Skilled management consultants need to maintain a large and diverse portfolio of contacts to help them stay top of mind with clients and connect with new business opportunities. Thanks to the advent of social media in addition to more traditional networking, it's never been easier to build a consulting network. However, making more connections across more platforms – from industry conferences to Twitter – can increase the odds of making a career-damaging mistake.
Here are four things to avoid while growing your consulting network – along with some strategies for successful relationship building:
1. Taking but not giving
A consultant who arrives at a conference or creates a LinkedIn profile thinking, "What am I going to get out of this?" will likely find the answer is, "Not much." Remember, whether you're attending a networking event or joining a consultant network online, many of the consultants with whom you interact will be looking for opportunities, too. If no one is giving, there won't be anything to take.
Try this: As you connect with peers in consulting, learn about their experience and skills and what types of projects they're looking for. If you see an opportunity to help someone by making a connection or setting that person up with a project that doesn't suit you, grab it. Your help and thoughtfulness are not likely to be forgotten, and your peers will be more likely to return the favour in the future.
2. Limiting your exposure
Some consultants still rely primarily on traditional networking methods – such as meeting face-to-face at events and swapping business cards over lunch – to build their consulting networks. Others prefer to make connections through online social networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter. But limiting your exposure means limiting your opportunities.
A potential client who shakes your hand and chats with you for a few minutes over coffee is far more likely to remember you than someone who simply scans your social media profile. However, online social channels can make a difference, too: Many employers expect management consultants to have an online presence and are likely to look you up before deciding whether to contact you.
Try this: Build your consulting network using a mix of in-person opportunities and online resources. Be sure to bridge the gap by tying the two together. For example, your business card should include links to your relevant online consulting profiles. Keep each of those profiles updated and be sure to include calendars and announcements regarding upcoming networking events you plan to attend.
3. Keeping a narrow focus
Most consultants build their networks around others within their industry. While you'll certainly want these connections, not expanding your network into other relevant industries could lead to missing out on big opportunities.
Try this: Attend conferences, workshops and networking events focused on broader business topics or on industries related to or similar to yours. For example, attending a seminar on business ethics or social media etiquette may net several valuable contacts who can expand your consulting network outside your normal circle.
4. Expecting immediate results
Participating in an industry Twitter chat or spending a few hours at a management workshop does not guarantee you'll land a new project. Consultants eager to find immediate work may forget to focus on the relationship-building part of the networking process. Don't wait until you need something to attempt to forge a relationship. Work on developing your consulting network every day.
Try this: Focus on deepening the connections you've made to strengthen your consulting network as it continues to grow. For example, when you receive a business card from a colleague or potential client at an event, check out any links they provide to their social networks and connect with them immediately. Likewise, when they mention attending an upcoming conference, reach out to see if they'd like to meet up, or offer to connect them with another colleague who also may be attending.
A consulting network is always a work in progress. By following these guidelines, you'll likely cultivate meaningful connections more quickly and keep them for the long term.