In our hectic, hyper-connected lives, it’s easy to allow our conversations, meetings and relationships with one another form without forethought or follow-up. But, what if conversations were more focused and networks were intentionally crafted to provide us with more value?
As someone who has moved around in her adult life to new jobs and new geographies, I know a few things about building a sustainable network and connecting with value. In fact, when I reflect on my career trajectory there is only one position I secured through sending a resume to human resources – the rest were referrals. The clients I’ve had have also been referrals with the exception of one RFP response. So what’s my secret?
In my recent presentation on networking and effective communications to the new members of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce, I was able to address four methods to build an enduring network. So whether you’re a professional services firm building a book of business or a company selling beauty products, shoes or cars, there are a few important things to remember about growing a network that will sustain your business. It’s not about the latest social platform, it’s about connecting with value.
Don’t let networking just happen
Be deliberate about building your professional network. Don’t just walk into a room thinking, “I wonder who I’ll meet today?” Have a plan! A few days before an event, see if you’re able to view the RSVP list. If it’s not available, scan your LinkedIn or scroll your other social feeds and see if anyone is talking about the event. At the very least, use the low-tech way of reaching out to a few people you know and make a point to connect ahead of time. When you have a plan to connect with a few people in the room, you are almost guaranteed to meet at least 3-5 new people during that outing.
Think long-term continuous growth
A good professional network should be always growing and changing. Take a page out of the consumer business playbook: Chevrolet wouldn’t stop marketing its cars in a neighborhood because one person purchased one, would they? Of course not. Nor should we put one company contact in our LinkedIn and assume that one person is enough. Some of the best relationships occur when there are multiple touch points inside a company so keep introducing yourself, invite people to bring extra colleagues to lunch or coffee, and continue to sample new events outside of your usual venues if there is a chance to expand your reach into a company. I have 45 connections at one of my former client companies, and I can legitimately reach out to any of them without feeling awkward or forced.
Have a good elevator speech
Do people know what you do? More importantly do they know how you add value? It’s common in technical fields (complicated, jargon-filled language) and consulting (vague and abstract) to get lost in long descriptions. Product-based representatives have a slightly easier sell, but everyone can use a regular refresh of their elevator speech. Most of us don’t practice ours regularly, so try running through yours a few times before the next event. You may be surprised at how much better the conversation flows and the questions you are asked improve as a result of your solid introduction. A good elevator speech doesn’t just help someone understand, it helps them remember you as uniquely positioned to provide a product or service in a way no one else does. And, it’s important in the elevator speech to be honest about what value you provide and what types of clients or business you’re seeking. When you do, you will naturally attract the types of clients you want more frequently, and naturally select out those that aren’t quite right for you.
Connect with value
So let’s say you’ve built a great network. If you’re in professional services, how often do you ask for favors and introductions as compared to the times you offer your own services, help or connections? If you’re in a product-based business, how often are you hard selling as compared to building the relationship or adding extra value though showcasing relevant content or remembering an important date of your customers? I do check-ins with my key contacts about once every other month. I send an article, offer an opportunity to speak, coauthor or attend an event together, or connect each person to someone else I know. It’s doubtful that I’ll derive short-term benefits from it. But the long-term value of an engaged and connected network is well worth the few extra minutes.
In the end, it’s really a very simple process: if we are deliberate about selecting clients, customers and business partners, descriptive in the way we approach our storytelling, and disciplined about always adding value, our networks will naturally expand and deepen.
Meghan Gross is a Vice President at Pierpont Communications with more than 25 years of experience in corporate communications, reputation management, employee engagement and crisis communication. Based in the Eastern Corridor, Gross has worked with large companies in Boston, legal and other professional services firms in New York, associations in Washington, DC and more.