Consulting isn’t just about expertise — it is also about relationships. What better way to build those relationships than through networking?
Networking isn’t just for consultants. It is something you should do regardless of your career. As the old saying goes, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” True for finding new jobs… and for finding new clients.
Networking can seem painful. Many consultants are introverts — we’re thinkers and planners. We like to deal with problems and ideas, not necessarily with people. Leave that for the sales and marketing types, right?
But if you are a solo practitioner, it is up to you (and you alone) to get the business. You first need to GET the projects before you can DO the projects. That means YOU are the now sales and marketing department.
As an aside, I often advise my engineering colleagues (among the most introverted and distrustful of sales and marketing) to treat getting the business as just another challenging problem to be solved. Looking at it that way, it can even be fun. It is for me.
So how do you network? Strategically. Go where your potential clients are. Think about the niches you serve. This is not about “speed dating” or collecting business cards. Rather, you need to focus — use a rifle, not a shotgun.
And don’t overlook recommenders — others serving your markets. These include professionals (attorneys, lawyers, bankers), media (magazine editors and newspaper reporters), and yes, sales people (reps, distributors, etc.) Some of my best business leads over the years have come from these sources.
Here are some ways to network strategically:
–Professional organizations… If you are a professional and not already a member — join today! Participate — don’t just attend meetings. If you business is local, get involved at the local chapter level. If you business is national, get involved at the national level. If both, well, get involved at both levels.
Volunteer to speak. Short talks and tutorial sessions provide great exposure, and help your colleagues at the same time. Special committees are good too. We’ve done both, and it has paid off well. Plus, we’ve made a lot of good friends along the way.
One caveat — pick and choose you efforts with care, as volunteer organizations can suck up time like crazy. Don’t spread yourself too thin — you still need to make a living.
–Symposiums… Many professional organizations have annual trade shows. You should attend these too. These are an excellent opportunity to meet the movers and shakers in your industry, which include influencers like journalists and marketers.
Skip the academic sessions, and head for the tutorials. Better yet – volunteer to present – this puts you in front of potential clients. And spend time on the show floor talking to the sales/marketing folks. You’ll learn about new products/services, and often new opportunities as well.
–Trade & Civic organizations… Think about places your clients and potential clients hang out to network. Then plug into those networks, at least on an occasional basis.
For example, if you are an accountant serving a local business market, consider joining local Rotary or Lions clubs. If you are an accountant serving a special niche such as HOAs (home owners associations), consider joining the local or national HOA group. (Yes, such groups exist.)
–Social media... Thanks to the Internet, social media offers many opportunities to expand your networks at very low cost. One caveat — do not rely solely on social media — the personal touch is still crucial.
The big four today are LinkedIn, FaceBook, Twitter, and Google+. My experience suggests that LinkedIn is preferred for B2B, while FaceBook shines with B2C. Done right, Twitter can be effective for both. Just joined Google+ so I have no opinions on it yet.
The key is to be where your potential clients are at. Once again — watch your time. If you are not careful, these can be addictive and can become tremendous time sucks.
Finally, don’t expect immediate results – networking is for the long term and will eventually pay off. As a plaque in my office says, “In the pond when you least expect it, a fish will appear.” But you need to have your line in the water…
People buy from those they know, like, and trust. Networking works!
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