Considering Going Solo as a Communications Consultant? Build Your Network Now
My professional life has taught me that there are natural networkers and there are people who would rather have a root canal than network. The good news is that you don’t have to be a born extrovert to become an effective networker. But if you want to work as a solo consultant, you do need to prioritize networking in a way that fits your personal style and hone your ability to forge and maintain meaningful connections with others in our industry.
Early in my career, I knew starting my own business was on my professional bucket list. But the thought of taking the big step of going out on my own made me more than a little nervous. Would I really take the leap? For a number of years, it was a far-off goal, but as time went by it was always a goal I worked toward.
I built a resume of varied corporate communications experiences so that I was positioned as a versatile corporate communications “ninja” who could handle whatever came my way. This meant I took a non-linear career path, but I knew that I had a plan.
But equally important was all the preparation I did in the networking world. I committed to always finding a way to stay in contact with key people at whatever job I had, or whatever vendor I worked with.
Then one day I was part of a surprise mass layoff. Many trusted and beloved colleagues joined me in departing our company on that sad day. But you know what? Over the next few weeks and months, most of them went on to land amazing new jobs – and in a lot of cases the new job was a notable step up.
And that good fortune was true in my own case as well.
Now I had close former colleagues at numerous companies throughout the country. Networking with them came naturally because I sincerely wanted to keep in touch. Over time, the meet-ups and dial-ups turned into opportunities for my business.
Professional networking was absolutely critical as I launched my company and it remains a core reason why Evo Communications has been so successful. I know firsthand the power of networking. And you can absolutely use networking to your advantage too – whether you're an extrovert, introvert or something in between.
IDENTIFYING YOUR NETWORKING STYLE Without question, networking can be a mixed bag. At times, it’s something that can give you tremendous energy; other times it can drain you.
There are lots of ways to network.
Attending conferences, going to big professional development events, working whatever room you’re in, focusing on one-on-one networking meetings either in-person or virtually, posting frequently on LinkedIn, getting involved in hobbies where you think you may find clients, joining professional organizations, regularly checking in via email with former coworkers and other contacts … the list of beneficial networking tactics goes on and on.
You don’t have to experiment with every networking approach. The key is to gently push beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone, try some different approaches and see what works best for you. You can develop your own style of networking that truly feels like it fits you.
NETWORKING TIPS AND TRICKS Over the years, I’ve learned what networking strategies work best for me. I’ve also
paid close attention to what the best networkers do and I have tried to emulate their techniques. Here are some suggestions:
Don’t go in cold. Whenever possible, do some prep work to make the most of your time – and the time of the person (or people) with whom you are networking. Look up each networking contact on LinkedIn and connect, review mutual connections and closely review their professional history. Based on what you learn, identify one to three specific ideas for how this person might be able to help you.
Make it reciprocal. Networking is a two-way street, even if the other person is much more experienced than you. Try to identify one to three ideas about how you might be able to help the person in some way. Who could you introduce them to? Is there an upcoming professional development, conference or networking event that might be of interest to them? Is there a recently news article, white paper or book you could suggest to them? Even if they ultimately need nothing from you, making the offer to help or sharing a useful piece of information can go a long way.
Be bold. If you’re seeking work as a corporate communications professional, there’s nothing wrong with sending along a resume, profile, website, online portfolio link or writing clips. It shows you’re serious. The key is to demonstrate top-notch etiquette by politely asking if the person could either briefly review some of your materials or share them with any relevant contacts. But remember: You never want to come across as presumptuous or demanding, particularly early on in a relationship. As such, always close your message with an offer to return a favor.
Respect the time scheduled. “If you’re on time, you’re late” is a good adage to keep in mind when it comes to networking. Whether you’re meeting virtually or in-person, show up a bit early. And whether you have a formal informational interview scheduled or it’s a more casual chit-chat over coffee, don’t go over the time scheduled unless the person volunteers that they are happy to continue talking.
Know how to break the ice. Attending an industry conference or other large networking event? Even for experienced networkers, these environments can be intimidating. It can be helpful to jot down some conversation starters ahead of time. Think of some safe topical subjects. You can also practice your elevator pitch, a roughly 30-second summary covering who you are, what you do – or what you want to do professionally.
Follow up in writing. After meeting someone, be sure to follow up with a written note mentioning how much you enjoyed meeting them and communicating your desire to stay in touch.
Read up. There are countless how-to articles and books on professional networking. One book I recommend to anyone who isn’t quite sure how to use the time during a networking meeting to mutual benefit is The 20-Minute Networking Meeting by Marcia Ballinger and Nathan A. Perez.
Pay it forward. The best networkers are generous networkers. When someone reaches out to you for help, make the time. It’s good karma.
Interested in going solo as a corporate communications consultant? Reach out to me for a discovery call. It’s one of my favorite topics and I love meeting new people in the communications world.
Evo Communications knows that strategic communications has the power to drive business results. That’s why we help you fill your temporary communications roles with highly qualified professionals who can onboard themselves and get to work right away!
We are a certified woman-owned virtual agency of independent corporate communicators. We work alone, in pairs or in curated teams to meet the specific needs of our clients. With foundations in Fortune 500 companies, we leverage our collective strengths to meet your needs, acting as a seamless extension of your team.
From supporting your entire corporate communications function, focusing on one specific area of need, and adding temporary bandwidth to your team, the Evo team is motivated to offer innovative solutions that drive results.