For Clare Long, owner of Norgay HR Consulting, networking forms a core part of her business, both in terms of identifying new clients and establishing new referral partnerships.
Speaking on the My Business Podcast, Clare shares her tips for maximising the effectiveness of your networking activities:
1. Don’t ignore your existing network
As Clare points out, it can be easy to overlook your existing contacts in favour of trying to chase down new ones.
“I'm still very actively networked in the HR community as well as in the business owner community,” she explains.
“Just [have] lots of conversations, lots of coffee.”
2. Target more than just new customers
Clare’s networking activities actively target two distinct streams: prospective clients and potential referral partners.
“I'm always looking for referral partners, yeah. I would never say no to a referral partner,” says Clare.
This involves identifying which professions hold the keys to your target market and then actively networking within those circles.
For Clare, accountants make great referral partners, as they know the ins and outs of their clients’ businesses and so can make referrals when they see a genuine opportunity for their clients to benefit from her skills and experience.
3. Get to know your competitors
Networking with your competitors may seem like a strange idea, but Clare suggests this can be a valuable source of client leads and ultimately result in the client’s best interests being serviced.
“Other very good referral partners for me [are] actually other HR consultants who may not have the experience that I have or may not have the experience in a certain area. I collaborate with them as well, so they're other good referral partners,” she explains.
4. Be consistent and reliable
Showing up here and there at networking events may actually hinder your return on the time you invest, and Clare says she benefits greatly from making set networking opportunities a core part of her weekly routine.
“On the networking side, though, I became far more selective on the networking that I was doing. I'm part of a BNI [Business Networking International] chapter, a very active chapter,” she explains.
“We're very, very proactive. We take our membership very seriously. There's a lot of accountability in place. That's how I do my networking predominantly now.”
5. Have patience
It may not be what you want to hear, but the greatest returns from networking come over time, says Clare. This is particularly true when establishing referral partners, but converting leads into customers also often takes time.
“You just can't expect a referral from someone who doesn't know you,” she says.
“A referral network [is] about building relationships and you cannot expect a referral in that first 12 months.”
Clare says it is the same with clients. Depending on your industry, most clients will want to research you and your business and build trust over time before parting with their money.
“I'm not impatient when it comes to getting my next client. I don't have a target sales lead time or any of that stuff.”