Ever wonder how to move forward with networking? How do you go to the next level after making that initial contact? You need to know how to make your network work for you and how you can work for your network.
You know the basics. You have created a list of companies/industries you are interested in and have done your research. You have put together a database of people that you want to talk to and have sent them emails or called them to set up meetings. In many of these cases, you have been able to set up a time to talk with your new contacts. Now you start to worry....how do I get them to give me more contacts....more information....a job?
The best time to build your network is before you need it. However, in case you are starting late as many do, you want to build out a network that is relevant, useful and will provide future benefits, plus maybe a long term friend or mentor. You want to make yourself relevant to the person you are talking to, not just someone who is coming in to ask questions about the firm, industry or whatever.
So, how do you do this? You need to focus on what you can do for the person you are talking to, not just what they can do for you. You are obviously talking to them for a reason (likely because you are looking to change jobs, careers, etc). Why should they talk to you? What do they get out of it? Ask them how you can help them. Maybe they have a business problem you can help to solve, or they need a connection in a certain area that you have a contact in, or they are looking to grow in an area in which you have expertise.
The key is that you need to gain credibility. You need to gain trust and ideally they will like you. If the person you are meeting with gives you other contacts, make sure to follow up with the new contacts and then let the original person know that you did that. It is a great way to tie back to them if you don't really have anything else to say. Follow through on something small, or something that was said in a casual conversation and your contact will think highly of you and help increase your trust factor.
You need to think for the long term. Gain credibility in your field thorough thoughtful posts on blogs, twitter, LinkedIn. You can always forward these on to your network as a discussion point. Ideally you want to develop a long term relationship, where you might help each other again at some point down the road. You never know where your life path will take you....or where all of your network will end up. There is a very good chance you will cross paths again at some point and you want to be remembered positively.