Now is a perfect time to plan for the fall! Whether or not you have teed-up some end-of-year revenue, this is typically a lull period for the federal contractor. One of the best things you can do is recommit to networking during the fourth quarter (September through December). I say this because I am like many IT professionals: I am comfortable in my cave (i.e., my office) and I am just as content to spend a day in the office, cranking out 200 e-mails as I am suiting-up, and getting out into the community to build relationships. But I regret the seasons when I don’t get out enough. The period between Labor Day and Christmas is--by far, the most active period to energize your outreach! And, perhaps because I am an extrovert, I never fail to make some valuable acquaintances when I step out and build relationships. Sure, it takes work, but the benefits can be valuable.
I am amazed at the increasingly long list of federal-market organizations that are now available for networking . Whether your target market is the Department of Defense or the sixteen IC agencies, or some sub-set, you should be looking at events, associations, mixers, symposia, fora, conferences, and every other venue to meet potential clients, prime contractors, competitors and resource providers. And if you have not done so in a while, now is a great time to add a new organization to your list, too.
Here are some tips that may spark your planning:
· Heavily browse the Events page at www.AFCEA.org; it’s easy to take advantage of their list of activities!
· Don’t forget the local AFCEA Chapter! This is where you can plug into very active relationship building. Don’t be afraid to volunteer some of your time to help with the annual agenda. By getting involved, you will rub shoulders with other committed professionals who can help you reach your goals.
· If networking is absolutely not your bag, then hire someone (or delegate towards someone) who would enjoy it … and give them a purpose, such as: find three potential partners or primes, new procurement targets, etc.. The idea is that someone in the organization needs to spread your corporate messaging as well as be on the lookout for new relationships.
· Set a goal to hone your elevator pitch. Although I really hate the term “pitch” when used in relation to sales and marketing (I will explain why in a future posting), the idea here is to learn the art of condensing your messaging. For example, if you sense a new acquaintance is asking for a three minute answer (“Oh, what do you guys do?”), give him a three minute answer. Don’t go on and on for eighteen minutes about the stress tolerances on the manufacturing of printed circuit boards for the special purpose Navy computer you delivered back in 1987… (you get the idea).
· Take a coworker or spouse with you. My wife just reentered the job market during the last several years and, at the time she did this, knew very little about the DoD market. But she knows people and listens well. She could now walk into a technical crowd and be quite at home because she knows how to get along with just about everybody and she knows how to ask good questions. Point: you don’t’ need to be a technical genius to be good at networking. And don’t be a loner!
· Set a goal of twice per month—to get out and network. Sure, be selective, and stay focused, but commit to it. It will pay dividends.
· If you don’t see an affinity group that represents your area of interest, then consider creating one. (International partners, this applies to you, as well). Let’s say you sell a niche product to only a portion of the DoD/IC market, broadly defined. You need to create a reason to bring your market providers together with your market consumers. By keeping it generic and open, it makes sense, so long as your association or event adds value to the audience. Here are a few examples:
· Start a local chapter of a national technology organization, that is associated with your target agency;
· Organize a charity golf/bowling tourney for the Spring of 2010, but target your agency and its contractors;
· Offer a lunchtime seminar inside your client agency’s facility on the latest trend/technology that your firm happens to be an expert on. These are called “brown bag lunchtime seminars”.
· Have you ever offered to speak at an industry event? If you are not an expert, you probably have one working for you. Offer them up to speak at an event. (You may need to spend some money on their public speaking skills, but this is excellent professional development for them). Be their coach and/or “chief encourager”. Set a goal to have this expert ready to address a conference by the spring of 2010 and begin now by identifying the venue.
· Don’t be afraid to try…and try again. Your networking skills will improve the more you do it. Remember that you don’t have to bring back a P.O. from a networking event. Just some new friends or knowledge of a new and upcoming procurement, competitor, or new contact or challenge facing the CIA, the NSA or the DoD.
· Don’t forget to use your business trips effectively. If you are traveling to another city, consider **not** hanging with your buddies; rather, take out a client or potential partner. Stay focused on using lunches, dinners and evenings for sales and marketing. Don’t just go out with the same folks that you work with when you could be learning from another provider, a federal employee or a potential partner. Call up another AFCEA member in that city and offer to take them out to a meal. So long as they don’t see you as a competitor, they may see it as valuable.
More could be said on this, but the key is to continually expand your horizon with new people. In my opinion, this is easier for the humble, so don’t be afraid to listen. You may learn something. And it’s O.K. to have a little fun.