At times I receive initiations to meet with people and the invitation includes the words synergy and partnership. The invitation may go like this: “I see that wthat you and I are doing seems to have much in common. Perhaps we should meet and see if there are any synergies in what we do; perhaps can partner on a project or client?” Based on my experience of these meetings, at times I have wanted to define the word partner to mean “please give me your clients so I can make some money from them.”
This experience can be disconcerting, so there are two things that I do in order to maintain good relationships: I am clear on my intention and I moderate my own expectations about the people that I meet.
Not every person that I have met simply wants my clients, but enough have that I became a bit wary. At the same time, I have given numerous references to colleagues who have served my clients quite well and I am very happy that I have met the professionals that I have referred. So, the quandary is, how to strike a happy balance in meeting professionals that I might like to refer work to and finding my own clients.
My primary reason for meeting with someone is to determine whether or not that person might need my services, and I don’t meet with them unless in conversation we have discovered together both a need on their part and the possibility that I might fill that need. Qualifying a potential client is simply good business process. Anyone in business, whether a small company or a fortune, must have a person or group of people (usually referred to as a Sales Department) that spend a lot of time doing this.
If you are a small business owner, entrepreneur or independent consultant, it takes a lot of time and effort to find clients. As a result, you are leery of spending time with someone who seems to be intent on short-cutting their way by acquiring your clients. At the same time, giving and receiving referrals can be beneficial. How to solve this conundrum?
Here are 2 things that I keep in mind when I am going to meet someone for the purpose of networking that are necessarily very different to my approach when meeting a prospective client:
First, I am clear on my intention as I approach any networking meeting: that intention is best represented by the phrase: “How can I help your business?” I am interested in knowing about your business and I am constantly amazed by what I learn (see my Blog Business Starts with an Idea).
Second, I moderate my own expectations about the people that I meet and do not expect that the person that I meet will be able to refer any business to me. This is actually based on experience; while I have received referrals in the past, they are not my normal avenue for finding clients. When I receive one, I am grateful and happy, but I cannot build my business only on referrals.
This can be subtle, note that I am not saying that I have no need of references from satisfied clients and other people that know my work. These latter are very important, but I just expect that they will come from clients who I have found directly myself, not from referrals. By being clear in my intention and moderating my expectations, I am able to maintain good professional relationships with my colleagues.