We are told that networking is the best way to win new business, whether from new clients or existing clients. This blog post answers the question, what do you actually need to generate new business from your network? 

The two essential ingredients to get results from your network.

Networking, whether face-to-face, on-line, internal or external, is all about attracting opportunities. (It’s not about selling, despite what many professionals may think and do when networking!) However, to be successful at attracting opportunities you need to be both credible and visible.

What do we mean by visible?

Very simply this means turning up to events, or posting on forums regularly. For example, if you want to use Twitter to gain business, you need to tweet more than once a day. If you are a member of a networking club, to be visible you need to attend regularly.

When I used to attend a breakfast networking club many years ago, a member attended infrequently. He didn’t stick around for long as he failed to win much (or any) business from the other members of the group.

If you are a member of a networking club, with a member spotlight feature, do grab this opportunity to introduce your business early into your membership. If you are new to an on-line forum do say ‘hello’ to all the existing members.

Remember the internal firm network is as important as the external firm network.

If you are networking within your firm, this means turning up to meetings and company social events. Remember that for large firms like the Big 4 or global consultancies, the internal firm network is as important as the external firm network. In fact the internal firm network may represent your best chance to quickly building up a book of business.

Before people will refer you opportunities or business, they want to build up a relationship with you. But it’s not just about the relationship, they need to know that you are in it for the long haul. For example, as soon as one of my associates mentioned that they were going back to full time hours with their existing company, I started to mentally cross them off my resourcing plans for the future. By having a high visibility with potential referrers, you will be ‘top of mind’ when they have an opportunity which would be valuable for you to obtain.

What do I mean by credible?

To be credible, means many things. Firstly, it means that your messages are consistent over time. If you completely change your focus or niche, do be aware that you will temporarily lose credibility until you have re-established yourself. Make sure that when you are out networking, you are focused on finding out ‘who do you know’, rather than the heinous crime of selling whilst out networking.  There is nothing quite as damning for your credibility than a sign on your forehead that says ‘I am desperate for business’ or ‘I am selling’.

Your credibility can often increase the great the degree of expertise you are perceived to have. For example, a niche specialist is often seen as more credible than a generalist when it comes to opportunities in the niche. Every time you refer someone your reputation is on the line. So it makes sense for you to want to refer the expert over the generalist for all opportunities baring the low budget low value jobs.

a niche specialist is often seen as more credible than a generalist

Being credible means taking the time to build up relationships, and also give into relationships. For example, make sure you take the opportunity to arrange 1:2:1s with people you feel a connection with.  If you go out networking with the sole purpose of helping people, work will always follow. When I mean helping people, it can be as simple as introducing them to a member of your network.

Your credibility is vulnerable after a networking event. Fail to follow up – or renege on your agreed actions, and your credibility will take a hit. The brand that you want to cultivate when networking is of someone who is ‘helpful’, ‘well-connected’ and ‘delivers on their promises’. Unless you have agreed specific actions with someone you have met, a follow-up can be as simple as a short e-mail saying that you enjoyed meeting them. It does not mean, signing them up to your mailing list without their express permission.