Updated: Jun 21, 2019
When you first start as a consultant, your first engagements will likely come from your existing network. The folks in your network are likely who will give you your first contracts. They are people who already know who you are, who you’ve worked with them before, or who know you by reputation. They will meet with you. They know what a good job you do and perhaps even ways that you might be able to help them.
If you are like many new consultants, that could give you a fair amount of work for a while. You might even last a few years just working for folks in the existing network that you have. But creating a robust and lasting business will require more. At some point, you will have to expand your client base, and, because it can take a while, the sooner you start, the better!
But Where Do You Start?
Start with identifying what specific value you can provide to clients and how you can communicate in a compelling way. Do this before you start looking at ways to expand your network so you to better target how you will seek to expand your network. Once you know what you can do for your clients and how to communicate that effectively, you can start expanding your network.
In this blog, I'm going to provide five strategies for you to do just that. The goal of these strategies is to get “value-laden” exposure to more folks that could hire you. The five strategies are to demonstrate your value:
• At conferences
• On social media
• Through webinars
• Through podcasts or blogs (or both)
• Partnerships with other firms
The key is to approach each of these ways as if you are getting paid for it. The reason I say that is because offering the same level of value as you would in a paid gig is essential for expanding your network. The goal is not just to gain visibility. It's about giving potential clients a direct experience of what you can do for them and an experience of what it would be like to work with you.
Networking Live and In-Person at Conferences
The first and somewhat obvious way to expand your network is to go to places where people in your target market congregate: conferences. I don't mean simply going to conferences and mingling in the hallways in between sessions. The best way to get the right type of exposure is to be a speaker or session presenter. That is because you can use those opportunities to show your knowledge, expertise, skills, style, and approach—all of the things that make you a unique and valuable consultant!
Again, the key is to make sure that whatever it is that what you're presenting has a lot of value for whoever is going to be on the receiving end of it. Be generous with your value! Give them something that, even if they never hire you, they will walk out with something of value that they didn't have when they walked in. Give them something that they can't get anywhere else. Sharing your value will help establish your credibility with folks who don't know you today and don't know the wonderful things that you've done. It also gives them an experience of what it would be like to work with you.
Leveraging Your Social Media Presence
The second way that you can expand your network is on social media. This doesn’t mean you should rush and try to create a presence on every network. For most professionals, I would focus on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a social media site specifically for professionals, and it's an opportunity to get exposure to people who you otherwise wouldn't.
Now again, the key here is value. You want to make sure that you’re not simply going on LinkedIn and saying, "Here's who I am, and here are the services that I provide." Just as if you were presenting at a conference, you want to make sure you provide value to your social networks. That means posting things that you create that are valuable to your target market. That could be something that you wrote or a video you created. You can tell your audience a story that is valuable to them.
You also can share and repost carefully curated content created by others. This not only provides that sought-after value, but it also shows prospective clients that you're paying attention to what's happening in their market and that you're thinking about it deeply. If you are presenting someone else's content, I suggest that you also do something that adds a little extra value to that content. Rather than just clicking the “share” button, show your followers what else you bring to that content. This also helps put your stamp on what you’re sharing, even if it’s not your original content. You can add some additional commentary to give your perspective on a trending topic. You can provide an example of why this type of content is related to the work that you’re doing. You can pose a question that ties to the content you’re sharing to engage your followers and open an opportunity for further discussion.
Establishing Thought Leadership with Webinars
Webinars are a great way to share unique value with a larger audience. As with the other strategies on this list, you want to make sure to provide high-value content that matters to your target market. A few tips:
Do the webinars live. I suggest doing live webinars so that participants get an opportunity to ask you questions and interact with you. This will also give them an experience of what it will be like working with you.
Record the webinars. This allows you to repurpose them instead of doing a new webinar every time. It also allows anyone who can’t join when you do them live to view it on demand and at their convenience.
Keep them short. People are busy. It’s tough to get someone to commit to long blocks of time, especially when they don’t know you. I recommend keeping your webinars between 15-30 minutes.
Emphasize the value. It’s important to present clear, focused, high-value content during your webinar so that your attendees get a lot out of the information you provide without a lot of extra fluff.
Leverage your existing network. Ask folks in your existing network to invite people in their network. Having them invite people for you lets you “borrow” their credibility. Make it easy for them to help you! Send them an email that they can email their network.
Include a link to enable people to put the webinar on their calendar. Include a direct link to your webinar so that the person receiving it only has to click on that link to register for or join the webinar.
Broadcast Your Value in Podcasts or Blogs (Or Both!)
The fourth way to expand your network is to do podcasts or blogs—or both. Now you don't necessarily have to go through all the work of buying new equipment to start a podcast or blog. You can leverage existing things that you already have, such as posting them on your social media. You can also be a guest on other people's podcasts and do guest blogs for other people that are willing to allow you to use their platform.
Just like with anything else, you want to make sure that what you're offering is high value and very relevant to your target market. This strategy takes a little bit more time to promote it, but it can give people a good experience of you and your value. For example, I have a colleague I used to work with who works in the healthcare world and has his own podcast. He loves the opportunity to get on a podcast with really smart people from his industry and have a conversation. But he also leverages that opportunity to display his knowledge, skills, and abilities related to the topic they're talking about. The guests who come on his podcast also advertise the podcast within their network.
Getting Access to Clients Through Partnerships with Other Firms
The fifth way that you can expand your network is by partnering with other firms. You may not necessarily partner with a firm that is a direct competitor of yours—although that sometimes can be quite successful depending on the situation. But you can reach out to firms who do complementary work to what you do and talk with them about what you do versus what they do. At minimum, set up a relationship where you can refer to each other or work on projects together.
I have partnered with other organizations that do complementary work to what I do and have very successfully been able to form partnerships. In those partnerships, they send me business, I send them business, and we work together on teams. That helps both of us gain visibility in their larger market. It also both of us do more for our clients.
The single most important thing to remember in this situation is to ensure that the relationship is reciprocal. If a firm sends you business, make sure that you are also sending them business. You want it to be a two-way street so that they stay incentivized to send more clients to you.
You also want to make sure that you hold their client relationships as sacred as you hold your own. That means that if they send a client to you, you do absolutely fantastic work for them. And by holding that sacred, they will know that they can reliably send clients to you because they know that they are going to get an amazing outcome for their client. In that way, you help them be heroes for their client.
There are other ways that you can expand your network that I didn’t mention in this blog, but the goal is the same: get out into the world and show people how valuable you are!
As much as possible also look for opportunities to repurpose things that you do to expand your network. You could turn your conference presentation into a webinar or a webinar series. You could transcribe your webinar and turn it into a blog. You could post insightful quotes from it on social media. The possibilities are endless! And it will make better use of your time and effort.