...valueless emails create work for the recipient to figure out how to respond.
I met a miserable mid-level law firm associate a couple of months ago through a friend*. We talked for about 45 minutes about experiences, career advice, the New York legal market, people she should meet, and things she should read. She took no notes and I heard nothing for weeks, until she emailed me randomly asking for advice about something completely unrelated to our discussion. Although I gave her a few thoughts in an email in reply, I’m not really interested in going out of my way for her.
What a disaster. I look to meet people who are working on interesting things because I want to learn from them, work with them, and find ways to help them; when friends introduce me to someone, I naturally want to help them. But if I spend time to meet with someone who can’t even be bothered to follow up afterward, I feel like everyone’s time is wasted.
I’m continually surprised how often this happens, and maybe it’s not so obvious that following up the right way will absolutely determine the value of the interaction you’ve had.
So I want to share my system to ensure that I learn and use the important information that comes out of every informal professional discussion. For me, these are typically 30 minute meetings over coffee, phone or Skype, and I do a lot of them - typically one or two per week. (I’m currently experimenting with Acuity for scheduling - if you want to schedule time to talk with me, click here). Although I stopped attending 99% of the networking events I’m invited to, in part because it would be nearly impossible to have a conversation deep enough for follow ups like this, you could adapt this framework for following up with people you meet at these events as well.
1. Take notes during your discussion. Productive people take better notes for understanding and retention. When I take notes, I visually connect concepts I’m discussing that I wouldn’t make if the information was just in my head. I put numbers next to follow up items while we talk, and I start to develop how we can build on the things we’re talking about before the meeting is even over. After the meeting, I rely on these notes for follow up content.
2. Write your email for the reader. I send a follow up email within a day or two of the meeting. I want my email’s content to register with the recipient, so I write the email with the reader in mind. Let’s assume this recipient is busy, gets too much email already and is probably skimming - not even fully reading - the email on a mobile device (because 65% of all emails are now opened on mobile devices). To make sure my points stick, I copy the tactics that popular online writers use, such as:
writing paragraphs that look short on a phone, not in a browser (If you’re not sure, email it to yourself and open it on your phone!);
embedding links to the material you’re referencing, which make it easy for the reader to learn about what you’re talking about;
using numbered lists for each follow up item; and
bolding key points.
3. Include actions for each follow up item. I list each follow-up item in a separate numbered entry in a list. Each item should contain an action that one or both people can take to move the item along. For example, in the first item in the first example below, I offer to coordinate an invitation to a relevant, invite-only event for the recipient.
4. Save something for later. Good conversations will have many potential follow-up items. I don’t want to struggle to figure out what to talk about next time, so I hold onto something interesting from the first conversation to follow up with in a few weeks.
5. Schedule a three-week check in. Schedule a follow-up in your calendar to follow up again in three weeks. Because I’ve held onto something interesting to talk about from the last conversation, that email won’t be “hey, just checking in to see how you’re doing, let’s talk again soon.” Never send an email without substance; never, ever send a “just saying hi” email to a professional contact. These valueless emails create work for the recipient to figure out how to respond. Instead, mention how you’ve used the advice the person gave you with specific examples; pass along an article relevant to a point that the person made; or highlight, a company that’s doing something useful for the person’s clients. If you haven’t implemented the person’s advice and have nothing else to say, don’t send an email until you do.
Building relationships with interesting people is the key to an exceptional career...
A few real examples might be helpful. I’ve lightly redacted with brackets describing what I talked about where necessary. These follow-ups are typical of what I would send after a 30-45 minute meeting, whether it’s with a new contact or someone I’ve known for years.
It was great catching up yesterday. Here's some follow up/additional info on things we discussed:
1. Here's a little more information on the accelerator program I work with, Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator. The new class of companies started a couple of weeks ago and demo day should be in early September; if you're interested, I'm happy to coordinate an invitation for you.
2. I appreciated your thoughts on ad-supported enterprise software. [I added a two sentence note on specifics of a deal we discussed, a link to a relevant product and a suggestion on how to move our conversation forward].
3. As you suggested, I'm excited to figure out ways we can work together, whether investing or operationally. If you are inclined to share further details about companies you're working on, I'm happy to take that and try to find ways to be helpful.
4. Finally, below is a relatively new email newsletter that I get regarding startup investing and market analysis that you may like. If so, here's the signup link. It's only 1x/week, I believe. [Note to readers: I wrote my follow up as a forward to this email newsletter, so the content was below my email.]
Let's talk again soon.
Nice catching up yesterday. Here are a few follow up thoughts.
1. You mentioned that you wanted to see my latest post at JD Supra: http://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/the-single-most-important-professional-q-91475/. Let me know what you think.
It expands on an idea in an earlier post, which has now been shared 1,042 times on LinkedIn in less than two weeks: https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140430203659-7647225-building-relationships-without-expectations
2. Here's the brief description for the [non-public job openings that a friend shared with me; the recipient may be able to refer candidates].
I can get further details on the job if there's specific information that would be helpful. Send anyone interested to me by email, or I can give you my friend’s info directly if that’s easier.
3. A few other thoughts on how your private equity clients could use B2B Foresight’s platform for post-acquisition integration and performance tracking. [Note to readers: This is a company I advise. I wrote two additional sentences describing specific customer examples.]
Let me know if you have business side contacts who'd be open to a brief chat about it.
4. If it's useful to you, I'm interested in learning more about the how you're positioning your team as outside GC for portfolio companies and the tools you're using to do it. I would be happy to spend some real time working with the tools and learning about how you're marketing it to give some detailed input from a potential client's perspective.
5. Lunch dates: Any of May 29, June 10, or June 12 work for you?
Talk to you soon.
Building relationships with interesting people is the key to an exceptional career. This follow up strategy will help you bridge the steps between meetings to strengthen those relationships over time. I’m currently building a program to help a few friends identify, meet, and build relationships with interesting people. These friends are entrepreneurs, law firm lawyers, business development professionals, investment advisers, among others. If you’re interested in helping me test this out, email me and I’ll keep you posted as we get going.
[If you found value in this post, I’d appreciate it if you share it on LinkedIn and Twitter. Questions or comments? Please email me. I’ll respond to every one.
Josh Beser was named a “Top 10 30-Something” by the Association of Corporate Counsel in 2014. He is Assistant General Counsel at Lonza, a global leader in life sciences and specialty ingredients with over 10,000 employees worldwide and an advisor to several high-potential technology companies. Previously, Josh was a corporate associate at Bingham McCutchen LLP and Heller Ehrman LLP, representing emerging companies in the technology and life sciences industries. Connect with Josh on Twitter and LinkedIn and subscribe to his email list to learn to be a better entrepreneur in your career.]
* Friends introduce me to a lot of miserable law firm associates. That may say something about me that I don’t want to know.
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