deepen your connection by asking to join their network.

This is a good way to put yourself in the front of their minds and remind them of your conversation. You may even find that you have a mutual connection that can make getting to know them that much easier.

Start a dialogue

Once you’ve made the initial “post-connection” connection, open up a dialogue with them.

Send them an email or a note over LinkedIn. Let them know you enjoyed meeting them at the networking event and extend an invite to answer any questions if they have any.

You can also invite them to join your email list and start regularly providing them with content and information about your business. Remember just because they gave you their business card that does not give you permission to start spamming them. But if they are interested, they will sign up and that may start the process of turning that lead into a customer.

Get together

Once you’ve had the opportunity to reach out personally – and maybe send them a couple of email newsletters – now is a good time to take the next step, if they haven’t already tried to reach out.

Invite your new contact out for a cup of coffee or invite them to your office to chat. Take the opportunity to catch up, make a little small talk and continue any previous conversations you’ve had about how you can help each other, either as client/customer or as referral buddies.

This can be a little clunky or awkward if you haven’t laid the ground work. That’s why I really suggest taking the time to do the follow up and build some level of a relationship before you try to grab a coffee or lunch or get together to talk business.