If you’ve decided to take the plunge and become an independent consultant, there are many tools you can use to let the world know you have arrived. Most people start spreading the news to people they know by reaching out to an existing network of friends, family and business colleagues. This is a great way to start, since people typically like to hire people they know.
However, you shouldn’t limit yourself to people you know today, if you plan on being in business for yourself in the long term. A huge part of any successful independent consultant’s business plan is networking – and that means meeting new people. Getting connected online through LinkedIn introductions and taking advantage of LinkedIn groups is a great way to work online avenues. Meeting new people face-to-face should also work in to the networking mix, because it’s a great way to market yourself and get leads, but how do you get started?
1. Face your fears. For many people, it can be uncomfortable to attend group events where nobody knows their name. That’s OK! In fact, it’s normal. Acknowledge the fact that you’re going to be nervous and that you will become more comfortable in these settings over time. Don’t let fear prevent you from taking advantage of meeting new people and potentially new clients.
2. Do your research and join organizations. When you’re considering which events to attend research the sponsoring organizations and the people who are affiliated with them to see if they are a good fit for your goals. You can find numerous local groups and events on LinkedIn. Do they have an active membership and regular meetings? Are the group participants people who you would like to meet? Your local chamber of commerce also offers a wide array of resources and events to connect with other local business people, and joining a chamber of commerce can keep you in the loop and help boost your visibility.
3. Go to events with a plan in mind and a stack of business cards. Set a goal ahead of time regarding the number of contacts you want to make and how many business cards you want to have in your pocket when you leave. Give your business cards out in return.
4. Have your elevator speech prepared ahead of time. If you have committed to your career as an independent consultant, this is a no-brainer. But it never hurts to fine tune and practice your “story.”
5. Seek to learn more about others. If you approach someone you want to meet and start talking about yourself (aside from who you are and your business name), you’re going to turn people off. Ask people about their business and background and why they are attending the event. In most cases they will return the favor. If they don’t seem engaged or are more interested in talking with someone else, politely step away and move on. There are many other people to meet!
6. Talk with vendors. If you are at an event where vendors are displaying their goods and services, don’t pass them by. It’s their job to learn about you, and if they don’t need your services, they might know someone who does.
7. Follow up after the event. Connect with the people you met at events on LinkedIn and follow up with a “Nice to meet you” email. If there is any opportunity to do business together, see if you can pick up your conversation again soon over coffee or on the phone. Let them know you want to learn more about their business and how you might collaborate together.
If you are new to networking events, it’s OK to proceed slowly. Just make sure that you aim to connect with more people at the next event and always keep looking for new venues to make new contacts.