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6 ways to work your network to thrive as a consultant
The adage is true: You’ve got to network to get work. According to LinkedIn1, referrals are nine times more likely to get hired than non-referrals. Every consultant I interviewed for my upcoming book, Work, Your Way: Reinvent Yourself, Create the Life You Want, and Thrive as a Consultant, spoke to the importance of networking. Here are their top tips for working your network to thrive as a consultant.
1. Focus on them, not you
The term “networking” can have a bad connotation. Some people think of it as meaningless small talk and endless elevator pitches. But I approach networking with a different perspective, which is that it isn’t about me. It’s about building relationships, not selling. It’s getting curious and determining how and where I can add value to others. This is the secret of great consultants. They realize it’s about their clients, not them, and they keep their clients’ needs front and center.
2. Reframe networking as relationship building
Rupali, a communications strategist I interviewed for my book, reframed networking as connecting with others. “I love connecting with people,” Rupali shared with me. “I love listening to their stories, learning about what they’re going through, getting their advice and guidance, and finding ways I can help and support them.”
3. Always be connecting—not just when you’re looking for work
“Don’t just reach out when you need something,” Rupali told me. Make relationship building and maintenance part of your regular routine. For example, Rupali sets aside thirty minutes a week to reach out. “Set a goal for yourself, whether it’s weekly or monthly,” she advised. “Otherwise it’s one of those things that will slide.”
Deanna, a training and development consultant I interviewed, keeps in touch with her contacts when she comes across news or updates that they’d find interesting. For example, she emailed a former client after learning about a new e-learning platform. It prompted a quick virtual demo-date for them to test drive the new tool. It didn’t lead to a new project—yet!—but that’s not the point. Their ongoing communication cultivates a meaningful relationship that’s fulfilling and mutually beneficial.
When you do land that new project or role, send a quick note to update anyone who helped you along the way, Deanna recommends. It’s a great reason to reach out, and it shows that you appreciate their help and value the relationship beyond just what they can do for you.
4. “Never make the person across from you work harder”
When it comes to referrals, “Never make the person across from you work harder,” Deanna cautioned. That’s why I stress the importance of telling your personal brand story clearly and consistently, so it’s easier for others to remember and retell it. It also helps to provide the person you’re asking for help with a clear, concise description of who you are and what you’re looking for, so it’s a lighter lift.
5. Ask for referrals and intros
Rupali always asks for new connections, even when she’s not actively looking for work. To continuously expand her reach, she asks everyone she speaks with in her network if they know of anyone else she should connect with. It’s as simple as tagging, “Is there someone else you recommend I talk to?” to the end of every conversation. Rupali makes clear that in this introduction, she’s not asking her network to simply recommend her for a job.
6. Plant seeds
When it comes to networking, you have to play the long game. In fact, it’s rare to reach out to someone and find a project just waiting for you to find it. Focus on building relationships, adding value, and keep the faith that your efforts will yield results over time. I call it planting seeds.
Another consultant I interviewed, Christopher, told me about how he plants seeds, one lunch at a time.
He routinely schedules lunch with former colleagues or acquaintances just to catch up on life and work. He goes in without an agenda or expectations—he’s focused on relationship building. More often than not, when his colleagues do have a need months later, they’ll think of Christopher and call to see if he’s available.
Now it's your turn...
What’s one way you can activate your network that feels authentic to you?
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