Networking can be frustrating at times.
Where do you go to meet like-minded people and potential clients? Better yet, how can you use networking time to also learn something new? Where do you go to make the most of an event?
As busy consultants, we look for opportunities to get the best bang for our buck—and by that I mean time—especially because time often equals money to us.
Because time is so precious, the cost of the ticket price and lost income from being away from our clients are things we need to seriously consider. As a result, it’s hard to know whether you’ll get your time and money’s worth. I struggle with this. I have found that wanting to make the best use of my time and limited energy as an introvert has meant I’m less willing to risk my time not being used efficiently.
Networking is one of the lifelines that feed our consulting businesses
Because of this, I’ve decided to invest more time in local networking events this year.
As I mentioned in previous articles, networking is one of the lifelines that feed our businesses as consultants. And I thought that you, my readers, would find it valuable to have a window into what is available in our local city.
On that note, I’d like to share some of the insights I got from a great event I attended recently—LinkedIn Local Women: How to Lead and Succeed. It was sponsored by LinkedIn Local Calgary and partnered with Nucleus @Cenvous on May 23, 2018.
The event included a panel discussion on career success and networking. The panel shared their experience on how to:
- effectively use and grow your networks to be successful in your career
- negotiate compensation and career changes within your organisation
- how to have your ideas and insights heard in meetings
- position yourself to gain leadership roles within your organisation
I was attracted to this event because of the topics above—they are meaningful and very applicable to consulting. The other reason I attended was I wanted to show support for one of the volunteer organisers, Alison Yarwood. She has been an inspiration for me in how I am updating and offering some of my consulting services in the near future. And the bonus was attending with a wing-woman to network and meet others in our community.
Who was on the panel?
- Kylie Woods: Founder, Chic Geek
- Terri Steeves: Vice President, Canada Gas Projects, TransCanada Pipelines
- Kay She: Vice President, Young Professionals in Energy Lawyer, Bennett Jones
- Catherine Brownlee: President, Catherine Brownlee Inc. (one of Calgary’s top recruiters)
- Kara Levis: Legal Council, Energy Law, TransCanada (and Former President National Women’s Liberal Commission
- Amanda Bates: Founder-Collective Culture + Communication Inc.
Here’s what they shared at the networking event.
Summary of the LinkedIn Women in Leadership Panel’s Answers
One of the first things they talked about was how to help break the ice at a networking event. I found it refreshing to be reminded that women usually enter a networking relationship wanting to be helpful. So if you’re networking with other women, keep this in mind!
But better yet, if you are uncomfortable with networking, either virtually or in person, change your perspective 180 degrees. Instead of going in with the perspective of what you want from a connection, enter conversations being curious about what you can do for them. You’ll find yourself asking questions to find out what you can do. By doing so, you’ll see the conversation flows really easily.
This tactic really pleased me. It’s especially useful for introverts like me. Even at this stage of my career, I always appreciate help to improve my networking. And the 180-degree tactic works really well with my values— I’ve always gone into networking events with the asking what would be helpful to others, so it was a nice confirmation for me.
After the warm-up, the questions began, and the panel shared the following insights.
Question 1: What can you do if you are moving locations or have relocated to a new city?
Changing locations can be extremely disruptive for individuals and their families. It requires you leave your network in one place and make the effort to create a new one somewhere else.
How this applies to you as a consultant
As an independent consultant, you may relocate (temporarily or part-time) to accept a contract, or because you want to migrate where the opportunities are more plentiful. In either case, you will want to establish a network in the new location to:
- find like-minded people and limit how isolated you feel
- have access to people who help you navigate the local culture and learn wherever you can
- help you add potential opportunities to your future work
Here are some tricks the panel shared with the audience:
- Download your contact list from LinkedIn and send a mass email asking for ideas for where to hang out, what associations to join, volunteer opportunities, people to connect with, etc.
- Join local professional associations that align with your career goals.
- Ask your personal connections for ideas and suggestions.
- Go to events—with your business card in hand—and meet someone new.
Question 2: When people want to connect with you on LinkedIn, or in general, what has gotten your attention?
Getting a potential client’s attention can be difficult. Even after you have secured a contract, you may still have to fight for your client’s attention. Let’s face it—they’re often pulled in multiple directions from their various responsibilities.
I found the following advice a great reminder of how to get someone’s attention. The panel started with what not to do before sharing what has worked for them—both in getting their own attention as leaders and the tactics they’ve used to get other leaders’ attention too.
What not to do, when you write to connect
- Don’t use form letters. They are far too impersonal.
- Don’t be too general.
- Don’t misspell their names.
What to do, when you write to connect
- Be genuine.
- Make sure it’s well written.
- Have a clear purpose for why you want to connect
- Ask a question that helps you frame the discussion you would like to have with the person.
- Reference a moment or reason you why you want to connect with the person.
Question 3: How have you negotiated compensation? How do you expect people to prepare if they are negotiating with you?
Another critical skill an independent consultant needs is the ability to negotiate. Personally, I find this a relatively easy phase of my discussions with my clients because I have already worked diligently to create an authentic relationship with them. By the time we start to negotiate, we are both aware of what the other is seeking and how we can work out a mutually beneficial contract.
However, I still follow a number of the tactics the panel gave in answer to question 3. In fact, I would say that as consultants, we’re continually doing several of the points below to keep a finger on the pulse of the market we are targeting.
- Do your homework.
- Understand what experience you bring and what the client expects for the role.
- Consider how your past experience (in whatever capacity) can help the role you are negotiating for.
- Talk to people in the market and role already. Ask them what they have experienced, and even better, what their clients offered them.
- Don’t forget to think about total compensation.
- Think about what other opportunities motivate you—it’s not just about the money. Consider what is most important to you and what is optional.
- If the role requires you to negotiate, then be confident! This is your first opportunity to demonstrate your capabilities.
Question 4: What have you done when you had to take a role you didn’t want or later discovered wasn’t a good fit?
Have you experienced a ‘bait and switch’ engagement? This is where you find out that what you thought you had negotiated turns out to be different than you expected.
I have, and it was disappointing. However, I realised I had a mindset choice to make: I could be angry and focus on how unfair it was and believe the client hadn’t negotiated in good faith. Or I could see the situation as an opportunity. The choice of mindset depended on whether I preferred to be:
- a victim and not control my own experience, or
- a student and learn from the experience and how I could use it to my advantage
I chose the latter!
This is why I agreed with the answers the panel provided to question 4. They are just as applicable for employees as consultants:
- Do your best, learn the job, learn from the situation, and make a difference.
- Use the position to figure out what you do well and don’t do well, what you like and don’t like, and what you can learn from the experience.
- Self-reflect so you can be purposeful in your steps for your next role.
- Find a sponsor or advocate to support your desired change.
Question 5: How do you deal with habitual interruptive behaviour?
I found this question interesting as I learned from the panel that habitual interruptive behaviour seems to happens more often to women than to men, regardless of their position, role, or title.
“It was shown in a 2014 study at George Washington University that when men were talking with women, they interrupted 33 percent more often than when they were talking with men.”
As a young female leader in roles typically reserved for older male leaders, I had to learn very early how to deal with being interrupted—regularly. Some of my tactics backfired, while others were hugely successful. In both cases, I learned a lot which bolstered my experience.
The panel suggested the following tactics to deal with this kind of situation.
- As constants, we would do well to continually build our conversation, facilitation & meeting skills, as they are foundational to our ability to provide value for our clients.
- Build a meeting toolbox.
- Consider a more constructive approach, such as social democracy. It’s also a great way to include quiet introverts (Source: GenYYC Foundation)
Question 6: How have you approached advancing your career either laterally, up, or in a new industry?
Individuals enter consulting for multiple reasons. However, a major one is because they want to provide services in areas they are passionate about.
As it turns out, the panel recommended just this! They suggested:
- Know your passion.
- Go after it confidently.
- Be humble—it goes a long way. Show what skills you have, including skills outside your profession. But also have the humility to know and share what you still need to learn.
This last point is essential for consultants, especially if you want to be upfront in managing a client’s expectations.
In closing—my key takeaways from the LinkedIn Local Women event
As I’ve said many times before, networking is one of the most significant attributes of a successful independent constants business. And networking from a place of helping others can make it an even more rewarding experience. The event reinforced these insights for me.
What benefited me most was:
- Being reminded that what I am doing is working for others—It validated the networking approach I’ve been using.
- Learning new tactics and about alternative methodologies that I can add to my toolkit, such as Social Democracy, —I helped myself by gaining new knowledge.
- Getting a glimpse into how leaders in my community like to be contacted.
- Attaining market research.
- Seeing how leaders in my city are contributing and helping others. It made me consider how I may be able to participate too.
- Meeting other like-minded people, gaining new connections, and building my network.
What events do you attend? What events would you say are good-to-great opportunities for consultants? I would love to hear where I could register and go next. And I hope I may see you there!
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Thank you for reading.
Founder and President
Stand & Deliver Inc.