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Posts Tagged ‘networking

This it the third part of my reflections on being an independent consultant.

Yesterday I shared a few standard and unconventional HOWs of networking. Today I focus on WHY.

Networking by jairoagua, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  jairoagua 

It is tempting to view networking as a just-in-case activity. You never know how a business card or a good introduction might end up being work for a client. So the first and obvious WHY of networking is for yourself.

However, I have observed such networking behaviour to come across as desperate, overly aggressive, and if I read the body language right, off-putting to the listener. There is a principled difference when a person initiates self-promotion and when a person is invited to say more.

This is like someone teaching a class that everyone has to attend but has no idea why. Here the teacher does most of the talking and the students sit back. The alternative is learning that is driven by need or desire. The signs of this are conversations that start with questions that are important to the learner and a better balance of who does the talking.

I accidentally discovered this when attending conferences, speaking at events, or facilitating workshops. After a shared experience — someone else’s talk, my seminar, or my workshop — someone invariably approaches me with questions.

My goal is to help with a question or issue, not cultivate a client. I leave it to that person to decide if they need my paid services after we chat. The returns on efforts like these are not high, but I can walk away with a clear conscience.

Another less obvious reason for networking is to help someone else already in my network. If you listen hard enough, people will share opportunities that might be suitable for someone else. I like to put these people in touch with other people I know. It is my way of creating serendipity. A more calculative person might think of this as scoring karma points, but I do not keep score because that is tiresome.

So why network? Simply because 1) it is a natural extension of events like conferences and workshops, 2) you create serendipity by trying to help others, and 3) in doing so, you help yourself.

This it the second part of my reflections on being an independent consultant.

Yesterday I shared some thoughts on what it is like to be an independent consultant. I have to depend on myself for a lot of things.

But that does not mean I work alone. A consultant’s lifeblood is probably his or her network.

Here are a few questions that a new player might have: How does one build a network? Is it important to have a large network? How large is large enough?
 

 
Ideally, you should start establishing a network before going independent. Your current colleagues might be your future clients. I have read advice from others who say that your first client should be your former employer.

Your current work might also provide opportunities to meet people from outside the organisation. These people could extend your network.

Most people rely on business cards to exchange information. But if you leave an organisation, all the information on that card becomes irrelevant. As a freelancer or independent consultant, you need new business cards and you need to plant them among the old and new contacts.
 
Type in your email address.
 
I do not find the business card process productive or sensible. People want cards for your email address or phone number. What I do with people who seem sincere is ask them to type their email address into a new message window in my phone. Then I send them a short email and they know how to contact me.

I also do not use business cards anymore because I tell people to Google me. I appear at or near the top of searches because I have established various online presence. Instead of having to discover people, they discover my work and get to know me before we have even met.
 
Meeting and chatting.
 
There is no substitute for getting out of your comfort zone, pressing the flesh, and listening to someone new. I have shared coffee or meal tables with strangers, walked up to people I barely know at evening events, chatted in lifts, or been accosted in hallways after talks.

Meeting new people is a skill, but it is also a value. Some people are just good at talking and listening. It pays to observe them and learn from them. But what is more difficult to learn is the value of valuing people. People are interesting and everyone has a story. If you think about networking that way, then it is not a job or chore but an enjoyable experience.

There is no quota for networking. I do not strive to collect X number of business cards. There is no point having 100 new contacts and not be able to call on them for ideas or assistance.

I like to think of this issue as like having a few hundred casual Facebook “friends” and a handful of close friends. Who can you rely on? Who are your go-tos? Only the people who care and the people that matter.

More thoughts on the WHY of networking tomorrow.


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