Consulting, as a career, usually involves working with people to bring their ideas to life and guide them in the right direction. The success of many businesses hinges on how good their consultant is. These companies don’t make their consulting decisions lightly.
If you’re a consultant looking for new opportunities, you should be actively networking. As in any other field, networking is mainly about meeting new people in your industry or industries adjacent to yours and forging lasting relationships with them.
Having a great network can make all the difference between a successful and stagnant career. That’s why this post exists — to explain why networking is important, the kinds of people you should network with, the types of events you should attend, and tips for networking as a consultant.
What makes networking different for consultants?
In many instances, the success of a business professional is determined by how strong and effective their network is. This is especially true of consultants who are hired by founders and agency owners for their high level of expertise and knowledge in their fields.
But as the English poet, John Donne, wrote in the 17th century, “No man is an island unto himself.”
Consultants — even those with deep knowledge — need a wide network of connections they can reach out to whenever they need third-party opinions, collaborators, referrals, advice, and so much more. Also, consider that 85% of jobs are filled through networking.
Getting referrals, in particular, is an area where a good business network is absolutely necessary.
Getting selected for interviews is hard, especially at consulting firms like McKinsey which hires only 2,000 new consultants out of the 200,000 applications they receive every year. Companies like this rely on referrals from other consultants to make hiring decisions.
Hence, candidates with a referral have higher chances of getting their resumes reviewed, landing interviews, and getting new jobs.
This doesn’t apply to only consultants that work at companies, though. It also applies to freelance consultants.
“[Approximately] 95% of my clients have been referrals from my network. This speaks volumes about the importance of networking,” says Luciano Viterale, a marketing and SEO consultant. “Everyone is trying to be sold something these days, so it’s much easier to build trust when you’ve been referred to by a friend.”
Moreover, a recent study reveals that 87% of clients say trust is most important to them when hiring consulting services.
Who Consultants Should Network With
As a consultant looking to expand your professional network, here are the three kinds of people you should connect with.
1. Industry Peers
While most business networking efforts are channeled toward finding potential clients, don’t forget to reach out to your peers as well. Connecting with people who are at a similar stage in their consulting careers can help you feel less alone, especially if you’re a freelance consultant.
Whenever you run into a problem, you can reach out to them to get a new perspective and brainstorm solutions. If you land a huge project and you need someone to collaborate with, your peers are the people you bring on board to lend their knowledge and skills.
Plus, if you ever find yourself in need of a new client, you can rely on them to keep an eye out for you and refer you to hiring companies.
2. Senior Consultants and Partners
Consulting firms like McKinsey, Deloitte, and Bain are notoriously difficult to get into — especially if you follow the traditional application process. This is because most of the consultants they hire are referrals from senior consultants and partners who work at the firms.
If you want to get hired at popular consulting firms like these, your best bet would be to network with high-level consultants and partners at these companies. Their opinions heavily affect the hiring process.
Keep in mind, though, that the more senior the consultant, the more weight their referrals will carry. For example, at McKinsey, a referral from a partner carries the same weight as several referrals from non-partners.
If you can’t connect with a partner, do connect with as many non-partners in that firm as possible.
Apart from their influence on the hiring process, senior consultants can serve as mentors and coaches. They can give you advice, impart tried-and-true strategies for navigating an issue, and teach you some best practices you can use to make your work easier and more effective.
3. Founders and Agency Owners
Networking with founders and agency owners is important because it increases your chances of getting new work opportunities.
Think about it. If a founder who has interacted with you is looking to hire a consultant in your field (or knows someone who’s hiring), what do you think they’d do first: Make a job posting on popular job boards or send you a message to see if you’re taking on new clients?
The latter, of course.
Networking Events Consultants Should Attend
Events are excellent places to find business professionals that you can connect with. But this doesn’t mean that you should attend every business event that’s being hosted.
Here are five of the most important kinds of events consultants should attend to find the right people to network with.
1. Industry-Specific Speaking Engagements
Sometimes, consulting firms host speaking engagements and conferences specifically for consultants. Not only do these events help you learn more about your field, but they also provide an avenue for you to meet fellow consultants in your field or adjacent fields.
When you connect with people during these events, try to learn more about what they do, the companies they work with, and what they’ve been up to lately. Be sure to follow the person on social media (preferably LinkedIn) and exchange business cards/email addresses with them.
You can find industry-specific speaking engagements by following experts in your field on social media and/or subscribing to consulting news outlets.
2. Professional Conferences or Work Summits
Professional conferences are usually much larger than industry-specific speaking engagements. Thousands of business professionals come together for a few days to discuss an overarching theme (e.g., leadership), industry (e.g., marketing), or product (e.g., HubSpot or Salesforce).
The events that make up the conference or summit may include keynote speakers, networking, and workshops, among other things.
Attending these events gives you access to business professionals across many industries, but the cost may be high. Do your research to find out if the event is a strategic event for your business. You’ll meet a lot of people there so bring enough business cards with you.
Although most conferences are focused on networking, some of them include a career fair that targets job seekers. If you’re looking for a new job at the time, you should bring your updated resume with you.
Pro tip: Conferences are hosted in different formats — in-person, virtual, and hybrid — so do your research and find a conference that matches your personality, interests, schedule, and budget.
3. Information Sessions
Consulting firms often host a large information session where 20-30 consultants give a presentation. After the presentation, there’ll be time to ask the consultants some questions and mingle with the attendees.
Hundreds of people attend these sessions so it may be difficult to find opportunities to network with the consultants — especially at the end of the sessions when many attendees are asking questions.
To get around this, arrive at the event before it even starts. Since most attendees won’t be there yet, you’ll have ample opportunity to strike up conversations and leave a memorable impression on the consultant speakers.
You can find the dates of upcoming information sessions on each consulting firm’s website, and your school’s consulting club or career services center.
4. Coffee Chats
Coffee chats are smaller, less formal versions of information sessions. Consulting firms get a consultant to talk to a small group of students about consulting in a certain field. If you’re attending a coffee chat, try to come up with questions you’ll ask the consultant beforehand.
Asking questions that have answers that can’t be found through a simple Google search will help you leave an impression on the consultant.
Here are some questions you could ask:
- What do you like (and dislike) about your job?
- What inspired you to be a consultant?
- What is your favorite project you’ve worked on so far?
- If you could re-do your first year as a consultant, what would you do differently?
- Do you ever dream of doing something other than consulting?
As you ask these questions, listen actively to the answers the consultant gives. They can usually tell when you’re genuinely interested in what they have to say. At the end of the coffee chat, exchange business cards and email addresses with the consultant.
5. Industry-Specific Webinars
If you feel more comfortable attending events online instead of physically, you should attend industry-specific webinars. They’re usually hosted by consulting firms and are an advantageous and cost-effective way for consultants to learn more about new trends in their industry.
Webinars are also a great way to connect with other consultants from all over the world, share ideas, and gain new knowledge/skills that can help you serve your clients better.
Best Practices for Networking in Consulting
Networking is a process that never stops. You’ll constantly have to exchange email addresses, send DMs, and introduce yourself to others. To make the process smoother, here are some best practices for networking that you can apply.
1. Connect with a wide range of people.
When you attend networking events, don’t focus on speaking with consultants only. Talking to business professionals from different industries can help you when you need third-party opinions, a new job, or even someone to collaborate with you on projects.
However, don’t forget to connect with people who would directly help you with what you need at that moment. For example, if you’re looking for a job, focus on connecting with senior consultants in firms that are hiring.
2. Keep in touch with colleagues from your previous job.
When leaving the company you’re working for, don’t burn bridges with everyone. Instead, maintain contact with your colleagues and even your bosses on LinkedIn. Since they’ve worked with you for quite some time, they know your skill set and the value you can bring to a company.
If you left the company on good terms, your former co-workers could refer you to companies that are hiring consultants. All you have to do is ask them to send you any open roles they might find.
3. Join online networking groups.
Joining online consulting groups is one of the easiest ways to make new connections at no cost to you. You can have conversations, ask for (and give) recommendations, and build lasting relationships with other professionals.
Here are some networks you could join:
With over 830 million individual users and 57 million companies, LinkedIn is the go-to online platform for networking with business professionals. Getting access to people in your field, be it your ex-colleagues, prospective clients, or freelancers, is as easy as clicking the Connect button and sending a DM.
Pro tip: As a business professional, LinkedIn is the best social media platform you can build a reputation on. The key is to optimize your LinkedIn profile to reflect what you do and the kinds of clients you’re willing to work with.
“You get one chance to make a great first impression so make sure every section of your LinkedIn profile is complete — no blank spaces or gaps,” Arnof-Fenn says. “Include a professional headshot and a powerful headline, followed by a brief summary of your personal brand, what you do well, and how you can benefit potential clients or employers.”
In addition to filling out your profile, make sure you’re always posting.
“To show that you’re an expert in your industry, post interesting and educational content about your work,” she says. “You could consider crafting your own articles on LinkedIn to position yourself as a talented thought leader in your industry, you should be.”
While making connections on LinkedIn by yourself is great, joining LinkedIn groups is a much faster way to connect with people that have similar backgrounds, interests, and goals as you.
You can find groups on LinkedIn by typing in keywords related to your field in the search bar and clicking Groups in the filter above the results.
LinkedIn is not the only platform you can find groups. You can also find great groups for consultants on other platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Slack.
Some Slack communities also have channels where they post open consulting roles and advice for people who want to start a freelance consulting business.
4. Follow up with people.
A costly mistake many newbie consultants make is not following up right away with professionals they connected with during conferences and sessions. Even worse, some consultants only reach out when they need something from that person.
The secret to successful networking is building long-lasting relationships. You can only do that by checking in and staying in touch. If they’re having issues with something and they reach out to you for advice, give it. After some time has passed, follow up to see whether your advice was useful.
That’s how to build valuable long-term business relationships with people.
5. Be authentic.
Authenticity is integral to building strong relationships with potential clients and partners. Being genuine and transparent in your interactions with other professionals can go a long way in building long-term relationships.
As Pat Timmons, copywriter and social media marketer, put it, “Ensure that everything is done from a place of authenticity. Always be crystal clear on what you are able to help people with, what your motives are, and the mission of the organization.”
6. Prepare for impromptu interviews.
When you go for coffee chats or lunch with senior consultants, they may decide to interview you on the spot.
As explained earlier, senior consultants and partners have a say in hiring decisions. Hence, you need to be prepared to discuss your background, interests, work experiences, and career goals, should they ask.
You should know your answers to questions like, Why are you interested in consulting? and Why do you want to work at our firm?
If all goes well, they may introduce you to their colleagues or recommend you for more formal interviews in the office.
Growing Your Business Network as a Consultant
Whether you’re a newbie consultant or you’ve been a consultant for the last two decades, you should prioritize growing your business network. Make time to attend (or speak at) business events and connect with other professionals on LinkedIn.
When you attend events, remember to take your business cards with you and follow up with your contacts via email after the event. You never know who you might need in your journey or where your next opportunity might come from.