Skilled management consultants need to maintain a large and diverse portfolio of contacts. This consulting network helps them stay top of mind with clients and connect with new business opportunities. With the rise of social media — now combined with more traditional networking — it's never been easier to build a consulting network.
However, when you have more connections across more platforms, it can increase the odds of making a career-damaging mistake. Here are four things to avoid while growing your consulting network, along with some better ways to build good relationships:
1. Taking but not giving
What happens when a consultant arrives at a conference — or creates a LinkedIn profile — while thinking, "What am I going to get out of this?" The answer is likely to be "not much." That's because many of the consultants you interact with at a networking event or online will be looking for opportunities too. And if no one is giving, there won't be anything to take.
Try this instead: As you connect with your peers, learn about their experiences and skills and the types of projects they're looking for. Then help others in your consulting network by making connections or by setting them up with projects that don't suit you. Your help and thoughtfulness are not likely to be forgotten, so your peers are more likely to return those favors in the future.
Here's another way to make connections: Search consulting jobs available through Robert Half Management Resources and find your next opportunity.
2. Limiting your exposure
Limiting your exposure to social networking means limiting your opportunities. But some consultants prefer traditional networking methods, such as meeting face-to-face at events and swapping business cards over lunch. They reason that 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.
Try this instead: Build your consulting network using a combination of in-person opportunities and online resources. Then bridge the gap by tying the two together. For example, your business card should include links to your relevant online consulting profiles. To make this approach work best, you'll need to keep each of those profiles updated, including 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. Obviously, these connections are important. But if you don't expand your network into other relevant industries, you could miss out on big opportunities.
Try this instead: Attend conferences, workshops and networking events that focus on broader business topics — or on industries related to or much like yours. For example, if you attend a seminar on business ethics or social media etiquette, you might make several valuable contacts who can expand your consulting network outside your normal circle.
4. Expecting immediate results
Say you participate in an industry Twitter chat or spend a few hours at a management workshop. Unfortunately, that doesn't 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.
Try this instead: Don't wait until you need something to attempt to forge a relationship. Work on developing your consulting network every day by deepening the connections you've already made. This helps you strengthen your consulting network as it continues to grow.
For example, when you receive a business card from a colleague or potential client, check out any links they provide to their social networks — and connect with them immediately. Or when they mention attending an upcoming conference, reach out to see if they'd like to meet up. You could also 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 be more likely to cultivate meaningful connections and keep them for the long term.