Networking with your clients may appear to be an art, but I submit it is science and that should you cannot avoid it because you say to yourself "I'm not a good networker". Anyone can be a good networker if they try. While it feel difficult, I have found following a process like the one outlined below can make it feel easier. Plus, it works.
- Make a client list that you want to focus on: Be careful not to choose only the ones you have the best relationships with, but also those that understand and focus on relationship development. If they have asked you to make introductions to them, they belong on your list and should be focused on all year. Those that resist, you may want to put on the bottom of your list.
- Get dialog going. This is the easy part; call, have breakfast or lunch, take in a ball game or just visit their office with cookies. Focus on getting to know them better and asking for business will be much easier.
- Be helpful. Once you are passed this point, then you can figure out how to help them. Who do you know that might make for a good introduction? Can you help them resolve issues that they are focused on? Even just being a sounding board helps.
- Follow up. Just like keeping the weight off is harder than losing it, so is follow up. But it is most important. Try to think of creative ways to keep in touch. I have sent books I've read, emailed articles or TED Talks that I think may be interesting, share things from my life (by now you all know my passion for cricket), or checking in on what ever we spoke about last. This approach I believe builds a strong connection between you and your client. And when you are at a point that they will accept a dinner invitation that includes their wife or husband, then you have arrived!
Ask for help. Now comes the biggest challenge: asking for help. Difficult to do, maybe, but if you don't, your relationship may not blossom. If you treat their contact well and help them, it's as much a favor you are doing for them that they do for you. When they introduce you to someone that hires you, it validates their decision to work with you, which also makes them feel good.
Keep up the activity and results will come, and before you know it you will believe that you are "good at networking”!
David DePietto is the founder and CEO of NexFirm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org