A lot of coaches and consultants tell me they get some of their best leads from building relationships that began at live networking events.
However, like most people, their lives are busy and they cannot spend all of their time just going to networking events though they would prefer to knowing that's one key way to build a decent pipeline of leads and referral business.
I'm always amazed at how few coaches and consultants I talk to who don't utilize social media as a 24/7/365 virtual networking event.
At a live networking event would introduce yourself to others, ask some questions to get the other person talking about themselves and what they do until they inquire more about what you do. You exchange cards and follow up after the event -- maybe you have coffee or lunch or they introduce to another contact of theirs that has a need for what you do...But, by and large, you initiated a relationship at the live networking event that you nurture beyond the event.
You can do a similar thing online, all the time -- you don't have to wait for specific events.
In particular, I use LinkedIn in the way I'm describing...
Using the People You May Know section when logged in to LinkedIn, I look for folks who are 2nd level connections (meaning we both share a mutual 1st level connection) who have a title of owner, founder, or something similar. When I find someone that I would be either a decent prospect for my business or referral source I reach out to them to network.
I'll be very transparent about my intentions to connect (it's important to be honest and transparent, especially if you're trying to begin a relationship with someone you don't know).
In my brief message inviting them to connect with me, I mention why I'm interested in connecting and why I think it might be mutually beneficial for both of us to connect.
If they accept my invitation, I immediately follow up with a direct LinkedIn email message to them to inquire more about what they do and how I might be able to be a resource to help further their endeavors -- and I'm genuinely interested in being a resource for them as I know the more I'm able to be a resource for others without expectation of anything in return the more people keep me in mind to refer business to me -- it works.
From there, if I'm able to initiate a virtual connection, I suggestion taking the conversation off-line with a simple 20-minute putting a voice-with-a-name, getting-to-know-you phone conversation. The quicker you can get the relationship off-line and live, person-to-person, the quicker you can build trust in the relationship and feel more comfortable being a resource to each other and referring business to one another.
Beyond that, providing consistent effort as I've described above, and maintaining your network of contacts by regularly staying in touch will help you to generate leads and referral sources even if you can't get to live networking events.
Posted by: Nick Venturella