Our firm has been fortunate recently to attract new business and gain the trust of some key, valued new clients. This always makes me happy but also a little nervous, as I am fiercely loyal to my clients—both the old ones and the new ones. While it’s important to constantly be “mining” for new work, it is even more important to keep focused on the work you have, which means doing excellent work for all clients—always. That is at the core of our business mantra and it has paid off as word has spread. But doing great work is not enough. You also must have a trusted network of business referrals that will recommend your work to others. This takes time and herculean effort to attain. We get most of our new business from people I have known as well as from our client base. In most businesses, keeping the pipeline of new work (or future work) full is vital, especially in B2B or service based organizations (CPA firms, law firms, etc.). It is not easy to produce a network unless you have been in a community for some time AND you have paid attention to the sales and marketing coaches out there. Meeting people—face to face—is vital in business and is something that social media can really boost or kill, depending on the situation and the leadership of the organization. Here are some tips on building your network and helping your organization turn into one that is sought after and ultimately successful:
1. I know I have beat this drum a lot but you have to work your butt off in your 20’s and 30’s if you really want to have a network that can add to your net worth down the line. I wrote an earlier blog post about some of this but it’s very true and even more important today.
2. Get out there and meet and talk to people. Social media and your iPhone cannot replace the benefits (and sales) you get from face to face conversations with clients. I fear our society is losing its ability to effectively communicate. So much is lost in emails, tweets, texts, etc. I tell my team that if you have to email back and forth more than once or twice, pick up the phone and talk to that client, reporter, vendor, etc. My team rarely sits in our office as often we are out in client meetings all over the region.
3. Pick volunteer, civic and professional activities (associations) that help further your career. For example, if you were in the healthcare field, you would try and align your professional goals with those in organizations most relevant to you. Once you have joined some of these, get active and step up to leadership positions, which helps you become known as someone who is a do-er. Actions speak louder than words. Businesses love people who can get the job done and then some.
4. Stay close to your clients and try to keep them for life. Many of our clients are keepers and you can really help them more when you know them well. The more we do for them, the more we can do for them. It’s a great cycle and one that progressive and growing companies understand.
5. Stay plugged into what is going on in the community and seek out “like-minded” people and people who are moving the needle in the same direction. Conversely, stay away from people in business who do not have goals, drive or the smarts to try and move up. I see young professional talent wasted because they “hang out” with those who don’t have the same drive and initiative. It’s also important to stay positive and stay focused on your goals.
6. Collect people in your professional network and stay connected to them by introducing them to others and constantly finding reasons to be in front of them. We do a lot of networking lunches in which we introduce clients to others we believe could add value for them. Often we are responsible for introductions that lead to sales and there’s the real ROI for our clients. This cannot happen if you don’t have a network and if you don’t really know your network.
7. Stay the course and your contacts will eventually end up in the C-Suite, especially if you know how to pick them! Many of my contacts are now at the top of their game, which means they are decision makers and owners. These are the people who can hire you and will. But once you have been hired, you also must be good.
8. Don’t take advantage of the network! Give to the people in your network; always look for ways to add value and it will come back to you automatically. I see people who do something for someone with a specific agenda and expectation. Sometimes this works but honestly, it’s easier and more productive to try and do for others and forget it. If your energy is spent keeping score instead of playing the game, you’ll be disappointed.
9. Finally, use social media to boost (not kill) your network. If I discover someone on Twitter or Facebook, and I think they would be someone I would like to know in real life, I try and find a way to meet them and learn about what they do. Sitting behind a computer all day is not the best way to build a network unless you are a blogger and/or have an online businesses. If you are in the service business like I am, I try and flip these social media contacts into real ones. Most of the time, I have not been disappointed. I have met some of the most incredible people on Twitter and they are now in my “real life” network—sometimes sending me business opportunities.
What are some other ways to increase your professional network?