How to Build Your Network Without Cold Calling

By Hugo Sanchez

While cold calling seems handy in the lead generation toolbox, I despise it. Most of the time I find cold calling to be annoying; it lowers my brand’s perceived value and it is extremely ineffective. I seldom do it.

Think of your most profound and impactful business relationships. How did they start? Chances are the vast majority of them didn’t start with a cold call. As a professional service provider, you will get clients through one of the 3 R’s: Relationships, Referrals and Reputation. (McMakin & Fletcher, 2018).

I am a firm believer and practitioner of Relationship-Based Marketing (RBM), where we create and maintain high-value relationships rooted in mutual respect and admiration. The very first interaction you have with a new prospect shapes the rest of the stories they make about you. Do it wrong and you’ll be forever ignored or commoditized; do it right and you’ll start a lifelong relationship.

What if you could contact prospects and have them feel honored by your outreach? And they immediately find in you, a valuable connection? Here are 3 strategies to expand your network in a sophisticated and elevated way. These are not theoretical ideas, but proven strategies that I’ve implemented effectively in my firm and with my clients.

Innovative Strategies for Relationship Building

What all of the strategies below have in common is that they focus on initiating a relationship of mutual respect and admiration, and not on selling your services.

  • They are not a pitch to “buy” your services, they are an invitation to collaborate.
  • These invitations appeal to the mutual professional benefit of one another.
  • They honor and recognize the position your prospect has.
  • They increase your authority, making you attractive to be around

Strategy #1: Invite them to your platform

We wanted to get Debra, a career coach, as a speaker at universities. Debra was polished and highly accomplished from her last business, but she didn’t have many contacts in academia yet. We needed to expand her network first.

We compiled and prioritized a list of Directors at Career Development Centers at universities. Instead of cold calling and pitching them the topics Debra could cover as a speaker, we created a platform: A talk show called The Passionate Professional. We developed a sophisticated sub-brand and leveraged Debra’s contacts from her last business to get some great names in the first episodes.

After a few episodes we went back to our target list and invited some of these folks, not to hire Debra as a speaker, but to share their word of advice with our audience at The Passionate Professional Talk Show. The results were far more effective than those from regular cold calls. While some folks never replied, many did – after all, who doesn’t want to be a 'passionate professional'? Debra recorded an amazing episode with them, and a few months later, she was speaking in front of their alumni.

When you opt for this strategy, the platform is flexible. It can be a podcast, a talk show, a written interview, a blog post, etc. However, some things are critical to make this strategy work:

  1. Your platform’s branding needs to be sophisticated and high-quality. People you invite to join need to be honored and proud that you have invited them.
  2. The social proof that you get from having other “big names” in the platform makes a huge difference.
  3. If you don’t have a distribution list, for people to engage with the content, consider buying ads to drive traffic.

Strategy #2: Host a collaborative event

Paolo, the co-founder of Azul, is one of the most brilliant minds I have ever had the pleasure to work with. He is also a highly collaborative visionary. One sunny afternoon during a lovely lunch in Miami Beach, Paolo shared how, when he wanted to put Azul on the radar, he envisioned hosting a series of events to gain authority by association. This also happened to be Paolo’s superpower: to bring people together and create something the world hasn’t seen before.

Azul organizes in-person events that people from all over the world attend. They are also pioneers in their field hosting online conferences with more than 50 teachers and thousands of registrations.

Hosting an event is a powerful strategy because there it clusters lots of energy into a few hours or days. The magnitude of the event can vary and be equally effective. Some of my favorite type of events are:

  1. Conferences and Summits. 20 to 50 guests.
  2. Mini-Summits. 5 to 10 guests.
  3. Round Tables. 3 to 5 guests.
  4. Webinars. 1 to 2 guests.

If you implement this strategy, it is critical that you ensure registrations to your event. I always suggest running ad campaigns to ensure butts-in-seats.

Strategy #3: Collaborate on a White Paper or Research Study

Writing a white paper or conducting a research study isn't just about putting out great content—it's also a fantastic way to pull in opinions from key players in your industry. Think of it as a networking event on paper (or screen). This approach not only boosts your visibility but also positions you as a hub for industry collaboration.

When you're planning to create a white paper or research study, here’s how to make it a networking goldmine:

  1. Choosing the Right Topic: Pick a topic that’s both pressing and relevant to your industry. It should be something that sparks interest and invites debate, making it perfect for collaboration.
  2. Inviting Contributions: Reach out to potential leads or industry experts to contribute their insights on the topic. This isn't just about getting quotes—it's about inviting them to co-author sections or provide case studies. It shows you value their expertise and strengthens the bond.
  3. Easy and Engaging Format: Keep the tone professional yet approachable. You want your contributors and readers to feel like they’re part of a meaningful conversation, not just digesting a dry academic paper.
  4. Promotion and Distribution: Share your collaborative white paper across your networks and encourage your co-authors to do the same. This can significantly extend your reach and attract a wider audience. Consider leveraging platforms like LinkedIn, industry forums, and newsletters.
  5. Ongoing Engagement: After publishing, keep the dialogue going. Host a webinar or a roundtable discussion about the white paper’s findings. Invite contributors and readers to discuss the implications or next steps. This keeps everyone engaged and deepens professional relationships.

Conclusion: 200 people can change your life

As a professional service provider, you don’t need thousands of clients. You need a few GREAT clients. The insightful book "How Clients Buy: A Practical Guide to Business Development for Consulting and Professional Services" by McMakin and Fletcher drives home the idea that just 200 people can change your life.

Identify these key connections, and strategically cultivate your relationships with them. Remember, the goal isn't merely to increase your contact list—it's to build a community of colleagues, mentors, and clients who trust and value what you bring to the table. Start small, think big, and watch as your network grows organically, powered by genuine connections and shared success.

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