I’ve been doing a ton of networking lately – making lots of good connections. Now there’s a pile of business cards on my desk … and if they get buried under a pile of papers, I’ll lose the investment of time I made in those burgeoning relationships.

That brings up an important point: There’s more to networking than meeting new people. In fact, networking has three distinct steps – and if you’re not doing all three, you’re not taking full advantage of your networking efforts.

Step 1. Meeting new people (in person) and making a connection with them by learning something new or finding something you have in common.

Step 2. Following up (via e-mail, phone, or snail mail) to remind your new contacts of the conversation you had or the project idea you came up with.

Step 3. Staying in touch (via e-mail, phone, in person, or a combination thereof) so they don’t forget about you next month or next year. (This is crucial.)

It won’t take long for me to keep the conversation going with all those people whose business cards I’ve collected. I’ll start right now by sending each one of them a friendly follow-up message. Then I’ll add them to my e-mail newsletter list to make sure I don’t drop the ball.

Now … what are you going to do about all those business cards on your desk?

[Ed Note: Pick up a copy of Ilise’s new book, Stop Pushing Me Around: A Workplace Guide for the Timid, Shy, and Less Assertive. And be sure to sign up for this year’s Information Marketing Bootcamp, where she will share her secrets of effective networking.]