With the current situation causing millions of people to have to work from home, it can be very easy to fall prey to the uncertainty and upheaval and to become stagnant with it all. As well as the negative impact on productivity, it can also be very easy to believe that there’s no point in doing the things that you can do now such as networking and business development as you’re not sure what you’re going back to anyway.
While these feelings of unease are completely understandable, it is crucial that you make the most of this time regardless of the uncertainty because when this is all under control and everything starts up again – would you rather be in the best position possible then or the worst?
In our normal, busy lives, 38% globally say that they find it hard to stay in touch with their network and almost half of this (49%) say that it’s due to not having enough time.
That statistic is the case when the world is running as normal, so as you can imagine, even with all this upheaval and having your family home to entertain, you probably will have more time now than you will in the next couple of months to carry out some effective networking. We understand that it might not feel like it so here are our best tips for keeping your networking efforts going but spending much less time on it.
8 tips for effective networking
1.) Stop collecting contacts, make connections instead
Effective networking is not only the process of finding new contacts but building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships as well. You could argue that the latter is the most important part when converting these leads to actual loyal clients, so why is it then, that so many lawyers, accountants and consultants spend most of their time hunting for new prospects with their networking efforts? All this ‘hunting’ activity does is collect contacts, without the all-important building and maintaining part of the process, the result is just a list of cold leads.
What we mean by making connections, and this is something that you can do at home, is to contact and actually establish a relationship with people on platforms such as LinkedIn. You are far more likely (58%) to get a job or opportunity through acquaintances than friends so it is a smart move right now to grow a social network of weak ties. A social network study in 1973 at Stanford revealed the importance of weak ties in your network as this widens your access to other networks which means more resources of information like job opportunities.
More than one third (35%) say that a casual conversation on LinkedIn Messaging has led to a new opportunity so this is a valuable place to spend a little time each day growing your network while you’re home.
2.) Have a goal (and make sure it’s realistic)
You need to have a goal to make sure you are doing the networking tasks to move forward, but with all the stress of our current situation, it’s important to be realistic.
Setting yourself an overly-ambitious goal where you find yourself constantly thinking that you should be networking, but you’re not, is frankly soul-destroying. All that is going to do is add a considerable amount of anxiety to an already torturous situation, so don’t put yourself through it.
Take some time to think about the purpose and reason for building up a network. It really is that simple. Once you have this, you can outline your goal and break it down in to shorter daily tasks. This makes for far more effective networking and you’ll find that it takes much less time too!
Click here to download your FREE networking plan (email required) taken from the bestselling and award-winning book “The Financial Times Guide To Business Networking“.
3.) Spend more time deepening relationships rather than acquiring new ones
Professional service firms do not sell £20 widgets. Stating the obvious, we all sell normally complex and expensive services which come with a degree of risk. This means that intermediaries are not going to automatically recommend you unless they are sure that you are the real deal and they like and trust you. This deepening of trust and a relationship takes time; time which many professionals don’t seem to want to spend on their network (Why? Why? Why?!).
If you want to network more effectively (which will save you a lot of time in the long run!), look at your current networking activities and timetable and tweak it so you are spending 80% of your networking time engaging with and keeping close to your existing relationships.
Nearly two-thirds (61%) of professionals globally agree that regular online interaction with their professional network can lead to a way in when it comes to career opportunities, so trust us when we say that there is value in building deep relationships rather than continually seeking new ones.
4.) Keep close to your existing clients
Try not to worry too much about making new connections over this time as your current clients are your number one sources of new work anyway, either from them personally or people that they recommend you to. Not only that, but work and referrals are usually of very high quality too as they know you, they know what you do and what you are looking for.
As 92% of consumers trust referrals from people they know, you should be prioritising this time to catch up with your existing clients. Find out how they are and keep yourself top-of-mind with them – this is effective networking too and you’ll soon see the rewards for doing so when you need it most.
5.) Review your current on-line and off-line networking activities
For effective networking, on-line and off-line networking activities need to be used in conjunction; there needs to be a balance and an appreciation for the strengths of each method. For finding relationships, on-line is far superior to off-line networking tools. Once contact has been initiated, however, building trust within a relationship has to involve face-to-face methods of communication.
Use this time to review and adapt your current networking activities. While everyone is indoors, prioritise online efforts. Are there any online networking tools that you can use to make new contacts and increase the number of touchpoints with your existing network? 84% of people prefer remote meetings so it may be beneficial to organise some Zoom meetings with your existing clients to touch base and keep you front of mind.
6.) Build a power team
A power team is one where you bring together a complementary group of professionals. The team may be from within your firm or outside of your firm, or a mixture of both. The idea of a power team is that you all pool resources and contacts and work hard to refer each other into your client base. Members of a power team ideally should share a similar target audience but have a different skill set or offering.
If you don’t have a power team, use this time to reach out to your connections to form one. During a time like this, many professionals will be looking for support and social opportunities so be the one to take the first step. As we said previously, referrals are powerful. Referral marketing generates 3-5x higher conversion rates than any other channel so it is worth any effort you invest now to build those all-important relationships.
7.) Be selective about where you network and who you network with
I’ve met some professionals who have confessed to me that they will even turn up to the opening of an envelope. You hardly need me to say this, but this is not a productive use of your non-chargeable time.
At a time of such uncertainty, you want your time to be as productive as possible and this is where knowing your goal comes in. If you have a networking goal and know who you want to reach, then it becomes a lot easier to decide on what platforms and who to network with. Not every group, social networking site or contact is created equal, so decide where your time spent will likely be more effective.
8.) Ditch some of your network
Yes, I did say that – ditch some of your network! Sometimes, whether for the right reasons or not, we can cling onto relationships. Relationships which may have been very promising at one point in time, but are no longer going to benefit us in the short or medium term.
Running around after intermediaries who are never going to refer work to you is de-motivational and a large waste of your time, so evaluate your relationships and do a cost-benefit analysis (e.g time spent maintaining the relationship vs the value they bring). For those relationships where the time spent exceeds the value that they bring, consider dropping these contacts to free up the time to make new ones that are of a higher value.
Effective networking means more business in less time!
Don’t add stress to an already difficult situation right now by trying to make as many new contacts as you can. This method is more like a hamster-wheel where you will have to keep running and running yet you’re not going anywhere. It takes up a lot of your time and energy, two things of which you don’t have much of.
To spend less time on networking and avoid burning yourself out, concentrate on finding the right kind of contacts and then building and maintaining all of your relationships. This makes your networking efforts far more effective as your clients are your best marketing tool. Keep them happy and then more work and referrals will come when you need them later.