Nobody has to tell you that, as a marketing consultant, you need a healthy network to drum up the new clients that keep revenue coming in. But if you don't already have a smartphone full of business associates and contacts, building a network may seem like an impossible undertaking – or at least a very long one.
Fortunately, the networking experts we talked to have some tricks up their sleeves. They share four ways to help you make the most of your networking efforts.
1. Know Your Ideal Client and Go to Them
The first rule of networking? Find the places your target market is hanging out and go there.
“You must know your ideal client in order to make networking successful,” says networking speaker and blogger at The Intrapreneur Life Angie Weber (@tenaciousAngie). “Going to any and every event won’t do anything if the right people aren’t there.”
Make the connection: To identify your ideal client, think about your consulting business. Ask yourself…
- What industry do I know best?
- What types of businesses have I had success with?
- What kind of owners do I enjoy working with?
- What problems do I have the most experience solving?
Use your answers to figure out how to get in front of your target clients. But remember, you don’t have to limit your networking opportunities to industry events. Volunteering for a cause or serving on a board can open doors, too.
2. Do Your Homework
You would never go in to a client meeting cold. Networking expert and keynote speaker Beth Bridges (@BethBridges), aka The Networking Motivator (@NetworkMotivate), suggests you apply the same rule to networking.
Before a major event, Bridges recommends you “find allies, whether that means posting on social media or reaching out to the organizer.” That familiarity before you go can make in-person conversations much easier.
If those early connections fall through, business coach and human resource strategist Arquella Hargrove (@arquellahargrov) suggests, “Have questions prepared for the people you meet.”
You might prepare a list of basic get-to-know-you questions, such as…
- How long have you been attending this event?
- What can a first-time attendee expect from this event?
Asking for information is almost always more valuable and less painful than making small talk.
Make the connection: Research is the key to good preparation. Chances are if you’ve chosen your event well, you already have a good sense of the organizer, sponsors, and potential attendees. Use that information to reach out over LinkedIn or Twitter and to create more target-specific questions.
Bonus tip: If your event includes a panel discussion that interests you, brush up on the topic and the speakers. That gives you an opportunity to stand out during the Q&A.
3. Be Authentic
Conventional wisdom says you should go into a networking event ready to sell yourself. However, Mallie Rydzik (@MallieRydzik), founder and CEO of the startup consulting firm Mydzik Media, disagrees. She says her best networking strategy is to listen more than she talks and give more than she takes.
Moving away from the traditional elevator pitch has led more people learn about her business "because they don’t feel they’re being sold something," Rydzik says. The added level of authenticity leads to more sales, especially with millennials.
Make the connection: Rydzik acknowledges you still have to open the lines of communication. “Many large events have apps or hashtags that allow you to connect digitally with other attendees,” she says.
Try tweeting with fellow attendees so you have something to talk about during breaks.
4. Carry Professional Liability Insurance
In many ways, building your business network is a risk management strategy – play your cards right and it can help you keep the revenue rolling and your doors open. But Angie Weber reminds us that more clients can also mean more risk, especially if you don't have the resources to match the increased demand.
“It’s hard to say no to more money in your bank account, but if you don’t have the team behind you, it can get messy,” says Weber.
Make the connection: Watch out if fast growth stretches you too thin – your clients may end up feeling more like a number rather than a valued person. Those hard feelings can easily turn into lawsuits if your work doesn't meet their expectations, so invest in consultant Professional Liability Insurance.
This coverage protects your business when a client claims…
- Your work was subpar.
- You failed to meet your contractual obligations.
- You gave negligent professional advice.
Bonus tip: Use good communication skills to minimize your professional liability risks. Learn more in “6 Client Communication Tips from Top Business Consultants.”