What I didn't think about starting out was this: the follow-up begins before that first conversation ends.
You've met someone you think can help you advance a story, job prospects or help you learn something new. First off, don't hide the fact that is your agenda. Be upfront about that. “Hey, I'm looking for a career in journalism” or “I’m blogging about making contacts, you seem to know a thing or two about that. Care to have a chat?”
That's how the initial email or conversation should go. Upfront and transparent. Once you've exchanged pleasantries, asked your gazillion questions and before the conversation ends ask the person if it is alright to get in touch down the line. Make sure the follow-up is okay. If the discussion is going well ask when it would be best to chat again. Avoid all weirdness because it’s everything is out in the open.
Grab their business card. Yeah, how many times did I not do that (see here my article on why you need a business card even if you are a student, freelancer or job-seeker) or ask to jot down their email or to connect over LinkedIn. Whatever you decide, find some way to connect with them. I've forgotten to do that so many times.
Take some notes. Now the conversation is over, and you've both moved on, make sure to take a few notes on what you both talked about — just a few keywords. I usually jot down a few words directly on the person’s business card. That little tidbit of info is critical.
Following-up boils down to developing a pro-active attitude that you care about the person. People will respect that, and if you're clear about being a student, or a journalist interested in a story, that has already set you up.
How much time do you let pass before harassing (erm, I mean follow-up with) the person? Here's the whopper: pick a day two weeks out, put a reminder in your calendar and forget about it, seriously. The reminder will pop up two weeks later and then just reach out to that person.
How you eventually decide to get in touch with the person is irrelevant, whether that's over LinkedIn, email or social media. I prefer email, but sometimes after meeting someone for the first time, I like to use LinkedIn (you’ll need to have a look if there are active).
Share a tidbit from the conversation, that always helps. Remember that note on the business card? Use it. I try to remember something non-work related like a holiday they went on. “How was your holiday in France? Hope you had a great time.” That's enough, don't overplay it.
How formal, or informal can you get in your next communication? That's a cultural thing; I’m far more formal with German contacts then I am with Americans. Since I’ve spoken to the person already, you might have a feel for whether you can be casual. If you feel uncomfortable about being relaxed, don’t do it.
Remember I'm talking about getting touch with people in a business context and of course the personal and business can mix but probably not on first meeting unless you've met your soulmate, in which case none of this applies.
If you like what you read and got something out of it sign-up for my newsletter with more content to help you improve your career, hone your journalism skills and keep up-to-date with what’s going on in the journalism field. You’ll also get access to The Journalist., an exclusive platform links you with other professional journalists, tailor-made live content, training and a chance to deepen your network. Sign-up here.