Are you thinking about starting a consulting business but afraid that your network won’t hire you? You aren’t alone, and it shouldn’t stop you from following your ambition.
Fear of ‘network failure’ is a common concern of new consultants, and one of the main reasons that talented people put off becoming a consultant. It can be easy to build up any fear out of proportion, particularly when considering a big change to your life.
So, when it comes to your network, is this a real fear? Or is it just in your head?
Honestly… It’s a little bit of both!
Your network could be inadequate to support a new consulting business. But for most professionals far enough along in their career to consider building a consulting business, the necessary network exists. It is just about cultivating that network in the right ways.
Even if you don’t have a strong network, this article will help you get started building a network that will get you hired! Keep reading to find out why there’s no need to worry about not getting hired, and learn the tricks of the trade to grow your network and land clients.
What does a good network look like?
One common fallacy for new consultants is to assume that your network needs to be huge. You don’t need an address book that’s brimming with contacts to start out as a successful independent consultant. As in most things, quality trumps quantity every time. So, what does a quality network look like?
For starters, it doesn’t need to be enormous. If you have over 500 contacts on LinkedIn, this can be an encouraging metric that demonstrates there’s gold to be mined. But if your contacts list is more diminutive, that doesn’t mean that your network isn’t ripe with opportunity.
A good network has valuable contacts whom you trust. Trust is the very foundation upon which harmonious working relationships are built. And by valuable, I mean that you trust in their ability to put you in touch with key decision makers who are in need of your unique combination of knowledge and skills.
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If you know even one or two of these high-quality contacts, that’s great. If you know a handful, that’s fantastic! Even one or two of these contacts can help you to get a foot in the door and land your first few clients. Impress these people and you’ll sow the seeds for a successful consultancy that does sustainable business.
Never underestimate the power of good old-fashioned word of mouth. Not only will impressed clients keep coming back to you, but they’ll also recommend you to key contacts within their own networks when they have need of your skills.
How to get started as a consultant
Having appraised your address book and identified a few contacts with potential value, how do we convert these opportunities into a steady stream of clientele? A common fear among those preparing to make the leap into full-time consultancy is that their network won’t take them seriously in their new role. They may worry that their contacts list is too small and lacking in opportunity.
This is an understandable fear, but it shouldn’t keep you from attempting to find success within your network. Of course, for you to find opportunities within your network, you first need to have a network.
If you’re starting out from scratch, your first port of call should be LinkedIn. This is a great resource for building your network and improving your visibility so that new prospective clients know a little about who you are, and what you can do for them. Start adding people who you’ve worked with and impressed professionally in your previous jobs. Take a look at people they know and add anyone who you think might benefit from your skills and services. Take particular note of people who look like key decision makers or have direct access with key decision makers that they could put you in touch with. The last thing your burgeoning consultancy needs is to waste time approaching people who have no influence within their organisation.
Your network is not only a potential source of clientele, it also provides opportunities for self-improvement. You can use your network to learn more about your skills and areas where you may need to develop. Don’t be afraid to glean valuable insights from your contacts from a client’s perspective. This can help you to build upon your skill set and become a better consultant.
Remember that a good consultant is always expanding his or her network. They are always meeting new people every week just to chat. Once a personal connection is established, trust can be built. It might take weeks or even months before this trust leads to a paid gig but successful consultants stay in work by keeping their eyes on the long game and the short game.
How to ensure your network will hire you
So, now that you’ve built up a sizeable network of real quality. You have good relationships with key decision makers and you’re sowing seeds that will hopefully blossom in the long term…
But how does this lead to you getting paid?
First of all, you need to build a name for yourself. Your reputation is your most valuable asset as a consultant and it is your biggest determining factor in getting contacts to convert into clients. This is why your first few consultancy gigs are of paramount importance. Clients need to know that you can walk the walk as well as you talk the talk if they’re to trust you with their enterprises. Deliver real results in your first few jobs and other prospects will see that you’re worthy of their time, their trust and their capital.
Staying active on LinkedIn is vitally important, even if social media usually isn’t your forte. The beauty of this platform is that it doesn’t just provide you with the potential to make contacts, it also provides potential for thought leadership. Through the platform’s blogging function, you can demonstrate your knowledge, skills and expertise as well as your personality and wit. After all, wouldn’t you be more likely to hire someone if you thought that they’d be someone you liked?
When blogging, be sure to create content that is of value to your clients and your prospective clients. Posts should be a digital amuse bouche which provides a free taste of the services and perspective that you provide. If it helps them to solve a problem they experience frequently or addresses an issue they face regularly, they’ll find value in your content and in you.
Engage with other linked in users. Comment on their posts. Keep conversing with them, even if you know that they have no use for you in the immediate future. This will help you to keep your name and your face at the forefront of their minds. This means that they will be much more likely to think of you when they have need of your services.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that all of your networking should take place in the digital realm. You should always take time to meet with 3-6 people every week even if it’s just for a coffee and a chat. Networks require maintenance and effort. Even 20 minutes of shop talk over a cappuccino can go a long way towards providing value for a prospective client and ensuring that you’re ever-present in their minds. Fail to cultivate your network in this way and you may find that you lose the business of neglected clients to other consultants.
Cultivation is key!
Don’t let risk aversion keep you from taking a leap of faith in yourself and starting your own consultancy business. If you’re still clinging to the security of your day job, that’s understandable… But the good news is that it’s never too early to start building and cultivating your network. So long as you’re not using company time or resources to do it, there’s absolutely no harm in starting to build your nest while in your current position.
Starting to cultivate your network now will help to mitigate the risks that come with making the jump from salaried work to full-time consultancy. What’s more, it can help you to glean information that will help you to make a stronger, bolder start.
You can get an idea of how your network feels about the idea of you becoming a consultant. You can get an opportunity to figure out where your most marketable skills lie, and learn where you need to improve. It can provide you with the time and the resources to lay a strong foundation for your consulting business… And ensure that your network hires you!