One of the biggest barriers I hear potential partners tell me about is actually finding and making the time to grow their own client portfolio. It is no surprise then that it is often the lack of a client following which stops so many talented professionals from making the step up to partner.
Networking is often seen as the silver bullet to generating new clients – get it right and you will have new clients falling over you (or so the thinking goes). However, all too often, professionals find their networking activities a huge drain on their time, energy and spirits.
For more effective networking that will save you time and win you business, here are our top 8 tips to getting it right.
8 tips for effective networking
1.) Stop collecting contacts
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 at networking events? 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.
From time to time, I am contacted on LinkedIn by professionals keen to have me as a client. Whilst, this is always very flattering, I am very upfront and honest with these approaches – i.e. I will explain that I am happy to talk to them, but I am not looking to change my supplier. After this polite rebuff, I never hear from these people again. What a waste of a message to me? If you’ve been given the chance to have a conversation and start the relationship with a prospect or intermediary (regardless of whether they say they need your services) take this opportunity! Be realistic with your expectations, you are not going to get the sale based on a one chance meeting or email.
2.) Have a goal
Going networking because you feel you have to is frankly soul-destroying and a form of professional torture. In fact, networking is so ingrained in so many professional practices psyche that going out to networking events becomes part of the way ‘we do business around here’.
It doesn’t need to be this way. In fact, the sooner you decide on the purpose and reason for building up a network, i.e. having a goal, the sooner you can ditch the networking events which are a waste of your time. OK, there will always be occasions when you receive a call asking you to sub in for someone else at the last minute – but that should be the exception rather than the rule!
By simply having a goal and reason to network, this makes for far more effective networking. Think about it, if you have a goal, you know what events to attend and what you want to get out of them and as a result, you spend much less time on it too!
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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. 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
Your current clients are your number one source of new work either from them personally or people 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.
If you only have a limited amount of free time to network, then it makes sense to use this time to catch up with your existing clients. Find out how they are and keep yourself top-of-mind with them – you’ll soon see the rewards for doing so.
5.) Rebalance your on-line and off-line networking activities
Far too many professionals discount online networking. Yes, I know I have been banging a drum about the power of online networking for over 3 years now but there is a reason for it, and that reason is for finding new prospects!
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.
If you find that you don’t have enough deep and strong relationships in your network, then allocate more time in the short term to some 1:2:1s with your network. If you are finding that you are struggling to make the time to go to networking events, then how about using on-line networking tools to make new contacts and increase the number of touchpoints with your existing network?
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.
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.
If you have a networking goal and know who you want to meet, then it becomes a lot easier to decide where and who to network with. Not every group, venue, event, 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!
Winning more business doesn’t mean spending more time networking or making 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.
If you want 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.
How do you make sure your networking is fit for purpose?