This article is part of our September 2015 special report on startups, which highlights IEEE’s efforts to attract more entrepreneurial types to the organization.
After consulting with business owners and new entrepreneurs for more than 20 years, I am constantly amazed at how many of them overlook tapping into their personal networks, which often is their best resource.
Personal networks are made up of the people you already know or who know of you, including friends, neighbors, and clients and customers. These people have gained some amount of trust in you and are often willing to refer you to others, commonly called a referral network, who could benefit from your service or product.
So how do you capitalize on the personal network you’ve already built over the years? Here are my quick tips.
Tip 1: Make a list
Write down all the people in your network who might be good candidates to recommend your services or products to others. Go through your phone and e-mail contact lists. Include those who have given you job recommendations in the past and the people you’ve met at networking events. Include their contact information as well as some notes, such as which industries they work in.
Tip 2: Prepare a statement
Once you have this list, what do you ask for exactly? That depends on what you need, which you should make clear to the person you are asking this favor of. Prepare the wording ahead of time so that you can ask with confidence and be ready for follow-up questions.
Tip 3: Be specific
The more specific your request is, the less others have to work at thinking about who would make a good match for you. One common mistake is that people don’t want to miss any opportunities and therefore hesitate to ask exactly what they are looking for or what they can offer. Being specific is often what leads to landing the right client or customer.
For example, I’m someone who often meets new clients by giving workshops. At networking events, instead of saying I’m available to consult people who work in a variety of industries, I often ask people for the names of local professional organizations that provide workshops or courses to their members.
One of the attendees told me about the local IEEE chapter and then introduced me to the organization. I have since led workshops for the IEEE Boston Section and its Consultants' Network, where I have landed clients and built up my referral network. It also led me to be interviewed for The Institute, and contribute as a guest blogger. Sometimes all you need is one good referral to help get you many others.
Paul R. Hutchinson founded Hutchinson Consulting in 2003 where he helps clients grow their businesses. He has more than 20 years of consulting experience in the technology and health care industries.