When you’re a consultant, clients don’t drop into your lap. The hard truth is that you to have to go out and find it. Networking is a reliable strategy for building a pipeline of business. But where are the best places to network?
Industry conferences, events and workshops aren’t only powerful sales venues for big companies. They also can be fruitful sources of leads for the individual consultant. The trick is to aggressively work them so you get noticed by speakers and attendees.
The next time you attend an event, try two or three of these approaches to spark conversations with potential clients.
- Perform on stage. Identify a few appropriate industry conferences and submit speaking proposals. Many events offer a range of opportunities, so it’s not necessary to land something as big as the keynote to stand out. Or, ask to sit on a panel or run a workshop during one of the session tracks.
- Steal the stage. Look for opportunities to ask questions during sessions, but be smart about how you do it. Don’t ask something simply for the sake of asking. Rather, be sure to contribute value to the speaker’s presentation.
- Identify potential clients early. Before you leave for the conference, review the list of speakers and attendees carefully. Make note of the people you want to meet, and use LinkedIn and company websites to research their backgrounds.
- Begin networking before the show. Reach out to top prospects before you arrive at the conference. Use LinkedIn to see who you might have in common and ask for an introduction. Be bold, and make plans to meet over coffee or lunch.
- Embrace the networking sessions. Opening night receptions, mixers, golf outings, area tours and boating trips – most conference organizers try to schedule as many opportunities as they can for attendees to network. Plan to attend one or two of these each day.
- Arrive early and stay late. Make the most of each networking opportunity. Arrive early to meet the organizer, who will often know several of the other attendees and can make introductions. Stay late to catch any last minute stragglers. Also, once the room is emptied out, there’s a chance of landing an impromptu, in-depth conversation with a worthwhile contact.
- Learn how to read the room. Be sure to use your time wisely by approaching only the best prospects. As you enter the room, pay attention to body language and nonverbal cues to find colleagues who are willing to make connections, Sue Shellenbarger writes in The Wall Street Journal. Groups that seem to be struggling to start a conversation present good opportunities. As you approach, make sure you have a few good topics ready so you can jumpstart the discussion.
With a solid networking strategy, you can easily grab the attention of potential clients and begin building a strong pipeline of promising leads.