The subject of networking came up recently while I was working with one of my favorite clients, a financial adviser who leads a large team. As we were discussing how to best position his team for growth this year, we reviewed their networking strategy and the list of local boards, events and industry associations they would be active in.
After that list was complete, I suggested we discuss the firm's social networking strategy and do the same: Make a list of profiles, active groups and overall connections.
The adviser looked at me like I had lost my mind. He said he did not see what his firm's social networking strategy had to do with its traditional networking efforts.
Today's financial advisers fall into one of three camps: Either you are a traditional networker who joins boards, attends local events and meets in person with connections who can help you expand your business; or you are the self-proclaimed guru of online networking, the financial professional who has mastered LinkedIn and perfected your tweets to build your network and expand your reach; or, lastly, you are one of the few holdouts who does not network either in person or online and relies on word of mouth.
Whatever your preference, it's time for a change. Networking today demands that we all accept the inevitable and make both face-to-face and social networking a key strategic initiative for 2015. A solid and active networking strategy will not only ensure your firm stays well-connected to your clients, it will also provide an opportunity for you to remain highly visible in a crowded market.
You and your firm need to make as big an impression online as you do in person, and your clients and prospects need to be networking with you using both platforms. Why?
1. Decreased effort, increased results: Think about how much time it takes to network in person. You have to leave the office, drive to the event, attend the event and drive back to your office. While there is nothing more powerful than connecting with someone in person, supplementing your in-person networking with online conversation more than doubles your networking efforts without doubling the time invested.
First thing every morning, I grab a cup of coffee and reach out to connect with three people on LinkedIn. It is not only easy, but it keeps me in touch with so many more people. And when I do see them in person, it is easy to continue the conversation.
2. Visibility without annoyance: One of the key goals of networking is to meet people who will eventually become clients. But that takes time and rarely, if ever, does a prospect become a client during a single networking event. In order to build that relationship, we have to stay visible.
Online networking gives us a great opportunity to do that without being annoying. While networking in person is powerful, if you showed up every week asking someone to have coffee or lunch, they might come to see you as a pest. But by combining your in-person networking with some online opportunities (commenting on their LinkedIn profile, posting on Facebook, sharing a new blog) you are able to more clearly define your brand and stay visible.
3. The excuse you need: One of my favorite parts of using this dual networking strategy is the information that it gives me.
Keeping up with your contacts on any social networking site gives you so much information about what they are up to and the changes in both their lives and their companies. All of which translate into reasons to contact them. I just booked a keynote presentation for a large financial conference because I saw that my contact was celebrating 10 years with his firm. When I reached out and said congratulations, I suggested we get together and grab coffee and catch up. One thing led to another, and once again the combination of networking in person and online easily led to more business for both of us.
Don't think just because you have an active Facebook page, a solid LinkedIn profile or a record number of Twitter followers that that is enough. Clients still want to talk with you, meet you and know the person they are hiring is as good in person as they appear online.
Meridith Elliott Powell is a business growth expert and the author of several books, including “Winning in the Trust and Value Economy: A guide to business and sales success” (Global Professional Publishing, 2013).