What’s the difference between the two?
Commercially they both add up to the same thing – a new client. But in terms of news value, the first is a story, the second isn’t. Social media is newish, so any evidence of commercial gain from it becomes worthy of comment.
On the other hand, building professional connections, meeting a potential client at a party, or asking a corporate client for an introduction to key suppliers, are all ‘normal’ activities not particularly worthy of media comment.
But the idea of winning new business simply by ‘liking’ on Facebook, or by publishing a well-placed comment on LinkedIn, is still a matter of note, and indeed celebration.
The result is that it becomes easy to be seduced by ‘newness’ and even obsessed with the idea that easy panaceas can be found in all quarters of the digital domain. It’s also easy to forget that ‘winning’ business in the traditional – or shall we say analogue – manner is no piece of cake.
But do not, as they say in the worst circles, get me wrong. I am not suggesting the social media thing is all castles in the sand; just that, as well as keeping an open eye on social networking, it might pay you to invest some time into thinking about your real life networking.
Read page 2 for top tips for managing your network.
How to value and manage your network
The best thing is to start with the crudest of measures – disposable wealth. How rich are your friends and associates? Exclude those who are also financial advisers (they are of use to you but not in this basic calculation).
Then consider what this core network thinks of you. Having friends and associates on the ‘rich list’ is of little use if they don’t rate you as an adviser, or potential adviser.
Then consider conversion strategies. Let’s say you have 50 friends and associates in your network. It’s more natural to have commercial relationships with some but not all of them; 50% to 70% might be a good target. Focus also on those members of your network who are good at networking because, here, a multiplier kicks in: the natural networker may be ten times more ‘valuable’ than the rest because he or she will always be alert to the opportunities inherent in connectivity.
If you can introduce Mr Brown to Mr Green and, crucially, suggest a value in connecting that neither Brown nor Green had thought of, then you are genuinely valuable. Both Brown and Green will owe you, to your likely ultimate benefit.
A personal network must be kept warm. There are no rules here. Once a year contact will do for some, but others will forget you if you leave it for more than a month. But what sort of contact? It’s a matter of balancing time versus impact. Top of the tree is the one-to-one meeting, followed by the one-to-many meeting.
Next on the list is a phone call, followed by a letter (remember those?), an email and, right at the bottom, a broadcast message to your groups on LinkedIn and Facebook or your followers on Twitter. Yes, I know that one ‘tweet’ can beget a thousand followers, but not usually.
If you accept this hierarchy, you must then consider the value of your real life network versus your social network. A personal network must not just be kept warm, it must also be treated with respect. If you ask your network member to do something for you, consider how it might also assist them. If the benefit is one-way only, your network equity is diluted.
Then there’s the question of building your network, other than by direct referrals. The effort versus impact calculation also applies here. The goal is to meet the right people, one-to-one, but to get there you need some interim steps.
Networking events, parties and local clubs are all time-honoured routes to meeting the right people. So, depending on your appetite for new clients, go to some events. Would two per month be a good starting point?
Once there, how should you behave? Well, it makes sense not to stand in a corner talking only to those you know well, or to be that person who ‘works the room’ while glancing over the shoulder of whoever he’s talking to. Do not offer your business card – it’s unnatural and counterproductive (think Ned the salesman in Groundhog Day). Do not achieve top quartile inebriation. Strive to achieve about four or five meaningful conversations which leave open the possibility of further dialogue.
Brendan Llewellyn is director of Adviser Home