The bane of many service professionals is that, though they despise networking, it's necessary to grow their business. Good lawyers, accountants, consultants, and real estate agents, for example, often feel that their excellent work for current clients, alone, should bring a constant flow of solid referrals.
Unfortunately, that's not how things work. Your clients are busy and won't always remember you when someone in their network needs what you're offering. Even if they keep you top-of-mind, their networks are limited.
Individual professionals and their service firms grow when they find constructive ways to leverage and expand their networks for business development. Remembering the common ways this happens can help even the most reluctant networker jump into the necessary fray.
Here is a reminder of the most common ways your network can help.
1) Secure Business Referrals
88% of B2B buyers seek advice from their connections when making purchases. Maintaining a robust network not only lets you hear from people who would benefit from your company's offering, but it also gives you lots of opportunities to ask for introductions to people who you'd like to support.
Even if you're not in a business development role, influencing others about the value your company offers helps your company, and by extension, you, be more successful.
Your current cadre of happy clients and close friends will generally remember you when they are in conversation and discover that someone needs your service. However, if you can find an active way to continually remind them why your service is valuable and for whom, then they will be much more animated in their endorsement. Some will be so confident that your second-degree connections may even remember your name and send referrals your way too.
Related: 5 Ways a Virtual Assistant Can Make You a Better Networker
2) Build Your Thought Leadership
In today's information economy, credibility is currency, and the more of a thought leader you become, the greater your ability to grow your business and access other opportunities.
The challenge is that, as thought leadership has gained popularity, it's become increasingly difficult to prove authenticity and stand out in the crowd.
Maintaining a robust network that will share and engage with your content gives you the social proof needed to attract more followers and earn more business.
To keep your connections engaged, curate a mix of content that shares your expertise and that of other influential members in your network. Not only does this prevent you from coming across as too self-promotional, but it also encourages your connections to reciprocate by sharing your content.
An easy way to boost your content engine is to quote your connections. They will, then, more actively share your work and return the favor of quoting you.
3) Exchange Expertise
One of the most valuable benefits of maintaining a diverse network is that it offers you perspectives and advice you won't get in your company. Often, when you're struggling with complex challenges, or you're trying to decide what new direction you should take your business, asking external connections is the best way to get valuable insights.
Unlike people in your company, your professional connections aren't clouded by their emotional attachment to the way things currently are and can provide a different perspective from their experiences in the industry.
Never think that asking people for advice burdens them. People naturally love sharing their expertise. Seeking their knowledge brings them closer to you and makes them invested in your success. If handled well, asking for help can lead to a virtuous cycle where they will want to help you more-and-more. This cycle is kick started by you taking care not just to thank them, but also to let them know in detail when their advice positively impacts you.
4) Get Access to Exclusive Opportunities
A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that leaders who are active networkers have access to a significantly greater quantity and quality of business opportunities. This includes everything from early access to critical information, invitations to exclusive networking opportunities, the ability to influence upcoming initiatives, and more.
Leveraging these opportunities and returning the favor for those in your network gives you a strategic advantage that no amount of technical skill or knowledge will get you.
As an example, it's easy for me to ignore the constant barrage of emails I get from potential vendors wanting to support Prialto. However, I've found that when I do take time to meet some of the high-quality ones - even when I have no immediate need - we find ways to help each other. I sometimes introduce them to a contact who needs what they are offering and visa versa. While I'm selective about whose cold emails I respond to, I've found that I've always gotten some value from the times I engage.
5) Find the Highest Quality Vendors
Choosing the right vendors has a significant impact on your bottom line. Though you can find online reviews for most products, it can be challenging to find nuanced opinions about professional services providers. This is where your network comes in.
Before wasting time in consultations, ask your network about the vendors they work with. They'll give you a general sense of what companies are valuable, a waste of resources, and variable depending on what specific services you need.
Choosing vendors who share your values and with whom you enjoy working with has a positive network effect. You'll more easily share referrals. You'll find opportunities to share content development, and you'll find opportunities to partner.
Want to implement these networking strategies but don't have the time? Download our guide on How to Leverage a Virtual Assistant for Professional Networking. You'll learn how a VA can tackle tedious, logistical networking tasks so you can focus on building strong relationships.