In this Business Development Clinic, we consider what you need to have thought about and researched, BEFORE you go networking – even if you are meeting the right people.

Let me tell you a true story of a good friend of mine. Let’s call him Steven. He took the decision to move from the relative security of a job which bored him to go freelance. Like many lawyers, accountants and other professionals, he had done his homework. He knew that networking and ‘getting out’ there was the best way to win work.

He’d also attended many courses on networking (strategic, face-to-face, on-line), consultative selling skills. In fact, he’d pretty much done the whole business development syllabus which many mid-tier and large firms offer. Add into the mix, that this guy, with a family and mortgage to pay, was very committed to getting out there and winning work.

He had lists and structured plans of who he was going to target, and how he was going to do this. In case you are wondering, Steven is well liked, with many friends wanting to help him make a success of his new career. [sc name=NetworkingPlan] You could say, he had everything in his favour. He went through his little black book of well-placed contacts and also got all the introductions he could to buyers (with budget) of his services.

He’s now an expert in quiet hotel bars to meet, as well as conveniently placed coffee shops. But have any of those coffees come to anything? Very little, is the honest answer. What’s the problem? After all, he’s done everything the text book has said, but not yet had an avalanche of work from his very diligent networking.

Herein lies the problem. It’s a problem which many lawyers, accountants and other professionals face when trying to build up a client portfolio. Meeting people is not enough. In fact, meeting the right people, as Steven found out, is not enough. Before you start to spend time on pressing the flesh, you need to have done some homework.

That homework will help you move from cosy chats into a situation where you have a motivated buyer for your services, with a budget to be able to work with you (or your firm) So, what homework is needed?

Firstly, you need to have something to say. Regurgitating the same-old same-old isn’t going to cut the mustard. What do you know about the industry which you can share? What pieces of thought leadership – whether published articles, or blog posts can you share? What’s your thing? Potential clients don’t want to just chat away, they will want you to come up with some ideas or thoughts which will help them.

To help you decide who to meet, download our guide to content planning. Secondly, you need to know your potential client’s buying criteria. What are the barriers to them buying? If you can’t find a way of removing these barriers, then you will struggle to get work from your network, regardless of how diligent you have been networking with the right people.

Thirdly, do you have a solution which you can offer your network? Now, I’m not talking about selling here. Typically, from your networking meeting, you want to gain a commitment from the person you are meeting.

This could be an introduction which would help you, or maybe an offer for a further conversation (whether or not there is a piece of business that you can help them with). Without some clearly defined and targeted solutions or services, which are tailored to the sorts of clients you want, then the cosy chat is likely to stay a cosy chat.

We have a great course in our subscriber-only site Progress to Partner  called How to Make time for Business Development.  The course gives you the structure, clarity, and guidance to create a daily business development habit and a business development plan that is focussed and not just based on friendly coffees!

Author Credit: H2MP book image jpgWritten by Heather Townsend. I help professionals become the ‘Go To Expert’. I am the co-author of ‘How to make partner and still have a life‘ and the author of the award-winning and bestselling book on Networking, ‘The FT Guide To Business Networking‘. To find out whether wecan help you, have a look About Us .  Why not connect with me on  LinkedIn and Twitter ?

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