Networking is an essential tool for business development — maintaining a network allows a person to develop, learn more about their industry, stay on top of hot-button issues, increase their public profile and meet new clients.
For many, traditional networking conjures up the image of a stuffy business meeting or a crowded conference. But maintaining a network can be achieved by staying simply in contact with friends and creating a plan to grow together.
WHY A NETWORK MATTERS
In professional services, networking is critical as referrals are a major component of business development. That next referral may come from a happy client or a former colleague who went on to new opportunities and is familiar with the services offered or a friend of a friend who is only vaguely aware of the industry.
The most direct benefit from networking is business development. Attending an industry event or joining an industry association may pave the way to meeting a new client or call attention to a rising trend that may inspire a company to consider new service offerings.
It may also lead to meeting a connector — someone with no need for the services offered but works in the same circles and may have clients who would benefit from these services. In accounting, that may be a lawyer or banker who works with the same types of clients and can help make those connections.
WHAT A NETWORK MEANS
Most advice about networking focuses on how it will benefit an individual and their business. But I have found that the best way to approach networking is through building a community. Consider one’s service offerings as a particular set of tools and their network as additional tools in that toolbox.
Instead of looking at which contacts will best serve you and your business’ needs, look at each individual in your network and how you can grow together. Referrals and knowledge sharing go both ways, and helping out a contact can feel akin to investing time in a friend.
HOW TO LEVERAGE A NETWORK
In many ways, maintaining a network is not very different from maintaining a friend group. It is important to be intentional.
- Check in with them regularly: Whether that is over lunch or over email, it is important to cultivate professional relationships. When attending the same industry events, be intentional about scheduling face-to-face time.
- Pay attention: Many people keep notes on their clients in a file with any relevant interests or preferences. Consider doing the same with professional contacts. Having insight into the organizational challenges they are facing may present an opportunity to help.
- Share interesting news or updates: No one likes to be spammed, but sharing an article that relates to a past conversation or introducing them to a service that addresses a challenge they have mentioned can help them and build up one’s profile as a person who is helpful.
Your network, whether those are friends, clients or even acquaintances, will be your advocates. If they know and appreciate the work you do, they will be your biggest supporters and referral sources.