A strong, dynamic network is the backbone of a successful business development effort in professional services. Networking is based on the principle that people generally prefer to do business with those they like and trust. However, the challenge is that building “like and trust” usually doesn’t come quickly or easily. It takes intentional effort over time.
Throughout our lives, we develop relationships with the people around us – in school, at work, in the community, at family gatherings, etc. Some we may seek out proactively and others we may encounter by chance. When we stop to take inventory of all the social connections we have established, then begin to think about which of them could have strategic value in a professional context, the amount of potential opportunity can be surprising.
But how can you approach your social connections about business matters to generate opportunities – without risking friendships or coming across as only being interested in selling to them? Create an interest bridge. An interest bridge is something of mutual professional interest that you can offer in a way that, when shared or experienced together, can add value to both parties and provide the basis for ongoing strategic dialogue.
It all starts with your ability to recognize a potential strategic connection when you come across one. Think about people you may know in a variety of situations such as the following examples. Consider anyone who may be in a potentially strategic role beyond the social connection that already exists.
Connection Scenario Examples:
- Former Classmates – Example: You learn that your sorority/fraternity sister/brother just passed the BAR exam and works for a law firm that deals extensively with mergers and acquisitions. You are a CPA and Certified Valuation Analyst who is looking for ways to build your business valuation practice.
- Neighbors & Friends – Example: A family just moved into the house down the street from you. A lady who lives there just moved to take the role of CFO with a large manufacturer in town. Your firm has a growth-oriented manufacturing niche and you have seen this company on their prospect list.
- Parent-Child Connections – Example: You have a daughter on a youth soccer team. As you arrive for pickup at practices and watch the games on the weekends, you regularly find yourself in conversation with the father of another player. At one point you learn that he is a surety agent who specializes in multi-family construction projects around the region. Your firm has a construction niche that works with contractors in the same space.
- Community Involvement – Example: You volunteer financial management services on the board of a nonprofit organization that provides services to community citizens in need. At a recent finance committee meeting, you worked with a fellow volunteer who is the assistant controller at a company that is on your top prospect list.
- Industry Association Involvement – Example: As part of your effort to help build your firm’s healthcare advisory practice, you volunteered on the planning committee of a healthcare industry association focused on financial management. During a recent meeting you noted that three executives stated they are experiencing the same challenge and cited an apparent trend.
- Recreational Teams or Clubs – Example: You are a regular at an area fitness center and apparently are on roughly the same workout schedule as another regular. While cooling down one evening, you strike up a conversation and soon learn that she is a regional banking executive focusing on small businesses in the area. You happen to serve many such businesses and realize it is likely you know many of the same people.
- Service Providers – Example: You and your spouse are having dinner at your favorite restaurant in town. After another excellent meal, the owner comes by your table to check on your experience. During the brief conversation the owner shares that he wants to expand with additional locations but is wrestling with how to make that work. Your firm has a hospitality practice with a partner who specializes in restaurant franchises.
Converting social connections to strategic ones is both an art and science. The science is mostly being able to identify the potential based on a well-defined profile and keen observation. The art comes in when you must find a way to bridge strategic interests without coming across as too opportunistic or disinterested in the personal relationship. Consider the following examples as potential interest bridges. Customize and add to this as you think about the specific resources available to you through your firm or otherwise.
Interest Bridge Examples:
- Share a relevant article written by yourself or a thought leader you respect
- Extend an invitation to attend a relevant seminar hosted by your firm or industry association
- Share observations on a key challenge you are dealing with and what is working
- Introduce a subject-matter expert from your firm on a relevant or timely issue
- Share a story about how your firm helped a business with a similar situation achieve success
- Extend an invitation to join an association, committee, or club to deepen a working relationship
- Introduce a peer client in a non-competing organization with similar challenges
- Share data from a relevant research study conducted by your firm or industry association
Opportunity is all around us, sometimes in places we may not expect. Having a clear sense of who could be a strategic connection, being continuously observant, and thoughtfully leveraging resources to build an interest bridge, you can grow and nurture a powerful network that yields significant results.
If you are interested in building advanced business development skills for yourself or your team, we invite you to learn more about The Rainmaker Academy®, our signature program honed over 25 years and newly revamped for 2019. It is available either in an open-class format or as a custom in-house program brought to your firm. Download the brochure or visit to view upcoming classes.