Meeting people face-to-face and networking is probably the easiest way to start building good, solid trust relationships with potential clients. But it’s still not always straightforward.
Solo consultant and freelance software developers tell me building client relationships by attending events can be difficult – like time-consuming and uncomfortable difficult.
Putting people at ease, building relationships – networking is a difficult skill. Plus, it can take ages and there’s no guarantee I’ll find clients.
But here’s the good news.
Even if you’re not personally comfortable at building relationships through networking, in my experience software developers love listening to and solving a good problem.
And your desire to solve a problem – and solve it well – puts you in a strong place to start building client relationships.
If the thought of marketing worries you, go back to basics – it’s about building relationships and helping people.
Acquiring consulting clients is totally dependent on building solid relationships, not making sales. Trust is the key to strong and healthy relationships, and trust is the honest-to-goodness belief that the other person has your best interests in mind. – Dr Alan Weiss, Getting Started in Consulting
You can be extrovert or introvert, it doesn’t matter. You build a trust relationship when you have that person’s best interests in mind and when you solve a problem for them.
So now the real issue is how to do this at a networking event.
What I’ve described below is my own personal three-step approach to networking.
#1. Before the event
My goal? To get the hard work done before I’ve even arrived. For a one-hour networking event, I can spend one hour preparing.
1. I research two good events to attend each month. For each, I find the list of attendees (if I can) and contact the organiser. I explain this is an important event for me and I’m really looking forward to it. I ask for introductions to key people on the list and plan to meet up with the organiser when I arrive at the event. Basically, I’m working out who’s attending and connecting with the connector. If I can’t do this, I might not attend. I’ve spent too much time at events where I was second guessing who’d be there.
2. Having already researched the kinds of problems my potential clients tend to face, I make sure I have a few pieces of information (articles and blog posts I’ve come across or written) that I can share with them to help them overcome these problems.
3. I learn my three-second elevator speech off-by-heart. It gets straight to the point and explains how I help people. Yours might be, ‘I help consultants working in the green energy sector win more business by developing bespoke websites.’
4. I get my blogs, social media and website in order. People Google people they meet. I make sure what they find is up-to-date. I also get my Google Analytics in order, so I can see who visits my website. And I make sure I have enough business cards.
5. I plan the logistics. I make sure I know how to get there, where to park, even what to wear. Too often, I’d let the practicalities get in the way of a good networking event (getting lost, parking miles away).
#2. During the event
My goal? To connect with the kinds people who have problems I can solve and then get follow-up meetings, probably over coffee. Business won’t get done at one networking event. This is just the beginning.
1. I meet the organiser first and get those introductions. When I started out networking, this was important, because I was basically a high-functioning introvert. Networking events used up all my energy and I needed the support of a friendly face.
2. When I meet people, I try not to talk about me and my business (so difficult), but rather lead with questions and start learning about them. (This is a good approach for people who are nervous about networking – it takes the focus off you). At some point in the conversation, I’ll ask them about their biggest challenges. See tip #2 in: 3 counterintuitive tips to help you find clients. I always keep in mind, ‘I’m a problem solver. Can I help this person?’ If someone asks me what I do, I give my elevator speech and end with a question about them. Above all, I’m listening for problems that sound familiar to me; problems I can solve.
3. If they hit on familiar problems, I offer the useful information I prepared earlier and ask for their business card, so I can send the article or blog link to them. Then, if I’m enjoying the conversation, I say it would be nice to continue it, perhaps over coffee?
4. Once I have their business card or contact details, I give them my card, but actually, it’s more important for me to be able to contact them.
5. Then I’ll move on or ask the organiser to introduce me to another person. Sometimes, I’ll lose my networking mojo half way through the event, so to avoid bailing too early, I’ll make myself stay until I’ve met at least two people I’m planning to have coffee with.
#3. After the event
My goal? I’m usually exhausted after any networking event, so I try to resist the temptation to flake out and play World of Warcraft, and instead try to get the follow-up done straight away.
1. I go through the business cards I’ve collected and start sending emails:
Hi X, it was great meeting you today. As promised, I’ve attached some information that might be useful for the issue we were discussing.
It would be good to meet up again and continue our conversation. Can I invite you for coffee next week?
Kind regards, … [email signature, link to website etc.]
2. I also look for the people I’ve met on social media and follow them or send a connection request. I try to do it straight away, before they forget who I am!
3. I email the organiser and thank them. If the event’s regular, and a good one for meeting potential clients, I’ll ask to be put on their list.
4. Then I go and put my lounge gear on, flake out and play World of Warcraft.
5. Over the coming days, I’ll watch my Google Analytics for traffic.
On a final note, networking is really important for most freelancers and consultants, but in my experience, software developers who can’t find clients usually aren’t doing enough regular networking.
If you don’t have much time, or you’ve not got much experience of networking, start with local, smaller meetings and cut your teeth there. But do make it a regular part of your schedule.