One of the challenges many people face is figuring out how to turn these great networking relationships they’ve developed in their industry into actual work. Having loads of contacts on LinkedIn does not necessarily mean that work will walk in the door. It is difficult to develop a relationship in the context of trying to get a particular piece of work. Building a relationship is a long-term process that may take many years. One of the best ways to start the relationship building process is through working with that person – you get a strong understanding of what drives them, what their goals are, and how they work. Continuity is important – contacting someone on a consistent basis will help develop that relationship. Don’t be afraid to share personal information (if you are comfortable with it) to create a stronger connection. Running into the contact once a year by chance is not building a strong relationship.
Some strategies to turn relationships (clients or others in your industry) into work include:
Find out what is keeping your contact up at night. What are the biggest issues facing your client/client organization;
Keep informed about your industry – and share interesting information with your contact. “Did you hear about……” is a great entrée to start a conversation;
Ask your contact “Do you know of anyone who might need assistance with x, y, or z?” (which just happen to be your areas of expertise) You aren’t asking your contact outright for work, just if they know anyone who might need your assistance;
Ask your client if there are any logical follow-on tasks to work already ongoing (have some ideas in mind);
Ask a client project manager to introduce you to his/her manager or other organization staff;
Find out what professional activities your contact is involved in or would be interested in;
Participate in conferences, workshops, and professional associations;
Co-write a paper/article on a completed project or innovative solution.
Relationship building is key to the business development and sales process. Most of the time, we feel more comfortable buying products/services from people we know and trust. The same is true of your contacts and clients. Be persistent and consistent in your relationship building and over time you will see the results.