It’s so much easier than starting from scratch. That’s because the relationship is already there. Of course the foundation of any great relationship is good communications. And to maintain a great working relationship even when you’re not working together.
I have been very lucky in my business. Almost every single client I ever had (I’ve been in business for 16 years) I’m still in touch with. When they go on to new opportunities I’m usually the first person they contact to see if we can work together. When I started a new company a few years back, I reached out to some of them to be on my Advisory Board. The nice thing about these relationships is that I’m always thinking about my clients and how I can help them and likewise they are looking out for me. This is actually true with colleagues and business associates in my network as well.
Heather Townsend put out a post listing 17 ways to get more referrals from existing clients. It’s useful. Here’s an 18th – stay in touch with my clients over the years even when your not working with them. I take some clients to lunch when they’re in town, and find ways to help them. Even if we don’t work together for long periods of time, I stay in touch. So when they do have a referral, I’m top of mind.
A lot of business (particularly service businesses) is done by relationships. Chemistry is one factor that helps to foster those relationships. Sharing an experience is another. That’s why networking is important. (Yes online networking is important as well and chemistry and experience sharing occur there also but my focus in this post is on in-person networking encounters).
Now, don’t just jump up and run to the nearest networking events – there are too many each day. So you have to be selective.
Here are some tips that work for me on events:
- Select events that interest you – it’s easier to start conversations and ask questions of panels if you’re interested. Also once you’ve asked questions, people are aware of you and may approach you after the panel.
- Stretch – go to an event that’s geographically different – cross the river – if you’re in Manhattan, go to Brooklyn or New Jersey. I’ve gone as far as the outer suburbs of Philadelphia. I was in a networking event in Newark, and had the opportunity to meet Christine Quinn, President of the New York City Council, and chat with her for a few uninterrupted minutes – I might not have been able to do that in a Manhattan venue (especially in her district) because when she’s local, everyone wants to meet her. A few months later, I ran into her again at another event and she recognized me – we chatted again and I was connected to her chief of staff for ongoing communication with her. Valuable connection.
- Use social networking to find out which events are high quality. Sometimes someone in the know will offer you a discount to the event. Almost always someone will direct you to a good event and maybe even one you hadn’t heard of before.
- Get to the event early – I often wind up speaking with the guest speaker or panelists prior to the event before anyone knows who they are – after the panel, they are usually surrounded by lots of people.
- Go no matter how you are feeling – sometimes just walking in the door without any expectations brings nice surprises.
- Don’t expect to meet everyone. That results in lots of business cards in the trash later.
- Networking is not limited to a time and place – I know colleagues that got business by chatting while waiting on a long line at a professional meeting. Here are some other networking ideas http://adminsecret.monster.com/benefits/articles/1211-alternative-places-to-network
In my entrepreneurship classes, I sometimes run into an individual who is shy and says they can’t network. There is one universal answer: “get over it!” If you are starting a business, the single most important factor in the business is you — YOU ARE YOUR BRAND. You must get out there and network because people are buying you.
Here are some more tips on how to make your networking succeed: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-bernard/six-tips-how-to-network_b_1954824.html
Sandra Holtzman teaches CEO 035: Licensing.
She is the author of Lies Startups Tell Themselves to Avoid Marketing.