Most independent consultants are familiar with the usual networking tactics: Become active on social media, work your professional connections for leads, and join industry associations. While these are effective ways to produce quality leads, it’s worth considering some other, more strategic ways to expand your network – and find leads that are a better fit for your business.
These six strategies can enhance your efforts and help you find the kind of work you want.
- Develop an Independent Project. Work examples can be a powerful differentiator. That’s why most of us talk about past employment and client projects when we make new connections.
But investing time in an independent or not-for-profit project can lead to paying work. It gives you the chance to expand your network by inviting others to contribute and meeting new people who’ll benefit from your efforts, or may even want to invest in them.
Such projects work well for software developers who are inspired to create apps or games. For independent consultants, starting their own niche news site or creating online courses can promote their expertise and lead to more opportunities.
LinkedIn’s advanced networking features might hold the key to your next project.
- Use LinkedIn. Most professionals focus on creating a robust profile on LinkedIn and keeping it updated. However, that approach misses out on some of the site’s best networking features. For example, look under My Network. You’ll find ways to help grow your list of connections:
- People You May Know and Find Alumni uses LinkedIn data to connect you to past colleagues and fellow graduates of your alma maters.
- Advanced search for people and companies can help you pinpoint new connections who might hold the keys to your next project.
Once you identify the right contacts, use the InMail feature to reach out and request a short introductory phone conversation.
Combine your passion with your professional need to make more contacts.
- Volunteer. By using your expertise to help a nonprofit achieve its mission, you can combine passion with your professional need to make more contacts. Volunteer to sit on the boards of organizations you support, or chair a committee or event.
- Share Your Expertise Freely. It may seem counterintuitive to give away your expertise, but becoming a thought leader is an effective way to make new connections. Contribute articles to industry publications, start a blog, participate in webinars, give free workshops and speak at conferences. Each of these gives you an opportunity to meet new people and develop relationships that can lead to new business.
- Join a Recruiting Network. Find organizations that specialize in matching independent consultants with project work. They can be valuable sources of both connections and specific project leads.
- Network with Friends and Family. Although it’s long been common wisdom to keep our professional and personal lives separate, that’s short-sighted advice, especially in highly competitive industries.
Don’t hesitate to let your personal contacts know what you’re up to, and be sure to help them understand the type of projects you’d like to land. Be bold and ask for references. Personal contacts may be your best sales force, because they can vouch for your credibility and integrity. Such recommendations carry heavy weight.
Done well, these networking strategies can help you target the right prospects, while also expanding your network in new directions.