When we think of marketing our professional services, we often think about all the things we need to do to be visible and get known.
“I need to have an online presence, post regularly on social media, write articles for LinkedIn, join organizations, and network like crazy, and, and, and…”
It can be overwhelming just thinking about it, and exhausting to put into practice.
But visibility in the marketplace doesn’t necessarily equate to prospective clients really understanding what you do and how you can help them. Let alone contacting you.
Visibility is only a starting point. But instead of discovering how to actually develop relationships with prospective clients we tend to amp up our visibility, hoping someone notices us, responds to us, and hires us.
But if you look at how you got your best clients over the years, I’ll bet that the majority of them came from referrals – from past and existing clients and associates who knew your work well and trusted you to deliver.
So wouldn’t it make sense to find a way to multiply your referrals? It seems like it would, but in my 35 years of working with self-employed professionals, I’ve met very few people who had a real plan to increase referrals or word-of-mouth business.
It appears that the majority of new business comes to us completely accidentally and passively. We do the best work we can and then pray for referrals.
However, in looking at those professionals who seem to get more consistent work, they have one thing in common. And it’s so simple, so banal, that most of us miss it completely.
They consistently meet with others individually.
They set up meetings over coffee, talk on the phone, or have Zoom conversations. They learn what each other is doing and share ideas, insights, resources, and connections.
Doesn’t it make sense that if you upped the number of meetings you had with business associates, past clients, and other centers-of-influence, that more opportunities for new business would appear?
It makes sense, but when I discuss this with my clients there’s often a lot of resistance. Yes, they would be happy to meet with a prospective client if they were introduced to one, but meetings with networking contacts feels like a waste of time.
Why is that? Well, I think there are two main reasons.
The first is that they don’t understand the power of networking connections. They don’t see that everyone they know is connected to dozens, if not hundreds of other people.
Last week I talked about people living in their bubbles. But if we start connecting with others in more depth, our bubbles overlap. Connections happen. Relationships grow.
Let me give you a scenario and be very conservative about it.
You know at least twenty other people in business, right? And those people know at least twenty others. That makes a total of 400 people. And then those 400 know at least 20 people each. Now we’re up to 8,000 people as third level-connections!
What are the chances that there are some great clients amongst those 8,000 plus people? Very good, I’d say.
The second reason for people not meeting with connections more consistently is that they don’t know what to say or what to do.
After all, you can catch up with a past client over coffee, talk about what each of you is up to, and then leave with warm feelings, but not much else.
They key to making networking meetings work is to both ask for help and to give help.
When you meet, the other may ask, “How’s business going these days?” And if you say, “It’s going well, I’m really excited about a project with a client that’s getting great results,” and leave it at that, you’re missing an opportunity.
In addition, you could say, “Right now I’m looking for connections to HR directors in high-tech companies who want to help their engineers be better managers. Do you know anyone I should be speaking with?”
With a very specific request like that, the person you’re meeting with will start to think about who they know who fits your profile of an ideal client. They may not know someone in their first-level connections, but they may know someone who knows exactly that person, and then provide an introduction to you.
Now, how do you make all of this work?
If you do it haphazardly, you won’t get far. You need to have a system and implement it as a step-by-step plan. One such plan might look something like this:
1. Commit to having a minimum of two networking meetings a week. That’s about a hundred meetings a year. Sounds like a lot, but two meetings will only take a total of an hour of your time every week. Everyone can fit that in. And think of all the time you waste on social media!
2. Think of who are the best people to meet with. Who is most likely able to connect you with a prospective client or at least point in that direction? Make a list. Don’t worry about perfect connections to start with. You’ll learn who the ideal people are as you meet with them.
3. Be prepared. Make sure your marketing message is clear and concise so they know what you do, how you help your clients, and what you are looking for specifically. Vague messages and requests get vague responses.
4. Make these meetings short and efficient. Let the other know what you are looking for in terms of ideas, insights, resources, and connections. And also ask what they are looking for. I suggest meetings that are under half an hour.
5. You can meet for coffee, by phone or by Zoom video. I prefer Zoom as I don’t have many connections that live in my neck of the woods (literally, I live in the woods at the top of a mountain)! Find a way that works for both of you. You might want to use an appointment booking app to make this easier and faster.
6. When someone gives you a connection, ask for an introduction (by email works well). And then follow-up to set up a meeting. You might send an email that says:
“Janet spoke very highly of you. She thought we may be able to help each other. Would love to have a brief chat with you and discover the possibilities. Would a Zoom meeting work for you?”
7. Don’t just be a taker. For every meeting you have, look at what you can give the other. Maybe nothing will happen in that meeting, but as you’ll be meeting many people over the upcoming months, you are sure to bump into other people who will have resources or connections for them.
8. A meeting like this is not a pitch session for your business. It’s a give-and-take session. But if and when you learn that this person may be a good prospect for your services, ask if they are interested in knowing more and then set up a more formal discovery session.
9. Be open to whatever happens. If you’re only thinking this meeting will be valuable if they are a prospect or can lead you to one, you are limiting the possibilities. Remember, you are also looking for ideas, insights, and resources. Someone may recommend a book or article that will change your life! So, be patient. I predict you will be surprised at the outcomes.
10. Have fun. Meeting with people, both old associates and new connections can be an adventure. When I initiated such a plan in my business, it really energized me. And I got exactly what I was looking for: new ideas, insights, resources, and connections.
Whenever we implement a new marketing strategy in our business, we often obsess over the details, wanting to do it perfectly.
Well, perfect doesn’t exist. Just follow these guidelines to the best of your ability and fine-tune as you go. The most important thing is to commit to two meetings a week. If you do that, everything else will fall into place.