Networking Like a Rainmaker

Whether you're aware of it, your social network is one of your most valuable assets. Those with a larger network of more influential people are able to leverage that network and achieve their goals more easily. But, growing such a network doesn't happen by chance.

The Value of Social Capital

Simply put, social capital refers to the economic value of your relationships with people and entities. The more relationships of value you foster, the more your social capital will grow. A rainmaker, in this case, is essentially a more advanced broker. A broker is someone who is able to bridge disparate networks through themselves.

A simple example of a broker can be found in any high school. Many of us knew someone who was able to move freely from groups without typically interacting. Perhaps, they were friends with the athletic kids, the theatre kids and the debate team. All three of those networks were then connected to one another through that single person.

"A rainmaker is a person who generates an unusual amount of new business or revenue for a company ... typically through a large social network of contacts." – Definition by TechTarget

Being a rainmaker gives you a great deal of influence and economic advantage. It can give you the ability to grow your career, build up your firm and hire the best talent. Obviously, these are benefits we all would like to have, so how do we become more like rainmakers?

Whom to Connect with?

Should you connect with everyone? One might think that simply having a larger network would grow your social capital to the point of becoming a rainmaker. Unfortunately, that’s is not the case. In the days before social networking sites, people's networks tended to cap out at around 150 people because the average person is really only able to maintain, and own, that many relationships before becoming onerous.

Therefore, the focus is on quality first and quantity second. Since virtual relationships via social networking sites are easier to maintain, having a larger social network is now significantly easier. On LinkedIn, however, it's about more than just having someone's contact information; the relationship should also have value. You consume the content created by your network, while others consume the content you create or share. If you connect with everyone, it will muddy the waters of your feed and become unhelpful in your management and cultivation. What you're doing here is driving your social network toward particular goals, most of which being economic goals for your firm. You want connections with those in industry or small business segments that you serve.

With that being said, you should always be connecting. Whenever you interact with someone on a level that's more than just exchanging pleasantries, you need to get their information and establish that connection because you never know how you can help them, or they can help you.

How to Connect

Capture contact details. This is still most often done via business cards. Exchange business cards whenever you're at an event or in a conversation, so that you can do the follow-up work later that evening. If they don't have a business card, jot down their information on your business card and then hand them another one of yours to facilitate the exchange.

Give to get. When you are given something, the social norm is to give back at least as much as you were given. Take advantage of this. Offer your business card purposefully and with sincerity. This will make them likely to reciprocate.

Use LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a networking site for business purposes. It's where you will find most professionals.

How you connect on LinkedIn matters. Most people will simply look up the person's name and click "Connect." This isn't good enough. You will want to send a personalized request. It's about respecting the formality of requesting that connection to ensure that they accept. The following are examples of the type of responses you can send:

  • Bad (canned response): Just using the supplied "I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn" is not good enough. People get these sorts of requests all the time, and they are likely to dismiss them out of hand.
  • Better (personalized response): For example, "Hi [First Name], I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.  Best, Ian." By addressing the recipient by name before the canned response and adding a personalized closing, the recipient will know that an actual person sent the request. This is better than just the canned response, but is still not enough.
  • Best (personalized, contextual response): For example, "Hi [First Name], It was great meeting up for coffee today and talking about our practices. Let’s stay connected. Anything you need, please let me know. Best, Ian." We are all very busy, and it can be difficult to remember who you met at an event today, let alone a few days ago. By having a personalized opening and a sentence briefly describing the context by which you met, you will dramatically improve your chances of them accepting.

Giving them that context allows them to continue that conversation with you. A long message here, however, will work against you. Keep it short and to the point.

How to Network

1) Meeting 1-on-1:

  • Meet & greet: Break the ice. Basic small talk and introduction.
  • Be strategic: Determine overlapping interests. During the small talk, try to understand what is important to them and how those things may ladder into what you think is important. Use this information to bridge into deeper conversations. Look for opportunities for win-win situations, where there is value on both sides of the relationship.
  • Reciprocity: Give to get. If, in a conversation, you do nothing but go on about yourself and what you think, people aren't going to give you anything. People enjoy talking about themselves. Ask thoughtful questions about who they are and what they do. Once you've given them the time to share their story, they will give you the time to share yours.
  • The pitch: 15-second or one-minute elevator pitch. You need to have a clear and succinct articulation of who you are, what your firm is about, what you're focused on and, possibly, where you need help. This is especially important in group settings, where you really need to stand out.
  • The set up: Tee up the follow-up meeting or next steps. You never want to end the conversation without determining when the next communication or meeting will be.
  • The exchange: Get the business card. Again, without a card, get an email or some other contact info that allows you to follow up with them.
  • The close: Handshake or courteous goodbye.
  • Scribble first: Write key notes on the business cards. This step is crucial. The minute you're away from the person, write down what the next steps are and any other pertinent info. Don't rely on your memory alone.
  • Capture: Upload or transcribe the contact details. Transcribe their contact info and whatever notes you have into your contact list/CRM, or look them up on LinkedIn.
  • Connect: Make a connection on LinkedIn. Send that request within 24 hours of the first meeting.
  • Follow up: Within 24 hours, set up the next meeting. Once they accept your request, send them your calendar and ask them which day would be good to have coffee or a meeting.

2) Meeting in a Group Setting:

  • Be strategic: Arrive early and establish rapport with the leader. While it may be difficult to manage, show up early to have some one-on-one time with the leader of the meeting. This person is going to be the rainmaker — the person who connects everyone in attendance.
  • Build rapport: Connect with the leader (meet & greet, reciprocity and the pitch). Go through the steps of meeting one-on-one with the leader.
  • Transference: Request leader to introduce you to your target audience. Once you've made that connection, ask if they would introduce you to your target audience. Being introduced by the leader will transfer some of their social capital to you, going into the next conversation. This will make it significantly easier to make the next connection.
  • Work the room: Get the details – get intros, meet & greet, reciprocity, pitch, and get the card. Follow the steps for one-on-one meetings with each person.
    Tee up: Set up expectations for the next meeting or next step. You aren't going to have the same amount of time to get as deep as you would in a regular one-on-one situation, so set up the next conversation you'll have ahead of time.
  • Move on: Don’t get trapped – scribble key notes on the business card. This is where a lot of people trip up. Don't get too deep with any one person. Go through the steps, get the contact info and get moving.
  • Capture: Upload or transcribe the contact details.
  • Connect: Make a connection on LinkedIn.
  • Follow up: Within 24 hours, set up the next meeting.

The main differences between meeting in a group setting and one-on-one are transference, working the room efficiently and keeping it moving. All of the other skills and techniques still apply.

Networking is a skill that can be honed. When you do it like a rainmaker, you can open so many more doors for yourself and your firm. Remember to always be connecting because every person you meet has the potential to help grow your business, or connect you to someone else who can. Leverage those interactions by teeing up the conversation for a follow up and closing with a connection request on LinkedIn. By consciously growing your network, you will increase your social capital and make your goals easier to obtain.

About the Author

Ian Vacin

Ian Vacin

With more than 25 years of experience in technology and over 15 years of leadership experience in the accounting industry, Ian is passionate about helping accounting professionals be as successful as possible in order to positively impact the businesses they serve. He is currently a co-founder and the vice president of product marketing at Karbon. Prior to Karbon, spent almost 10 years at Intuit (where he led the QuickBooks ProAdvisor Program and was the Offering Leader of Intuit's Mac Financial Software).

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