How to network like a pro

By James. December 10th, 2010. Posted in Your career 3 Comments »

Consulting, like any other service sector business, is powered by relationships. The more relationships people in your organisation have with contacts outside of your company, the more business your firm will win. This, in most consulting firms and in business in general is referred to as “Networking”. Never has the adage “it’s all about who you know” been so true.

So how does this insightful information help you as a new consultant? Read on to find out.

Why should you bother?

When you first join a consulting firm you will be told to network. Network, network, network. And you should. Your career will depend on knowing the right people at the right time. If you come across a client who needs an expert in some obscure, relatively unknown business or development process and you know someone who is that expert your client will love you, as will your contact for getting them work. If you know the clever boffins who have just found a way of saving one in every three pounds when manufacturing widget X and you know the product manager at “We make widget X Ltd” again you’ll be loved.

Start at the beginning and look inward

But networking for the sake of networking is not going to be productive. When you first start out in your consulting career you need to plan how you will network and what your goals are. Goal one should be to get to know the folks around you in your own firm. If you’ve landed a job at a smallish company, then this could be as simple as getting to know everyone in the firm; make a list and tick each person off as you meet them over coffee, while working on a proposal or on a training course, etc.

If you’ve moved into one of the big players, then things could be a little more tricky. Start by working out which sector / area of expertise you would like to work in and get to know who the movers and shakers in your firm are in those areas, again make a list and keep track of who you’ve met. They will be the people who will be selling you to clients, so make sure they know who you are and what you can offer.

Track, trace, measure and analyse

As formulaic and cold as it may sound, building a list that tracks who you have met, when, how often and what you talked about is a wise move. As you meet more and more people remembering everything about everyone of them is going to be impossible. But tracking your interactions and being able to remind yourself of them before your next encounter can have a huge impact on your relationship with your contacts.

Widening the net

Once you have established an immediate network within your own firm you can start widening your net and looking further afield. Start to think about who outside of your own areas of interest / expertise you should be contacting and establishing a relationship with. These people could be within your own company (in other practices or working in other sectors) or they could be people outside of your firm, or people at your client’s firm who you’ve not directly worked with. Concentrate on identifying people who you think you would be able to help either by complementing their skills or by bringing a different approach or experience to a topic that they work with.

Playing the long game and a word of warning

If you follow these tips and plan and structure your networking you should quickly become a networking pro and will soon be able to draw on a vast collection of knowledge and expertise from across your network at the drop of a hat.

However, a word of caution, do try to remember that you are looking to develop relationships with the people in your network, not just a massive contact list. There is no point in having the biggest collection of contacts in your iPhone, Blackberry, little black book or rollerdeck if you have no relationship with those people. It’s the interactions with your contacts that makes your network valuable, not the size of it.

Don’t think that you’re the bees knees just because you know twice as many people as the next consultant. It’s not the size of your network, but the quality that counts.

This article was written by: James

James is a freelance web consultant and designer living and working in London. He specialises in User Experience and interface design for web sites and applications. Before going freelance James worked for 5 years for a large consultancy firm in London where he helped numerous start ups and large organisations improve their product's design.

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Comments (3)

It’s worth noting that a big network isn’t necessarily beneficial, but a diverse one certainly is (proven by research as well as real life experience – I’ll dig out a source if desired). If you work in a large firm then try making friends in different areas of the business, it’ll help your career I promise!

Similarly, outside of your firm having 10 contacts across 5 organisations will have better results that 10 in a single organisation.

On the bright side, a network which doesn’t appear to be diverse will often naturally become more diverse as people change jobs and move up the career ladder


Hi Paddy,

Thanks for commenting. If you have the source of that research to share that would be great!


Morten T Hansen discusses it in the excellent
‘Collaboration: How leaders avoid the traps, create unity, and reap
big results’
He, in turn, refers to a paper by Ronald S. Burt entitled
‘Structural holes and good ideas’:
I’d highly recommend a copy of the former – it’s not the best
written book, and some of the statistical evidence raises eyebrows,
however he very successfully pulls out where the opportunities to
improving collaboration are (including networking), and the
obstacles to this (categorised into 4 types of barriers, two of
which are technical, the other two relate to whether people are
driven to share knowledge or not)


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