Too often, we see executives take on an engagement that is four to five days per week for a period of time and neglect their business development efforts and networking tips during that time. Their efforts don’t pick up again until their engagement is close to the end, at which time their previous efforts have lost their momentum. Out of sight, out of mind. If you only keep in touch with your contacts when you are looking for your next engagement, their ability to keep you top-of mind decreases.
Business development is one of the most time-consuming, yet extremely important parts of being independent. At one time or another, every executive will be challenged with keeping a consistent portfolio of clients. Some of the more common sources for business are networking and referrals.
Even though referrals are the number one source of business for independent executives, we are starting with networking since it often leads to the referrals. Networking doesn’t necessarily mean going to event after event. The initial goal is getting in front of people and making new connections. Every person you meet is a connection and you never know where it might lead. Below are some of our basic tips for networking.
Networking tip #7: Extend Your Network
Another friend has a rule when he’s looking for work: never eat alone. He has every breakfast, lunch, and dinner scheduled with someone he’s just met, or from his network. Basic math says that is fifteen connections/reconnections per work week. Using LinkedIn math, how many people are each of those fifteen connected to? By implementing this strategy, as long as you communicated effectively, you’ve just extended your network, too.
Networking tip #8: Follow up
If you say you will do something, get it done right away, not a week later. This is part of your brand.
Networking tip #9: Connect and Reconnect
Use your marketing tools. Get connected to each person you meet, whether you meet with him or her one-on-one or not. These are two basic ways to easily stay connected and updated (and vice-versa). Think of these networks as your mailing list/marketing database.
Send a LinkedIn invite (always with a customized message). Then continue to keep in touch with them on at least a quarterly basis reaching out with information that might be of interest to them, such as an article, blog, news, etc.
Follow the person on Twitter. If you aren’t quickly followed back, send an e-mail follow-up and request a follow on Twitter, along with something that might be of interest, such as an article you wrote or one you recently read and thought was interesting.
Send an occasional e-mail with an article or blog that you wrote to keep you top-of-mind and that continues to demonstrate the types of areas you are a thought leader in.
Networking tip #10: Leverage Connections
Follow and respond to updates/posts from your connections—send congratulations or endorsements and use them as a reason to stay top-of-mind or to get together. Send out updates on what you are doing; even if people just see your name, you can stay top of mind. Today, social media is your publisher. Get your message out across all digital sites (website, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.). Even though most of your connections may not be potential clients, they may know people who might be. The more consistent you are with your brand, your messaging, and publishing, the more you will stay top-of-mind for the right reasons. And stay in touch. We cannot stress this enough. There are too many resources available to you not to stay in touch with people. Comment on something they posted, send them congratulations and a “let’s catch up” note when they switch jobs, or send them a message with an interesting article. Entire industries have been formed around news aggregation. We have yet to have someone say, “Please don’t share recent news or interesting articles with me.” Even though they may not read them, doing so helps to keep you top-of-mind.
As your career ebbs and flows, you may focus on some areas more than others. In the current age of technology, in which 87 percent of consumers use more than one device at a time, attention spans are dwindling. If you want to stay top of-mind, you need to be consistent in your efforts.
Kristen often tells the abridged version of how she and Pam met and got to know each other as members of a large nonprofit board. The punchline of the story is that they met through networking. As Kristen was making the transition from a full-time career executive to being independent, she networked, networked, and networked. Through about five different connections and working on an association committee, she was ultimately referred to a large nonprofit board where she and Pam then got a chance to initially work together.
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