The Art of Building Your Network – with Templates
by: Shannon McNay
It’s amazing how weirdly vulnerable professional networking can be. From meeting someone to following up with them, we’re constantly plagued by questions and doubts…
What do I say? How long should I wait before making contact? How do I stay relevant?
But here’s the thing about networking: we’re all plagued by these feelings. Even the people who seem like total networking pros felt this way (or still do). And those who you look up to likely have someone that they look up to as well. If you want to get past these feelings of vulnerability to get better at networking and following up, all you have to do is surpass emotion with logic.
How, you ask? One word: templates.
All About the Templates
Let me start by saying that I don’t recommend templates so that you can automate your networking or turn yourself into a robot. I recommend templates because they’re a great way to surpass the emotional barrier that prevents all of us from reaching out to people.
A template gives you an answer to all the doubts that crop up right before sending that email by telling you what to say and when. Once you build momentum, you can personalize your message. Over time, you can evolve from process-driven to natural flow – and you won’t even need to use the templates anymore.
But there’s never a time when you have to be done with the templates. Maybe you use them for a few months; maybe you use them forever. Maybe you quit them and come back to them. Consider these templates to be a resource to borrow from whenever you need.
And how will you know you need them? Simple:
If you find yourself procrastinating on reaching out to someone, then you need the templates.
If you find yourself saying, “I should reach out…” without actually sending an email, then you need the templates.
If you find yourself thinking, I really need to grow my network, then you need the templates.
These templates are your guides, your logical process to get you through the sometimes emotionally painful part of networking. And they can help you with the most important part of networking: understanding that it’s a long-term strategy and a skill you’ll build over time.
Let’s get to ‘em!
Making the Initial Contact
That first contact can be the hardest one to make. How do you know if the person wants to hear from you? If they’ll find any value in talking to you? If they’ll even get back to you?
If you can add value to someone’s life, then meeting them can only be good for them. But that doesn’t guarantee that you will add value to someone’s life. And it can be harder to see what value you can add if the person you want to meet appears to be more successful than you.
We all have value to add, even if the value is a simple, “I love your work” or “I respect and admire you.” Everyone loves to receive affirmations for what they’re doing. And bringing that positivity to their lives will help them do even more.
But, no matter the reason for the initial contact, don’t make it weird. Don’t assume that you know the person well, don’t act like you’re already friends, and do show respect for their time.
Here’s your template to help:
Hi [their name],
My name is [your name] and I am [state your profession]. I found you through [website, research, person] and wanted to reach out and say hi. I [affirmation – for example: greatly admire what you’re working on / have been told great things about you by _ (only works if you have a mutual contact)] and was hoping to chat with you further about it.
Would you have time to grab a quick coffee in the coming weeks?* [State some reason for chatting that’s all about their success and that relates to you – for example: I’m taking my career down a similar path and would love to pick your brain about how you got to where you are / I would like to share what you’re working on with my community / I would love to hear more about what you do]. As I’m sure you’re very busy, I’m happy to meet near your office. I work in [neighborhood] and am generally most available [day of week or general time of day, like afternoons]. Let me know what you think!
*If they don’t live in the same place as you, offer to talk via video chat or telephone.
As you read this template, you may have been thinking, “but it’s all about them.” And you would be right. Everyone loves affirmation and providing that to people you genuinely admire will add value to both of your lives. It’s the best starting point there is.
Any time you start a networking conversation with no pretense or agenda, it can go a lot further than it would if you seek to achieve a particular aim. Yes, maybe you have specific hopes for that meeting. Maybe you fear that an open-ended conversation might go nowhere. But it won’t.
Open-ended conversations that seek only to create a connection, to seek relativity, can grow leaps and bounds above your initial expectations. If you enter into the conversation hoping for nothing more than making a great connection, then there’s a good chance you won’t be disappointed.
It’s all about your mindset. No one wants to be used, but we all want to make connections. It’s human nature. Start from there and then follow-up and you’ll organically build a much stronger network for it.
Following Up After the First Meeting
Following up after the first meeting might feel tricky, but it can actually be quite simple. Remember, we’re thinking of networking here as a long-term thing, not just as a quick to-do you can cross off the list.
And when you think long-term, staying in touch gets a lot easier. It removes the expectations you might otherwise have. It’s all about the art of the follow-up.
After the first meeting, you have a small job to do: simply express gratitude to that person for taking the time to meet you and reminding them of what you have in common. And if you have some sort of extra value you can add, such as a link to an article or book you mentioned or an introduction to someone else, all the better.
Here’s your template to help:
Hi [their name],
Thank you so much for taking the time to meet me [name day and place of the meeting]. I really enjoyed getting to know you better and hope to have more conversations moving forward!
This next paragraph is all about adding extra value. A few ways to do that include:
A) It could be a link to something you mentioned:
As mentioned, here’s a link to [book you suggested / article you suggested]. I’m looking forward to hearing what you think about it!
B) It could be more information on a person you discussed that could be a good intro to give them:
I know we talked about me introducing you to [person’s name]. Here’s a link to their [website / Twitter page / whatever kind of presence they have online]. If you think it’d be valuable to meet [person’s name], let me know and I’ll do an introduction.
C) It could be something you saw after the meeting that made you think of them:
Also, I saw this [article / video / website / blog / book / etc.] and I immediately thought about our conversation on [topic]. Check it out if you get a chance, I’d love to hear what you think!
The last paragraph should just be a reiteration of your gratitude and a general “hope to speak soon” message:
Thanks again for taking the time and I look forward to chatting again in the future!
And that’s it! Perhaps they get back right away and the emails continue on for awhile, more meetings happen, and so on. A new friendship or professional contact is fully formed! Or perhaps you get one email back and don’t hear back again for awhile. That’ll take us to the next template…
Staying in Touch After A Few Months Have Gone By
Staying in touch after a few months have gone by is when networking can get really awkward. You might be wondering why nothing more happened sooner, if that person wants to talk to you at all, or if they’re too busy to talk to you. Or you might feel like you dropped the ball. Either way, staying in touch after a few months have gone by doesn’t have to be awkward. It can be as simple as saying hello.
Hi [their name],
How are you? I know it’s been a few months since we talked, but I wanted to touch base and see how things are going in your world. If you have time over the coming weeks, I’d love to grab a coffee and catch up!
Something to keep in mind: this email is good enough as is. However, if you do have something more specific to touch base on, then mention it! Maybe you saw them in the media, read about a new project they’re working on, or saw an article that made you think of them. If that’s the case, then here’s a template you can follow:
Hi [their name],
How are you? I know it’s been a few months since we talked, but I wanted to touch base and see how things are going in your world. This next sentence is all about the thing that made you think of them. A few ways to do that include:
A) It could be a link to a relevant article / book / video / etc.:
I just ran across this [book / article / etc. ] and immediately thought of you. Check it out if you have time!
B) It could be something you heard about them that’s good news:
I just saw that you [were mentioned in the media / working on a new project / took on a new position or a new company] and immediately thought of you. Congratulations!
The last paragraph is all about reiterating the touch point and seeing if you can chat again in person: [Affirmation – for example, I hope you like the _ / Congratulations again!]. f you have time over the coming weeks, I’d love to grab a coffee and catch up on this and to hear more about what you’re up to these days.
It’s that simple. If you have a touch point, great! If not, simply showing desire to catch up is good enough. Again, everyone loves to be given affirmation, to be thought of, to be considered. Just simply doing that is a great way to nurture the individual members of your network.
Staying in Touch Over the Years
Now what do you do if a few years have gone by? Now it’s surely too late to reach back out, right?
Sure, it feels extremely awkward to reach out to someone after a long period of time has gone by. The good news is that everyone experiences this. We’re all too busy, we all think about people but forget to send that email.
The worst thing you can do is not reach out to someone simply because you’re afraid it’s been too long. Then you’ll just delay reaching out because you feel weird, and delay more, and delay more…and then you never reach out to them again.
Is that what you want?
I’m going to venture to guess that the answer is no. So, if a few years have gone by, go ahead and use the template above. Just replace “months” with “years” and you’re good to go!
Taking the Guesswork Out of Networking
All the ways in which networking can feel awkward are too numerous to mention. Depending on the person we’re trying to reach out to, there are a million reasons why it could feel uncomfortable: maybe they’re in a position way higher than our own, maybe they seem too influential to have time for us, maybe they won’t see the value in meeting up. The list goes on and on.
When these doubts come into play, just think like a human. We all crave connection. We all need affirmation sometimes (all of us, no matter our positions in life). We all benefit from growing our networks.
Think like a human. Take the time. Grow your network. Put in the effort, follow these templates whenever you’re plagued with doubt, and keep moving forward. You will organically grow a network that will give you support, value, and encouragement for years to come – and hopefully one in which you’ll do the same!
Image Credit: Sergei Akulich