The other day a consultant posted a question on our consulting group page asking, “How do some of you have tens of thousands of connections? I am struggling and welcome any suggestions you might offer.”
I shot back a quick response suggesting that this consultant–we’ll call him Mark–not focus on the number, but rather the quality of his connections.
You see, Mark is being duped into a common belief that many professionals hold these days: That we all need more LinkedIn connections, Twitter followers, Facebook fans, Google+ circle members, and the the list goes on.
More of all of these is great. The problem is that ‘more’ isn’t enough.
As a consultant, and a guerrilla one at that, you need to take a more effective approach. Stop thinking about more connections and start focusing on building relationships.
Here is a 4-part networking and relationship development strategy that will help you cut through the clutter and connect with the people you really want in your network.
1) Make a list
Start off by thinking about who you want to build a relationship with. A helpful exercise to expand your thought process here is to use several categories to establish the criteria for the people you will reach out to. You can use categories such as:
Marketing people – You want a team of people on your side to help brainstorm and suggest new approaches and methods to market and promote your services. These can be people in online or offline marketing. They may be social media, PPC, publicity, direct mail, or other experts in the field.
Entrepreneurs – As a consultant, you are part entrepreneur. So it is wise to meet with those people who have gone through the process of creating a startup, dealt with competition, marketing, sales, staffing, and the other issues you’ll face.
Business people – When you have a question on finance, or want a higher level view of an industry, you will want to have other experienced business people as part of your network. Think about CEOs, CFOs, and other executives or even managers here. All of these people have wisdom and knowledge they can share with you.
Consultants – Don’t forget about developing relationships with other consultants. When you face issues regarding clients, fees, and actually providing your consulting services, bouncing ideas around with other consultants can be extremely valuable. Not to mention the benefits of partnering or creating alliances with other consultants when such a project is required.
Motivational people – Don’t stick solely to meeting people in the ‘world’ of business. Networking and building relationships is also about walking out of a meeting feeling inspired and motivated. Find people that have achieved great things. There is much you can learn from them too.
2) Reach out
Once you have made your list of the people you want to get to know, the next step is to reach out to them. There are several ways you can do this. Here are some ideas to help you get started:
- Send them a personalized email on LinkedIn telling them why you want to connect.
- If they are involved in any groups, online or off, join the same groups.
- Think of ways that you can add value to what they are doing, and offer to help.
- Give them a compliment. This is a great way to get a conversation started.
- Tell them you’d like to learn more about them and their industry, and offer to take them out for coffee or lunch.
- If you have a blog, write about them and their work. You can then reach out to them to tell them about what you have written; this can be a great conversation starter.
- Find them on social media and engage in a conversation with them there.
- Attend the tradeshows they go to and make a point of meeting them face to face.
3) Surprise them
If you really want to stand out, it is critical that your first contact is done properly.
Do not be the person who sends a template LinkedIn invitation request. You know, the classic “I want to add you to my professional network.” This clearly shows you haven’t invested any time or energy to learn about the person you are contacting.
Take a few moments before reaching out to learn about each person. Hopefully you have already done this when you made your initial list. The key here is to use this information when you contact people for the first time.
Tell them how much you enjoyed their recent blog post or book. Mention that you saw their work being featured or how you admire what they have achieved.
Messages like these stand out. They surprise and are memorable.
In addition to these tips, when you meet people you have been contacting, it goes without saying that you are respectful of their time, personable, friendly, ask good questions, are a great listener…and always, always offer to help them in some way if you can.
4) Stay in touch
The missing ingredient in making relationships a success is follow up. It doesn’t do much good to meet someone once, talk to them for a minute, then not contact them for a year, and when you finally do, ask for a favor, or an introduction.
The more often you are in touch with people in your network, the closer they will feel to you.
You can stay in touch by sending out a quick personal email with an update every month or two. You can include some industry news or other relevant article that you think they might enjoy. Offer to send them your newsletter if you have one. Better yet, get on the phone or meet them in person when you can.
The key to building a strong network isn’t the number of connections you have. It’s what you do to turn each of those numbers into a meaningful relationship. In this case, the more you put in, the more you’ll get back.