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Networking for New Consultants

Posted March 15th, 2011 in Building Relationships, New Consultant Basics by Lee

networking for consultingNetworking – this buzz word is thrown about considerably now, both in terms of job hunting, business development, and as an important skill for new consultants. But if  you ask 20 people what networking means, you’re likely to get 20 different answers, each depending on how the person responding makes use of networking.

 

Why Network?

At its essence networking is simply a way to link yourself to others in order to tap into additional expertise, share knowledge and interests, and identify or create new opportunities. Just a computer network, a social or professional network connects you to others.

Whether you are just hanging out your shingle as a new consultant or have a long history of consulting, developing your professional network can play a critical part of your business strategy. A strong network provides the seeds for new business and for building your own capacity as a professional. Important as it is, though, it’s a process that is difficult for many and avoided completely by some. It helps to remember, as Wendy Gelberg states in her book, The Successful Introvert: How to Enhance Your Job Search and Advance Your Career, although networking may seem self-serving (part of the discomfort of it for many people), “in reality, networking is a mutual process…” 

At its broadest, networking takes two dominate forms – person-to-person (face-to-face or business-to-business) networking, and online social networking. Both of these forms deserve their own focus, but a quick look at both is worth doing here.

Face-to-Face Networking


networking for consultants
Face-to-face networking occurs as you meet with people during things like professional association meetings and business-to-business gatherings. It can also be as simple as maintaining contact with people you know personally or professionally – that periodic lunch out, or a quick cup of coffee together before work. Regardless of the specific context, it’s important to remember that this needs to go beyond the “Hi, here’s my business card, call me” kind of thing. For each and every networking conversation you need to have a clear goal in mind – what is it you have to offer, and what is it they can help you with? Start with your purpose in mind. Be always respectful to others, and remember that networking meetings are not sales calls! Getting and giving as a part of  the network relationship is key.  (Creative Commons License photo credit: Aidan Jones )

 

Online Networking

networking for consultingOnline social networking occurs via the Internet on sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and dozens of other places where people can come together around mutual interests and needs. Just as with person-to-person networking, start with a purpose in mind. Many networking sites have groups organized around particular personal or business interests – seek these out, join them, and participate! Keep in mind potential dangers, however, such as data theft and viruses, or people who claim to be someone they’re not. Use good common sense. Keep in mind, too, that online networking is never a replacement for phone calls and meeting in person, but it’s a great addition to what you do in person.

Whether you’re networking online or face-to-face, networking is an interesting and easy way to connect with others, gain exposure, build your expertise, and create new opportunities. Be generous in sharing your experience, ideas and talents, and remember the mutuality that networking depends upon. Have fun with it!

The Consultant Image

Posted March 13th, 2011 in Challenges for New Consultants, New Consultant Basics by Lee

 

consulting image

Is your consulant image important? You bet it is! Not just because it shapes others’ first impression of you, but it also shapes your own impression of yourself as a consultant. The consultant image you portray – in person, on the phone, in writing, even online – can make a difference in whether people trust or distrust you and whether you’ll land that new opportunity or lose it to someone else. Image also can impact your own perception of yourself and what you have to offer.

 

What image do you convey (and want to convey)?

As a consultant, people turn to you because they trust you. Or they don’t. Take a hard look at your image – what is it you WANT to portray, and to what extent does your physical image fit this? Do you present confidence and competence? Carefulness or sloppiness?  Attention to detail or disregard for ‘the little things’? You may be the most skilled person around, but if your dress, hair, cleanliness, even scent say “I don’t care” then it’s unlikely you’ll be viewed as credible and competent by others.

The little things DO matter

Not long ago I heard someone mention that they had sent out a marketing email that had a couple of small typos in it. “Oh well,” this person said, “people probably won’t notice, or they won’t care.” Wrong! People WILL notice, and they WILL care! If I receive that email my thinking will be something like this: if this person or company doesn’t care enough to get their email communication right, why should I trust that they’ll get things right when working on my project? Given the choice between someone who cares about the little things, and someone who clearly does not, I’ll go with the former every time. No contest.

Be professional

We hear that all the time, don’t we? But it’s worth digging deeply into this. What, precisely, does it mean to be “professional” in your field or industry? I know some companies where being professional means showing up to work each day in a coordinated suit. I also know companies where showing up in a suit would be considered very unprofessional and totally impractical. So what is “professional” in your work? In this regard, professional image goes beyond what you’re wearing or your ability to write an error-free email, and extends into the image your portray by being on time, every time, for example. It means following through on your commitments and delivering on what you say you’ll deliver. It means carefully cultivating the trust that is at the heart of all consulting relationships. Take time to consider just what is means to be professional in your line of work, and the extent to which you convey that image.

Your consultant image is more than just what you wear or how you conduct yourself. It’s all the hundreds, maybe thousands, of little things you do to manage the perception others have of you. Reach out to trusted friends and colleagues and get their assistance in evaluating your image. Ask them to act like a potential customer and check you out online, in person, over the phone. And encourage candid feedback – just take it all in, being neither apologetic nor defensive. Then, take what you learn through this and begin polishing the image, so your image is as outstanding as your credentials!