You’ve attended a networking event and collected a few business cards, now what?  How can you turn these new acquaintances into business friends?  Remember, successful networking is based on building relationships.  How have you built relationships in other areas of your life?

The first step is to follow up with each person you’ve met.  Do this with a personal email or a phone call. DO NOT add the person to your mailing list and start sending them newsletters and other impersonal mass communications.  In the email (or phone call), remind the person where you met, and say how much you enjoyed speaking to them about such-and-such (whatever you actually spoke about).  Let them know that you’d like to continue the conversation, and suggest a time and place to meet.  It’s a little like dating, without the romantic overtones.

When you meet, focus on getting to know the other person and understanding their situation.  Express genuine interest in them and offer to help by making appropriate introductions.  The conversation does not have to focus on business necessarily.  The relationship will be richer and develop more quickly if you find areas of common interest in addition to business.  (Think how much business is done on the golf course and in other social settings.)

If this coffee date goes well, others will follow.  You’ll see the person at the next event of the organization you both support, and the relationship will grow.  Nurture it without smothering it, and soon enough, you’ll have a networking buddy you can count on for referrals.