Building a professional network is not an overnight thing, but you can accelerate your success if you do it right. Here’s how…
New professionals (and even some seasoned partners) in, say, the law and accounting professions, are highly qualified and super smart. But not usually confident or effective when it comes to winning work. If you feel that way, it’s not your fault. It’s not part of your training nor your qualifications. But it’s vital to start somewhere. The starting point is building a professional network from scratch that will serve you for the rest of your career. Every bit of relationship capital will create you an asset that will reap dividends for years to come.
A network is a living, breathing thing. It evolves. It’s fluid and constantly changing. Sometimes it grows when you’re not looking. Other times you build it intentionally, brick by brick and conversation by conversation. A network in its purest form is simply a bunch of names. A list. A database. It only works when you work it. You’ve got to invest, engage, reach out and nurture. Having lots of contacts is a reason to brag for some people. But a million twitter followers or LinkedIn connections would do you no good at all if they were the wrong kind of people.
A good networking strategy starts by asking the question ‘who do I want to meet?’ You should be hunting for four kinds of people that are most valuable to your BD efforts. These are people who…
- …have bought from you in the past (past and present clients)
- …might buy from you in the future (prospects, leads, targets, pipeline)
- …could have influence with either of the above (introducers, other professionals, referral partners, door openers)
- …can potentially support you in your BD efforts (mentors, coaches, advisors, colleagues, friends, admin)
Once you’ve identified either the KIND OF or EXACTLY the people you need in your network, ask yourself ‘where can I find them?’ That leads you to identify the right events, online platforms and face to face scenarios which will put you on their radar. This forms part of your networking strategy.
Of course, you’ve then got to get out there. That means enhancing your networking skills. Working a room, introducing yourself, asking good questions, creating upenings and following up properly are all coachable skills that unfortunately few people get taught.
A one off workshop can instill a little confidence, but the truth is, only a longer term ‘academy style’ intervention will bring the changed behaviours and habits needed to win business. This approach yields better ROI for firms and delivers not just short term impact but long term sustainable behavioural change. That’s why it’s what we do – it’s the only thing that truly works.
Back to you building your network from scratch, do it intentionally. Rather than look for direct prospects, start by building a network of potential introducers, referrers and strategic partners. To find identify those, ask yourself these seven questions:
- Who could potentially support you in your BD efforts?
- Who seems to be moving in the circles you want to move in?
- Who could maybe open some doors for you?
- Who might be motivated to help you?
- Who could possibly have the means or resources to further your cause?
- Who might have influence with your targets that you could maybe leverage?
- Who is serving your target market but doesn’t compete with what you do?
Some of these people you already know. Some you may know of. Some you may have to uncover by going to existing contacts and describing to them these kinds of people. These are your virtual sales force. Your network of brokers, intermediaries and introducers. Your army of advocates, fans and champions. Your door-openers and 3rd party endorsers.
Without them, BD will be hard. Referrals will be rare. Opportunities will be random, unqualified and remain hard to convert. You’ll be competing more on price than value. And you’ll be in the middle of some pretty stiff competition.
Your network is a time machine. It wins you business faster. It gets you there quicker than traditional marketing methods such as cold calling, direct mail, advertising and email marketing. You could do it on your own. It take you a bit longer than necessary. And why struggle to build a phenomenal network in 5 years if you can do it in 2? This is exactly the kind of stuff we cover in the BD Academy, which has helped one large accounting firm generate £1m of new business in just 12 months. Could we help your firm too?