5 Strategies for Expanding Your Network and Getting Consulting Clients
When you first start consulting, your first engagements will likely come from your existing network. The folks in your network will give you your first contracts. They are people who already know who you are, you’ve worked with before, and/or know you by reputation. They will meet with you if you reach out. They know your value 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 your existing network.
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 defining your value proposition, that is the specific value you can provide to specific clients. Do this before you start looking at ways to expand your network so you can better target who you want to get into your expanded network. Once you know your value proposition and how to communicate it effectively, you can start expanding your network.
Focus on using strategies that give you “value-rich” exposure to the precise folks who are more likely to hire you. Five strategies that you can use to give people a taste of your value are:
1. On social media
2. Through webinars
3. Through podcasts or blogs (or both)
4. At conferences
5. Partnerships with other firms
The key is to approach each of these strategies as if you are getting paid for what you are sharing. I know. It sounds like I’m telling you to give away all your value for free. I’m not.
But it is essential to understand that the goal of each of these strategies is not just to gain visibility or exposure for the sake of exposure. Visibility and exposure do not pay the bills.
Instead give people a direct experience of the value you offer and an experience of what it would be like to work with you. They need to be convinced that you can help them solve their problems and achieve their aspirations and will be a delight to work with.
If you give them enough real value to convince them of that, your next step is easier, that is, show them how much more you can do for them if they hire you.
1. Leveraging Your Social Media Presence
Today, social media can be a powerful tool to expand your network. Much more so than when I started consulting!
But note, I said “can.” Posting on social media in and of itself isn’t necessarily going to help you expand your network and get more clients. The key is to do it thoughtfully and as part of a larger business strategy.
And rushing out and creating a presence on every network won’t necessarily get you more. Well, it will likely get you more exhaustion!
As you develop your social media strategy, first identify where the people you want to hire you are consuming social media. That’s where you should focus! For most professionals, I would focus on LinkedIn. If your ideal clients are somewhere else, go there! There is a lot of information available about how each platform works—and how to work them. But at least learn enough about how that platform rewards and penalizes posts to make it worth your effort.
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." You want to make sure you provide value to your ideal clients. That could be something that you wrote or a video you created. It could be a story that your ideal client could relate to or helps 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.
2. 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 ideal clients. A few tips:
Market it and make it easy to attend. Make sure people know about it, which means telling them more than once and through multiple means. One social media post is not sufficient. Also make sure you highlight the benefit to them of attending. That’s different than telling them what they will learn. You want to make it clear what benefits they will get by learning what you will share. Then make it easy to sign up and attend. Give people a link to enable them 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.
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 and focused on a topic that can be covered in that time. Remember, you want them to swoon over your content, not faint from exhaustion!
Emphasize the value. It’s important to present clear, focused, high-value content during your webinar. That’s high value to them, not just things you want to share or care about! You want participants get a lot out of the information you provide without a lot of extra fluff. Before you create a single slide, answer this question: What do I want my participants to know and do after the webinar? That should dictate what you put in it.
Issue a clear call to action. If you do a webinar, it should serve a business purpose. And since you are doing it to get business, tell them what to do next. If you want them to schedule a time to talk to you, state that clearly and make it easy for them to do that! Don’t load them up with all this value and make them wonder what to do next!
Repurpose the webinar content. Once you take the time to put together a valuable webinar, look for what to use the content in other ways. You can create quotes or clips to share on social media. You can turn some of the content into blogs. Trust me. It will lighten your content-creating load!
Leverage your existing network. Ask folks in your existing network to invite people in their network. It’s a low-burden way for people who want to help you to help you. Plus, having them invite people for you lets you borrow their credibility. As always, make it easy for them to help you! Send them an email that they can email their network.
3. 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—although it can be a powerful way to get business if you do it well. 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 ideal client. This strategy takes a little time and energy to get people to tune in and read your content, but it can give people a deep experience of you and your value.
4. Networking at Conferences and Events
The first and somewhat obvious way to expand your network is to go to places where your ideal clients congregate: conferences. Now, given the pandemic, many of these are still being done remotely, which is good! Aside from safety, it means you can reach a lot of people regardless of geography or their willingness to travel.
The best way to get the right type of exposure is to be a speaker or session presenter because you can 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 before. Give them something that they can't get anywhere else.
And don’t forget about Zoom fatigue! Make sure you employ techniques that will keep people engaged and interested from start to finish. That takes extra planning and preparation, but, if participants walk away feeling like that was one of the best Zoom experiences they’ve had in a while, they will more likely think that working with you will be the same.
Again, as much as possible also look for opportunities to repurpose things what you create to expand your network even more. You could turn your conference presentation into a webinar or a webinar series. You could turn it into a blog or podcast. 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.
5. 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 least 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 gotten a lot of business from those partnerships. They send me business. I send them business. And sometimes we work together on teams. That helps both of us gain visibility and 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’re going to get an amazing outcome for their client. In that way, you help them be heroes for their client.
Follow Up Like You Want Business
One of the steps that I see way too many consultants neglect is follow-up. If you do all this work to show people how fabulous working with you will be, don’t miss an opportunity to get business simply because you don’t follow up or follow up well.
If you want to hear more about how to follow up well and avoid common mistakes, I did a whole podcast on just that topic. Check it out here.
There are other ways you can expand your network that I didn’t mention, but the goal is the same: show ideal clients who don’t know you today how valuable you could be to them! And then follow up to convert them to clients.
Plus…the good news is that these strategies also work with people who already know you. Maybe they haven’t experienced the joy of hiring you yet or don’t know all the ways you can help them. Maybe they haven’t worked with you in a while, and this is the reminder they need for why having you by their side makes all the difference.