We can talk about your marketing engine, sales key performance indicators, and business bottlenecks all day long. But if you're in the consulting business and are not putting your relationships first, I'd say there's only so much you can grow. Both personally and professionally.
Yesterday I came across a great quote from the entrepreneur and investor Ben Casnocha on how to find opportunities:
"Every opportunity is attached to a person. Opportunities do not float like clouds in the sky. They’re attached to people.
If you’re looking for an opportunity — including one that has a financial payoff — you’re really looking for a person."
But talk is cheap, and when things get busy we tend to focus on delivery and end up neglecting relationships. Contacts that are an important source of joy and business don't hear from us for months. We stop meeting new interesting people, and our energy level drops.
This happens to everyone, including me. So what I did - and later started helping clients to do as well - is create a system that makes it easier for me to increase and nurture my network as part of my routine.
This system is surprisingly simple, and is composed of three activities:
- Meet more relevant and interesting people, adding them to my network;
- Nurture the relationships with selected current contacts;
- Periodically review the system to ensure it doesn't turn into a side-job.
Here are a few words on each one of those.
If you have an effective marketing engine and do sales, you will meet a lot of interesting people as prospects. A couple of my closest friends were first my clients in the past, and I still catch up with many consultants that are not a good fit for my services but produce fascinating work.
Keep in mind, however, that your goal in sales calls is to acquire new business, not make friends. Those relationships are built over time and come as a by-product of transparent and frequent communication, and from you showing you care.
I enjoy meeting people with whom I can exchange value - I learn from them, and they learn from me. They might be industry peers, other entrepreneurs, or even direct competitors. Another good tip is to connect with people you disagree with - they will likely be outside your social bubble, and can put you in touch with people you would never meet.
Professionally, you should be always connecting with "centers of influence". These are people who have a strong network and can easily introduce you to other relevant contacts. Attorneys, accountants, and financial advisors may bring more business to you than many high-profile digital influencers out there.
As for the second activity, I already wrote a bit about the importance of nurturing prospects and dream clients in the past. A key distinction here is that nurturing, for me, consists exclusively of one-to-one communication.
Someone who receives your newsletter or listens to your podcast will definitely consider hiring your services, and may even refer business to you. But you don't know anything about them: their current situation, their needs, their worldview. A private conversation allows information to flow in both directions.
Now, the average consultant has hundreds of relevant contacts - if you add acquaintances and social media connections, the number goes to at least a couple of thousands. Starting private conversations with each one of them is clearly impossible - unless you want to change your title to "professional networker".
That's why I added the third activity to my system: perform a periodic review of the system. It consists of:
- Updating your CRM (automate what you can, and hire a virtual assistant to do the rest);
- Segmenting your contacts, and creating a plan of action for each segment;
- Analyzing your current workload, and pre-committing time and resources (add the activities in your calendar and marketing engine).
Pre-committing time and money is essential. Because many consultants know they have to network, but when it’s time to take an hour out of your day or invite someone to lunch the plan goes out the window.
If you’re not taking the long view, you’re doing it wrong.