Networking is important in almost every occupation. It is imperative in consulting. It is how we make contacts to develop new business and share expertise with others.
There are many ways to network. Some are effective and some not so much. Developing good networking skills will help ensure success in your consulting career. Here are a few things to consider.
Although there are many online tools and apps to connect you with other people in the business world, LinkedIn is the quintessential tool. It is the most widely used networking tool in the world.
Many people use it to make connections. But not everyone networks effectively with LinkedIn. Making connections is a great way to start networking. But simply collecting connections doesn’t provide any solid results.
Networking is about engaging. Back in the old days, people had business cards. People might meet for lunch, in a sales call, or at a convention. They would exchange business cards. After that, neither party would call the other. All they had in the end was a worthless 3-1/2” x 2” piece of paper.
Many of us do the same on LinkedIn. Making the connection is simply exchanging electronic business cards.
To network effectively, first of all, make connections where you can help each other. Connect with people in your industry or regional area. Find people that might have similar interests. I’ve connected with recruiters because I know they could potentially help me, and I can potentially help them. I also connect with other consultants, project managers, and people in the IT industry. I don’t normally connect with, say, an interior designer because our industries are so different. The exception I sometimes make is if they live in the same geographical area. We may be able to meet for coffee sometime if we have common connections within the area.
Once you’ve made the connection, engage with them. Send them a message asking them what their goals are and if there is anything you can help them with. When you see them post something on LinkedIn, read their posts and comment or like appropriately. You do not have to like everything they post. But engage when you find it interesting.
You should also make a practice of posting on LinkedIn. When you read an article that you find interesting, your contacts may find it interesting also. Engaging includes taking interest in others’ posts, as well as sharing posts for others.
Besides engaging with people on LinkedIn, networking is really about your personal interactions with others. We all have one-on-one meetings. These can be casual conversations in person or on the phone. You probably are being introduced to new people regularly.
When you have these meetings, do not just conduct your business. Talk to them. Take an interest in them. Without being intrusive, ask them a few questions about themselves. Simply asking if they have plans for the weekend can reveal information about whether they have a family, their hobbies, or any other interests. If they provide any information, ask some more questions. It should not be an interrogation. It should be a friendly conversation. These conversations should be short and sweet. You eventually have to get down to business. But it’s nice to show a little interest in people.
You also meet people in group settings. I’ve been in large meetings where I only knew a few people. In these meetings, I try to get all of the participants to talk. If you are in charge of the meeting, you might try a quick ice breaker. Otherwise, you can start casual conversations during a break.
In addition to interacting with people in person, there are ways to network by just being you. Everything you say and do in the public eye allows you to establish who you are in the eyes of others.
One big way of doing this is through publishing. There is an unlimited source of websites, blogs and news sites that will allow you to submit a well-written article to share your knowledge and viewpoints.
If you are that interested in it, you can start your own blog. I’ve been blogging for years and get a great sense of satisfaction from it. I do not do it for money. I hope that the information I share is helpful to those who read it. It is also a good source of personal branding for me. I even occasionally get some name recognition.
Public speaking is another way to get your name out and establish your personal brand. There are always organizations that are looking for a speaker. Starting out, you may give presentations to small local groups. As you get more experience and establish your name, you will get larger and larger crowds. You may even begin getting paid to speak.
Another great way to network is to join a professional organization or two. There are usually a few large organizations for any given industry. I belong to the Project Management Institute. The Chicago area organization has a large monthly dinner meeting. There are a few hundred in attendance each month. I meet new people, meet up with people I know, and hear a good speaker each time I attend.
Networking does not necessarily always occur in business settings. I can provide a good example of that.
Last year, I visited some friends out of state. We were at their house watching college football. My friend’s brother was also there (albeit rooting for the wrong team). I struck up a conversation with him and asked him what he did for a living.
He told me he was in sales but was currently out of work. He had been looking for a couple of months. We exchanged phone numbers and connected on LinkedIn. I checked with my company and they were looking for sales people.
I asked him for his resume and submitted it. As it turned out, my company was looking for someone with different industry experience and in a different region of the country.
He eventually found a job through another source. But we still keep in touch. We discuss our job situations, our common connections, and college football. Someday one of us may help the other. Or we may help one of the other’s contacts if the need comes up. If not, we’ve developed a very good business/personal relationship.
How do you engage with your network?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
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