In the age of LinkedIn, establishing your professional network has never been easier, but there are time-wasting pitfalls to avoid and etiquette to observe.
By Scott Charlton CPA
Be clear on your objectives
You have a finite amount of time so it pays to be purposeful as to what you are seeking to achieve with your networking. This will keep you focused and enable you to assess which activities are worth continuing.
Turn on the autopilot
I have a simple routine, which has served me well over many years – to follow up people I’ve met, those who download articles from my website or purchase one of my books. Shortly afterwards, I send them a personalised LinkedIn invitation to connect.
On their acceptance, I update the contact’s details in my database together with brief details of how we met. It’s all done in a few minutes and greatly facilitates keeping in touch.
Give to get
Don’t go looking for a referral or new business immediately from your networking – you will most likely be disappointed. Instead, look for ways you can “pay it forward”.
For example, an important time to reach out and offer assistance is when colleagues are facing challenges – for example, loss of job or a business failure. The bonds forged in these moments create lasting goodwill. In a similar vein, I also make a point of asking “How can I help?”, when accepting LinkedIn invitations.
Refer your clients and contacts
It can’t all be one-way traffic. Referring your colleagues to others who can help them is another way of “paying it forward” while being of genuine benefit to the parties concerned.
Facilitate and introduce colleagues
In the course of my coaching work, I often have the opportunity to bring people together. A good example of that is introducing an accountant to a financial planner. Some of this may happen over a business breakfast or in the boardroom; at other times, a simple “Fred, meet Mary” email to the people involved is sufficient.
While I’m not a fan of the term “elevator pitch”, it’s extremely helpful if you have a well-constructed phrase or sentence to respond brilliantly to the inevitable question, “What do you do?”. Better still, be prepared to field a follow-up question along the lines of “Tell me more”.
Don’t fake it
It’s easier, and less contrived, if you actually like hanging out with the people you network with!
Become a referable expert
It’s helpful to cultivate a reputation as an expert in a particular area. This way your name will be top of mind and the referrals you get will be a better match for your skill set.
Ask for assistance
Who better to consult than colleagues when you require assistance? The vast majority of your network would be very happy to give the benefit of their experience or refer you onto others who are able to assist.
I’ve found LinkedIn invaluable for networking. Originally, I viewed this application simply as a means to get back in touch with former workmates, but I’ve quickly expanded its use:
- To send a follow-up note after a meeting
- To obtain current contact details, including an email address
- To use the advanced-search features to identify people with whom I have 50-plus contacts in common
- As an initial icebreaker and to set the expectation of a follow-up interaction.
“The vast majority of your network would be very happy to give the benefit of their experience.”
Maintain a database
If you are going to be a good referrer, then it helps to have information about your network at the fingertips. Arguably, LinkedIn fulfils this role, while keeping itself up to date. However, I prefer to maintain a dedicated CRM (customer relationship management) system because the in-built search facilities help me quickly find who I’m looking for.
A good CRM will also track any email correspondence with each contact and let you capture other helpful aspects about the person. Naturally, you should keep good back-ups of the ever-more valuable resource that you are building.
Make proactive contact
While it’s great to accumulate a database, it’s much more powerful to breathe life into it regularly. Happily, it doesn’t take much – an occasional email, text message or touch-base phone call is often sufficient. To illustrate, I know a financial adviser who loves nothing better than to call by the office of a client or referrer with, “Got an idea to share”.
Keep in touch
Closely aligned with proactive contact is keeping in touch where there is cause to do so. By way of example, I use a preset reminder to ensure I regularly email a colleague with a long-term illness.
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Fortune favours the brave
Whereas previously I would have held back, these days I don’t hesitate to reach out to accountants, planners and other professionals I’d like to meet.
I find that a LinkedIn invitation along the lines of, “We’ve not met, but I see we have 57 connections in common” will usually get a positive response. Asking people for an hour of their time to interview them for a book or article I’m writing has also led to lasting relationships.
There is immense value to professionals in building up a network of contacts. Don’t wait until you need something. Progressively keeping in touch with friends and colleagues will open doors to opportunities aplenty over the long term.
Three essential networking tools
Interesting substance in your LinkedIn profile
Think of LinkedIn as your personal “shopfront to the world”. In this regard, LinkedIn provides generous space to describe your expertise, professional activities and personal interests. Along with a professionally shot portrait photo, ensure you include recommendations from colleagues, your qualifications and professional associations.
Top this off with some articles you’ve written, endorsements and interest groups to show you’re a person worth getting to know.
Client case studies
A well-written, smartly presented account of a client you’ve helped is a versatile marketing resource. As and when appropriate, pass such case studies on to interested colleagues so they have a clear idea about who you can assist. You could make these case studies available under a separate tab on your website.
By stepping back and analysing the type of clients you like to work with, chances are you will identify numerous issues in common. For example, it might be seasonal influences on cash flow, particular taxation problems that arise, and/or the need to upgrade their accounting system.
Doubtless, you will have developed the means to help clients solve these commonly encountered issues. A brief (3-6 pages) paper discussing these issues helps demonstrate your credentials and experience.
Are you getting the most from LinkedIn?