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Networking

2010 January 11
by MKS

As a consultant, you should always be on the lookout for your next gig. Typically, you do not do mass-market advertising – no radio, TV, or print ads. You need to strike a balance between being busy enough to support your lifestyle and financial/professional goals, and having the time available to pursue your personal goals and to enjoy the fruits of your success.

So how do you keep busy? Networking.No, I don’t mean building a home or small office network (though that’s important too!), but contacting potential partners and clients, shaking hands, handing out business cards, and building up good contacts. Finding new customers is not an easy task – but depending on your industry, you’ll have different challenges.

As before, its critical to identify your target market, and to use appropriate tools. If you’re looking to engage with larger Enterprise clients, you’ll need to focus on skills / areas which appeal to that segment, whether its Enterprise Strategy, Reporting / Business Intelligence, or large Datacenter management strategy or tools. It often helps to focus yourself on a particular product in your key skill area, building up your expertise, and then focus your networking skills on that product.

This could include things such as writing articles (and getting published – whether in print or on a website), attending product-specific seminars (even better – speaking or exhibiting at one), and even meeting and getting friendly with your competitors! That’s right – today’s competitor is tomorrow’s partner. Its a very close-knit world, and referrals from others in your industry may be a key source of getting new work, whether its because your “competitor” is too busy to take on the work themselves, or because the job may be too big for a single person, and combining forces keeps the customer happy while keeping the work “in the family”.

If you’re in a smaller segment, such as mid-market or small business, your rates and type of work also change. In these types of environments, word of mouth from your clients and referrals is even more critical. You can often leverage the networks of your clients – its as simple as asking your key contact “Hi Joe – I’m always looking to keep busy, do you have any friends who also need “x” (networking, reporting, website development, etc) that you’d be willing to refer for me?” While a referral gift might be appreciated, its important to strike a balance between a “kickback” and a small gift to express your thanks – you don’t want to fall afoul of conflict of interest or vendor/procurement management regulations and get your client in trouble.

The most important thing though, is to just network. Keep a stack of business cards in your wallet, and hand them out liberally to anyone and everyone that might even have a remote interest or connection to your service. While you may be a network consultant, and don’t see the relevance of giving your card to a real estate agent, you’d be surprised to learn how many agents refer various service providers to their clients, whether its residential or commercial real estate. Often, your cards will end up in strange and wonderful places, and you may get a phone call or email out of the blue from a completely unexpected source!

Don’t forget about an online presence. Make sure you have a simple, professional website that is specific enough to tell people what you do, and how to get in contact with you. A flashy, overly glam and obscure website may “look” impressive, but unless it can quickly identify how you can help a potential client, and give them a quick and easy way to contact you, its worse than useless – its actually losing you customers! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a fancy consultant website that doesn’t really tell me what the company does (besides “expanding strategic horizons through leveraging business process optimization and changing paradigms”!), or goes through such a fancy flash intro, that I get bored and jump away from the site. Its even more frustrating if I can’t find a quick way to get in touch with someone on the site, whether through a chat box, or at least an email address that’s answered by a real, live person.

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You can either use a template driven website, or create your own. Since I use a Mac, I’ve created my own website using Apple iWeb for my corporate site, while this site was designed using WordPress and a free theme. Either way, if you’re a tech consultant, there’s no excuse for not having a web presence, with your own domain and hosted email.

Another great option is to list yourself in a professional directory for your specific area. Examples of these are special interest group sites, such as for Project Managers, Business Analysts, or even Networking consultants and programmers. Don’t underestimate the power of LinkedIn, FaceBook, Twitter and Plaxo as well – social media methods can also get you great results – more on these in a later article.

Lastly, don’t underestimate the value of good old fashioned networking. Talk to people you meet, shake their hands, and let them know what you do. Be specific, and give them your card. If they ever come across someone looking for your services, or might need your services themselves, you’ll be sure to get a call.

That’s all for this week, let me know of other methods that you use to effectively network and build your business!

MKS

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