In previous posts within the Seller-Doer Tools series, we looked at several techniques that involve limited personal interaction with prospects and clients – content marketing, which takes many forms including blogs, and social media, which is a way to connect with prospects online and create a “virtual network.” We also looked at warm calling, leveraging a relationship or knowledge to make a connection that isn’t totally cold, and account mining, which entails developing deeper relationships with existing clients.
This post is focused on an extremely effective tool for establishing new relationships and enhancing existing ones: networking.
This also happens to be a tool that many professionals fear unnecessarily, primarily because they’ve never been properly taught how to network. There’s too much “stranger danger” apprehension among technical professionals, and a persistent misconception that networking is only for extroverts. In reality, introverts and ambiverts possess the skill set to be very effective networkers. Furthermore, you are networking every day, whether you realize it or not! You already know how to do it!
There are many resources available to help you become a skilled networker, but A/E/C industry-specific options are minimal, and many of the resources don’t delve deeply into real-world scenarios and recommendations.
That’s why I wrote this book, Networking for A/E/C Professionals: A Blueprint for Seller-Doers. Like several of my other books, the content began life as an educational presentation, later evolving into a book. The guide contains more than 150 tips to help you through the networking process, from pre-event planning to the event itself to post-event follow-up. You’re only as strong as your network, and thus networking skills are critical at every stage of your career, whether looking for your first job, advancing within your company, or running your own firm.
Rather than reiterate the content of the book, I want to briefly address the “why,” “what,” and “where” of networking. You could literally attend a different networking event every night of the week, every week of the month. But who wants to do that? Knowing the right places to connect is just as important as possessing great networking skills.
As Simon Sinek likes to say, “Start with why.” That’s a good place for you to begin, too. Why are you attending the networking function? There are myriad reasons:
- Become better known in the community – meet local leaders
- Develop firm name recognition
- Build your personal brand
- Meet prospective clients
- Meet “influencers” and “connectors” – people who can help your firm gain new commissions and meet the right people
- Gain competitive intelligence
- Find potential teaming partners
- Meet potential future employers
- Catch up with friends and colleagues
- Fill in the blank: ________
Once you determine the “why” of networking, you must next determine the “what.” What are you hoping to get out of attending an event? What is your goal? There’s an opportunity cost associated with networking – both in terms of company activities and personal time. If you haven’t articulated the “what,” don’t go. Your time is way too valuable.
After you’ve established answers to the “why” and “what” questions, the final question to answer is “where?” Where do you need to be to accomplish your “why” and “what”?
If you want to network with local leaders, then perhaps a local chamber of commerce event, economic development organization program, or service club meeting (Rotary, Sertoma, Kiwanis, Lions) makes sense.
Conversely, if you are looking for teaming partners, you may want to focus on A/E/C industry organizations like SMPS, AIA, ACEC, AGC, USGBC, ULI, etc. For those firms doing federal government work, the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) is a great place to develop teaming relationships. These same organizations also provide excellent networks if you are looking for a job.
Prospective clients often gather in their own affinity groups. Some organizations cross multiple industries, like the International Facilities Management Association (IFMA), while others are very industry-specific, like APPA for higher education (formerly known as the Association for Physical Plant Administrators) and ASHE / American Society for Healthcare Engineering for health care.
There are many tradeshows and conferences serving the various industries, and these provide fertile ground for networking. There may even be local, regional, and national conferences and expos to consider, depending upon your reasons for wanting to network and the geographic territory you’re focusing on. In the marketing vernacular, this is your target market. Define your target market demographics (industry, organization type, organization size, geographic location, contact profile, etc.), and then focus your networking activities there.
Once you figure out why you are networking, what you are trying to accomplish, and where you should be, you can then start to plan your networking activities and build upon your skill set.
That’s where Networking for A/E/C Professionals: A Blueprint for Seller-Doers comes in. The content is broken down into easy-to-digest sections:
- Why Networking is Important
- What Networking Is & Isn’t
- Who Belongs in Your Network?
- Before the Event
- Know Thyself
- During the Event
- How to Determine if Someone Belongs in Your Network
- Potential Stories to Bring
- After the Event
- Grow & Nurture Your Network
The book is formatted for those of us with short attention spans – 150+ ideas/recommendations, each with a few supporting paragraphs. That way you can go back again and again to use it as a refresher!
The book also contains a list of more than 70 affinity organizations and societies, borrowed from another one of my books (Reputation Design+Build: Creating Winning Personal Brands for Engineering, Design & Construction Professionals). Additionally, you’ll find a list of resources – books that will further enhance your networking abilities should you wish to elevate your knowledge. From the back-cover, the four primary reasons you may want to read the book:
- Discover the networking techniques that you feel most comfortable with
- Learn to utilize networking tools to expand your contact base and develop deeper relationships
- Analyze your current network of contacts to determine who belongs in it and how it can grow
- Identify the most important contacts in your network and develop a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program to maintain regular contact
Once you’ve read it, drop me a note to let me know your thoughts. Do you have some great networking tips or lessons learned along the way? What tips worked best? I also offer a half-day networking skills workshop and would be happy to discuss it with you. Reach me at 717.891.1393 or firstname.lastname@example.org.