Developing a Professional Network

    As a consultant moves further up the ladder in his or her consulting career, the ability to sell the firm’s services becomes more important.  It’sNetwork face to face as well as via Social Media difficult to develop trusting relationships with potential clients without having spent time getting to know them.  In this week’s podcast we will discuss the importance of developing a professional network of contacts and how to go about it.

    1. Why is it important for a consultant to develop a professional network?
      1. As you mentioned, at some point as you move up in your consulting career, you begin to have some responsibility for selling those services.
      2. As I’ve explained in some podcasts in the past, when you start out in your consulting career, you’re primarily responsible for your billable hours.  You want to be so good that the managers in the office fight over you so they can get you assigned to your projects.
      3. As you begin moving up the ladder and getting more responsibility, you start to get involved in more sales efforts.  At first, you may just help out on a couple of sales proposals.  It’s a way to ease you in and learn the firm’s selling approach as kind of an apprentice.
      4. At some point you begin assisting in the presentation to the prospective client.
      5. And then, eventually, they will want you to start providing leads for new clients from your network.
      6. And if you get to that point in your career and you don’t have much of a network – no contacts for you to reconnect with that are potential clients, it’s hard to start catching up.
      7. You want to have people in your network who have known you for a while so that you have developed some form of trust with them.
      8. It’s hard to go to someone you just met at a networking event and say ‘Hey, why don’t you let my firm come in and do some business for you.’  It’s like asking a girl out on a date without spending any time getting to know each other.
      9. So it’s important to start early in your career meeting people and developing relationships so that when you get to that point in your career, you already have a network of people who know and trust you.
      10. I think one of the most important things to do is to have a LinkedIn profile that’s up to date.  If someone looks you up and all you have is your name and a few lines, they may not even bother trying to connect with you assuming you’re not an active user.
      11. I would also recommend connecting with college peers who are, or soon will be in the business world.  Then, you should connect with peers in your own office and eventually with client individuals.
      12. I also recommend connecting with business people that you might know through your parents. Those are good contacts to have because, since they’re older, they’re more likely to have a larger network that you might have access to.
    2. What do you tell people who are reluctant to connect with people once they’ve connected with their peers at work because they’re afraid that their managers will think they’re job hunting?
      1. I was just reading an article recently that recommended against connecting on LinkedIn with clients because their management may suspect that they’re networking in preparation to find a new job.
      2. Connecting on LinkedIn isn’t just about job search networking. I think people get that idea because it’s the first purpose that they used the tool for, but networking is about meeting people and keeping in touch.
      3. Let’s say it’s early in your career and you work on a client project.  You work with some client employees and get to know them well.  Before the project is over, you connect with them on LinkedIn.
      4. A few years go by and you’re moving up within the ranks of your consulting firm.  Meanwhile these contacts have either moved up in their own organization or gone on to other jobs with other companies.  They’re starting to move into management positions themselves.
      5. If you’ve kept in touch with them, had an occasional lunch or met for coffee once in a while, you have a fairly strong professional connection with them.
      6. So at one of these lunches, your connection mentions what a problem they’re having with one of their business processes or a software application.
      7. It just so happens that your firm has a practice that could address that.  You arrange a meeting with your boss and her boss and if everything goes well, you’ve generated a lead that will result in some business.
      8. It’s true that LinkedIn is a great tool for job search but people use it for business development and many other things.  Some people use it to find articles that help them keep up on the latest news and best practices in their industry.
    3. How does a consultant go about developing that network?
      1. Well I think I’ve covered the LinkedIn thing.  But one thing I would caution is adding links willy-nilly.  You want to have quality links that you know pretty well.
      2. I’ve seen people with thousands of links and think that there’s no way they know all of those people well enough to call on them to see if they’re interested in consulting services.
      3. You want to have some ‘memorability’ in each direction.  If anyone in your network contacts you – or vice versa – whoever is contacted should be able to remember who the other person is.
      4. Otherwise, there’s no relationship and it’s just a wasted contact because you’re never really going to get a favor from that person.
      5. So once you’ve got a contact with someone you’re going to remember knowing, it’s important to stay in touch with them.
      6. You can do that by contacting each person every once in a while.  That’s as easy as dropping an email once a year saying I was thinking of you and wanted to drop a line to say hi.
      7. A better option is if you’re reading an article and you think someone in your network would be interested in it, email it to them.
      8. I make a practice a couple times per week of going through my main page on LinkedIn and see what people are up to.  You may see who they’ve connected to or that they changed jobs.
      9. Then you can comment on it to congratulate them on a new position or some other appropriate comment.
      10. One other thing that I recommend once you have some experience is to write a work-related blog.  Then when you post it, you can go on linked in and promote it to your network.  That accomplishes two things.
      11. Hopefully, you’re providing information that may be valuable to them.  That’s the whole purpose of publishing any content.
      12. Also, it maintains your awareness in their mind.  You may not have contacted them in several months, but they’ve seen your updates on LinkedIn and they still feel a closeness.
    4. So it’s not about quantity as much as quality.
      1. It’s much more about quality and having contacts that will know and remember you.  But with that being said, quantity can be good, especially when you start looking at that valuable second level.
      2. I mentioned earlier that you should connect with friends of your parents if you know each other.  You may never do business with them, but let’s say there’s a business you’re targeting that you’d like to do business with.
      3. You search out LinkedIn for employees that work there and you find that one of your mom’s friends at work is a first level connection with them.
      4. You may be able to call that friend and ask if they can introduce you.  Now your mom’s friend may be one of those with a thousand connections and may say, I don’t even remember that person.
      5. But hopefully she knows that person well and is willing to bring you two together.
      6. So you want to focus on quality connections, but you want to have as many quality connections as possible.  The more first level connections you have, it exponentially increases your second level connections.
      7. And if those first level connections are quality connections, they’ll be more likely to introduce you to their connections when you request it.
    5. What are some of the mistakes you’ve made or seen others make that others can learn from?
      1. Well we talked about having connections you don’t know.  I think we’ve beat that horse.
      2. Another thing that I’ve seen in the past is connecting with people but only getting in touch with them when you need something.
      3. I’ve known a few people who I haven’t heard from in a few years and suddenly, out of the blue they call and want to meet for coffee or something.
      4. Once we get together I find out that they’ve lost their job and need me to help them network with people to help get them interviews.
      5. Either that or they’re trying to sell something and want me to buy.
      6. It’s really better to keep in touch and help other people first.  It’s not a matter of keeping score and saying this person owes me a favor.
      7. It’s just a matter of maintaining relationships and not taking advantage of people – being their friend only when you need something.
      8. Another big mistake is giving the hard sell when you first meet someone.  Kind of trying to go up to them and sell them consulting services like you would sell fake Rolex’s on the street. It’s the singles bar equivalent of networking
      9. I’ve compared this more than once to dating and the singles bar, but there’s a very similar parallel.  It’s a matter of developing a relationship.  Meet people and get to know them.  If a conversation develops and there’s mutual interest then you continue talking
      10. If the other person is looking at their watch and looking around the room at everything but you, that’s a hint to shut up and move on.
    6. Many people hate networking events because they seem so awkward.  How does someone get around that and make it more natural and less awkward?
      1. Well the funny thing about networking is that nobody actually talks about the fact that they’re networking.
      2. You don’t go up to people and say ‘Hi I’m Jeff, would you like to network?’ that actually sounds kind of creepy.
      3. Going back to the singles bar, it’s the equivalent of going up to a girl and saying Hi, I’m Lew.  Do you want to go home with me?  You’re just never going to get too far with that approach.
      4. Some people treat these networking events like a speed dating event where people try to meet as many people as possible and go home with as many business cards as they can collect.
      5. It’s much better to have a goal of meeting just a couple of people.  If I go to something like that and only meet two people that I can have a meaningful conversation with and get their contact information, I’m happy.
      6. I’ll send them an email saying that it was a pleasure meeting them and tell them what interested me most about the conversation.  I may even send them an article on some topic that they talked about if I think it will help them.
      7. It goes back to making quality contacts.  If I try too hard to sell or I’m only there to collect names, my likelihood of success diminishes.
      8. But everyone knows that they’re there to network.  And most people are not good at ice breaking and meeting people.  So when you see someone alone you just walk up and introduce yourself and start asking them questions about themselves.
      9. We’ve talked about the Dale Carnegie approach before.  Taking an interest in the other person is the best way to meet people and get to know them.  Going up to them and telling them about yourself or what you have to sell will bore them immediately.
    7. Any final thoughts on networking?
      1. I think a lot of people focus on numbers when they network.  They try to get as many followers as possible like it’s a contest.  If you get nothing else out of this podcast, I hope people walk away with the knowledge that, while quantity can be helpful, the quality of your connections is a much higher priority for your consulting career.
      2. Also, like anything, networking takes practice.  Any time you’re at a dinner or networking event, you’re forced to meet new people and that’s hard.
      3. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.  It’s something that you can really get momentum at.

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