May 12, 2016
Your relationships and network collectively are gardens that need constant maintenance. For a recent college graduate, that garden may seem like a bare patch of dirt and for someone well into their career there may be some trees that are bearing fruit. But, as I learned this garden doesn't just grow miraculously...there's a lot more there than you realize.
In a much shorter than expected timeframe, I jumped out of my full-time job into hanging my own shingle. I'm sure many of you know the combined feeling of excitement, empowerment, and "oh-god-what-have-you-done." However, I knew I had the professional skills to be able to consult with clients and figure everything else out.
What was lacking though, was a strategy to actually get business. Back then I was providing software development consulting, there were many others doing the same thing I was, yet, with more experience, and bigger portfolios. And to stack even more odds against me, many of these consultants also had business development teams backing them and they could spend all day sending out proposals and making pitches.
How was I able to get started, let alone grow?
So I did what seemed pretty trivial at the time. I told the people I knew what I was doing. It's hard to call it a "network" as I didn't think of it as such -- it was friends I went to college with, acquaintances I had met at the few networking events, or people I met over Twitter. I didn't think about these relationships as a particular asset of mine -- these were friendlies.
The first night I told people, I got a text message back that a friend's dad needed a website built for his construction company -- Could I come meet with them? And another message came through from a friend's design studio. They were short on developer talent -- Could I jump on a call? The next week, a friend's company reached out with a client project they couldn't fulfill.
What?! All of these requests came through because I did one simple thing.
What I had stumbled on was one of the key realizations that the best professionals have. Their active relationships are their key assets -- the unfair advantage against other professionals.
If you are starting your business, or looking to grow your business, here are some key questions you should ask yourself:
For years, I was able to leverage my relationships with individuals (vastly scattered amongst different industries and roles) and turn the reputation I had with them into valuable business. I never did any outbound marketing, RFP responses, or true business development. The best marketing channel for my business was the relationships I had. I truly was able to leverage relationship marketing in an effective way.