When I started my own business I had a 20 month old and a 3 year old. My decision to be my own boss, similar to many accountants who decide to set up their own practice, had been preceded being made redundant, whilst the global economy crashed. Yes, that was three years ago. As my business was started in haste, I didn’t have the luxury of pots of savings to full back on or months of diligent preparation. My redundancy pay was, shall we say, not as generous as I would have liked it to be. All these reasons meant I needed to put food on the table quickly, but without the luxury of being at every networking opportunity available. Childcare made it difficult to get out there. For example, I’ve not yet found a nanny or childminder who is willing to start at 06:00 at the morning to let me go breakfast networking. In addition, evening networking events tends to get expensive when you factor in the cost of a babysitter for the evening.
Let’s forget the cost of physically being there – I also didn’t want to spend large amounts of time away from my family. My whole reason for wanting to be my own boss, was to enable me to build an income around the demands of my young family. So, I needed a safe and easy way of building my profile without having to actually get out there and physically meet folks.
So how did I do that? And, more importantly, how can you learn from my example regardless of whether you are building a client portfolio, or just making sure your profile is high within your firm?
1. Know who is important to you
If my experience working with delegates on business networking courses is anything to go by, most people have not sat down and thought about who they need to spend time with, and why. If you only have limited time to physically ‘be there’, then choose wisely which events you will ‘be there’, and who you will be spending time when you are there. For example, if you are employed, then who are the top 10 people who through their influence, position or budget can help you achieve your business goals? If you can only meet 2 people each week for a coffee or lunch together, who should be those two people?
2. Use social networking sites
Ten years ago, when social networking sites were in their infancy, it was all about phone, email or meeting up in person. Now, you can keep in touch through many different channels – phone, email, meeting, skype, text, twitter, LinkedIn, facebook. For example, when I was working a 3 day week, I used to keep up with all the gossip in my department via Facebook. Sites like Twitter and LinkedIn provide you with a one to many communication tool. This allows you to have conversations ‘little and often’ between the 1:2:1 interactions, such as a phone call. My use of Twitter and LinkedIn now negates my requirement to be at large conferences or mix and mingle events. I tend to use them to make initial contact with potential prospects and introducers.
3. Have a rolling 3-6 month relationship plan
When you know who is important to you, and which events are important for you to attend, then write a relationship plan. Every 3 months re-visit this plan and extend it for the next six months: Decide whom you need to phone, email and lunch to keep the relationship strong and healthy. This should be time outside of the day-to-day work stuff – i.e. time to get to know them better. Write this plan for the next 3-6 months, and diarise it. If you have the luxury of a secretary or PA, involve them in booking your meetings and making the plan happen. If they know whom you want to meet physically, and in what frequency then you can delegate this down to them to make this happen.
4. Write a blog
One of the best ways to keep yourself on your network’s radar is to send them carefully selected articles from time to time. Of course, you don’t need to have personally written these articles, or assume that you need to write all of them. Your own blog gives you a voice, a publishing outlet and a way of raising your profile and credibility with people in your network.
5. Be innovative with the time you have available
If, like myself, you have spent anytime in professional services, you will know that in this industry the standard ‘getting-to-know-you’ medium is lunching. Now, I like a good lunch like the best person – but there are more options than lunching. How about, meeting for a drink after work, having an early evening meal, having a breakfast meeting, going for a coffee, going to an event together – the list is endless. Within your company or industry, there will be a standard preferred getting to know you mechanism. This doesn’t mean to say you need to slavish follow this route.
What else would you add to this list?