Net Casting for the Networking Challenged
In the organizational consulting field, ongoing professional development is a non-negotiable—it’s that important. I read/listen to experts in my field to acquire new ideas, perspectives, skills and techniques. Across the board, top experts assert that constant professional networking is essential for building a successful business.
As a management consultant to nonprofits, my first piece of advice to fundraising professionals is: meet everyone you can, talk to them, ask questions, listen closely to figure out what makes them tick–then find a tracking system that works for you so you can refer to it and figure out ways to nurture those relationships. Result: donor base expansion. Networking is the key to a burgeoning nonprofit.
This concept also applies to consulting practices. The road to client-base expansion needs to be paved with networking opportunities that we, as sole practitioners, create for ourselves. Makes sense, right?
But what if most tried and true networking methods aren’t possible given time constraints, our current home situation, or just feel forced and uncomfortable? How are professionals able to grow their networks without engaging in standard networking practices?
Recently, I posed this question to someone at the top of my field with a very successful, fast-growing consulting business. She is an expert networker. She’s also no stranger to unavoidable life constraints.
I’m sold on her advice, and compelled to share her wisdom. Here’s how she does it:
- Meet person whose business could benefit from consulting services, and immediately ask them to tell you more about their work/business strengths and challenges. (Notice: she doesn’t start by telling them more about her business.)
- If their description fits your particular consulting expertise, you learn more about each other. And this doesn’t have to happen right there in the room. It can be an opportunity for a “second date”.
- If their business is outside your area of expertise, let them know about a colleague who could be a potential client or collaborator, and offer to make an introduction.
Not only does this tactic help organizations find the great help they need, it helps other consultants build their business. In turn, your relationships with your consulting colleagues are strengthened, and you become top of mind when they are asked for referrals in your area of expertise.
Events feel a lot like speed dating to me, and just as surface. Quality one-on-one interactions with a true action item looks a lot like quality networking to me. It can be difficult to hear that one thing (networking) is an absolute must in order to have a thriving business, and to have that ambition, but also a reality that prohibits standard practices. Through my own professional development, it was good to learn that there is more than one path to networking with real results.