The Executive Networking Playbook for Government Contractors
Having solid networking skills can put your name and business on the map. By tapping the right people, you are attracting the attention of potential customers and investors who might be interested in developing your business with you further.
However, the idea of networking, let alone executive networking with the key decision-makers in the government contracting industry, can deter contractors from attempting to break through the existing intricate woven web of connections within the industry. And more often than not, the act of networking with executives is frequently viewed in a bad light due to a number of reasons.
Is networking a total waste of time?
As if managing your business and fulfilling your duties as a government contractor during the day isn’t exhausting enough, you also have to plan out your networking efforts on the side.
Networking may seem like a total waste of time at first. But it isn’t!
To fully appreciate the beauty of networking, you should view it as an investment. You invest your time, effort, and skill in connecting with a diverse group of individuals to forge your own trusted network of people that you can rely on for support in the future.
What are the benefits of executive networking?
Stay on top of business and industry trends
The federal government’s spending habits are usually predictable. Every government contract the federal administration awards is posted on the USASpending website so you can easily track their demand trends.
However, the subtle shifts in the market that can snowball into major changes aren’t usually reflected in these websites alone. You can find it by listening to the people themselves.
Networking with a board member, senior-level professionals, or even a representative from a federal agency itself can help you keep tabs on vital movements in the industry. Once you are equipped with the proper knowledge, you can now formulate your business strategy for the future.
Gain quality referrals
It comes as no surprise that countless government contractors like you are all vying for the golden opportunity to sell to the U.S. government, especially after they have recently posted a record-high $680 billion spending for awarded contracts last fiscal year.
To thrive in a highly-competitive industry such as this, having an excellent reputation and track record is essential. Aside from proving your competence with your past performances, your network can also vouch for you.
Additionally, your connections can help you generate purposeful networking leads. For example, one of your networks knows another business searching for a government contractor for a subcontracting opportunity they have in mind. They can put in a good word about you then send the business lead.
Receive valuable knowledge and insights that fuels innovation
When your network consists of contacts within your company and other accomplished persons from different organizations, you expose yourself to diverse perspectives, leadership styles, and unique insights that can inspire innovation in your business.
Being involved in a group with rich backgrounds lets you see things in a different light. You become more sensitive to the industry’s nuances and come up with fresh ideas to reinvent your existing processes, products, and services. By fostering innovation in your organization, you enhance your business holistically to target more market spheres other than the federal clientele.
Meet a mentor
Navigating the government contracting field is confusing and overwhelming, so having a mentor to guide you can encourage personal and professional development. The perfect mentor can be found anywhere. You can meet them during a networking event, or they might already be on your contacts list, waiting for your call. Evaluate your network, and you might find the right mentor for you.
Access a diverse pool of talents
Having a talented pool of professionals who are just a phone call away means you can tap them for assistance whenever needed. When you are doing a government project that requires the expertise of your network, you can just contact them regarding the opportunity, and both of you can thrive from it. And in turn, whenever one of your networks needs your services, they can reach out to you too. This way, you mutually benefit from being part of a network of professionals.
Successful executive networking—how to do it?
From acquiring quality referrals to gaining valuable insights, the benefits you’ll reap with networking are definitely worth it—especially if you know how to network strategically with the right people. Here are some tips on how to execute it effectively:
1. Move with purpose
For your network to bear fruit, you have to put in the work. But before you start seeking potential connections, you have to set clear goals first. This way, you can gauge whether your networking methods are working and what needs improvement.
Additionally, having clear and actionable goals can help you target the right people to network with. Do you want to expand your company in a specific industry? Then meet up with known emerging leaders from that field. Are you seeking another company to team up for future government contract projects? Then connect with prime contractors in your industry.
It’s good to have a set of goals to overcome feeling overwhelmed. Just remember not to limit yourself to your goals, though. Sometimes, you can forge the best connections when you least expect them.
2. Practice strategic networking
Like we have said earlier, there are still business leaders who frown upon networking since it is commonly used as an insincere and manipulative tactic to get ahead of the game. Although there are others who do it out for personal agendas, networking is not inherently wrong—it’s all about mindset. Networking is all about fostering profound relationships strategically.
According to this study, where managers from different industries were observed, those who could not overcome their negative perception about networking were blindsided by crucial factors that affected their leadership. On the other hand, business leaders who could foster a healthy connection with the people inside and outside their organization could flourish. This type of connection is called strategic networking.
With strategic networking, you mold yourself to be a forward-thinking leader who constantly innovates to grow your business. By harnessing your skills to create meaningful connections internally and externally, you create a circle of successful people that you can rely on in the future.
3. Master the art of delegation
Executive networking can take up a huge chunk of your time. At times, you might even wonder if it is worth your while, especially when you’re still starting, and you can’t enjoy the benefits of having networks yet. You already have to manage a mountain of responsibilities during the day, so how can you squeeze in networking activities during your limited free time?
The answer is: hone your delegation skills.
Being adept at delegating tasks is a sign of an excellent leader. Take a step back to see whether you can shift around your tasks, reassign some of your responsibilities to your trusted employees, or omit duties that are deemed unnecessary in achieving your business goals. You’ll be surprised how much time you can save by reevaluating the efficiency of your existing workflow.
4. Be proactive in seeking potential connections
You can forge connections anytime and anywhere. But here are some of the best avenues to promote yourself and seek potential networks to reach out to at the same time:
Attend networking events
In addition to the valuable knowledge that you will gain from the event speakers, participating in networking events is one of the surefire ways to meet new connections.
To know how you can make the most out of a networking event, here is a quick guide to help you prepare for it.
Build your online presence
The world is now rapidly shifting to digital. And because social networking platforms became the people’s favored medium to connect with others, the online sphere has become an optimal space to promote yourself and find like-minded individuals.
Online platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are some of the best places to start building your online presence. Maintain your profile by regularly publishing thought pieces that reflect your industry expertise, connect with different people online, and craft engaging content to establish rapport with your peer networks.
Don’t forget to foster meaningful relationships with your fellow executives as you venture for external connections. Instead of just communicating with them on a transactional basis, make an effort to know them personally. You have to show your genuine intent to connect with them to build relationships.
More often than not, senior-level professionals tend to get so caught up with their responsibilities that they forget to think about strengthening their associations with other executives. This oversight can blindside you in internal changes you may have prepared for if you kept in touch with them.
5. Find common ground with your newly forged connections
When meeting with a potential connection, don’t immediately sell your products and services to them. Networking, primarily, is about creating strategic relationships. The selling part comes later on.
Instead, get to know them personally first to establish an amicable relationship. If you’re struggling to start a conversation with an executive, try to research them before your meeting if possible. Get to know their interests and hobbies—you might find something in common with them too.
6. Be genuine
It is pretty normal for anyone to put up a façade when communicating with another, especially when impressing a senior-level executive. But more often than not, executives know when you are trying so hard to pretend to be someone you’re actually not.
From the start, show your genuine interest in building a connection with them. Respectfully listen to your connection and ask the right questions to know more about them.
7. Be impressionable
The industry executives you aim to connect with interact with hundreds of people. To gain a competitive edge over other government contractors, you have to be creative in showcasing yourself and your services to your target executives.
During an executive networking event, always aim to be unforgettable. Don’t settle for good enough—the federal marketplace is already saturated with the likes of that. Instead, think creatively about how you can stand above the crowd.
8. Strive always to bring value to your connections
Using connections solely for personal gain is one of the main reasons networking is still poorly viewed today. When networking, you have to remember that it is all about give-and-take. Take a step back and ask yourself: what can I bring to the table? If you want your relationship with a senior-level executive to grow, you have to be someone they can rely on in the future.
And with that thought in mind, you should always make an effort to know the latest business trends by checking out the latest news, following industry thought leaders, and keeping tabs on relevant social media platforms.
9. Diversify your networks
It is pretty common to network with key people within your industry. But, you shouldn’t limit yourself in reaching out to connections outside your industry as well. Meeting different people can bring you deeper insights and ideas that can help move your business forwards. Fortunately, with this digital shift the society is currently undertaking, it is much easier to connect with potential networks thanks to social networking sites.
10. Move on if it doesn’t work out
Although it may sound like dating advice at first, this tip applies to professional relationships.
When you have already exhausted every method to connect with an executive, and it still doesn’t work out, accept the fact then move on. Otherwise, you’ll risk being a nuisance to them if you continue to pester them. So instead of wasting your time on relationships that are not already working out, you should look for other potential networks to connect with.
Networking is a long-term investment
Indeed, there is a lot to remember about successful networking. To enjoy its rewards, you have to put in the work first. Little by little, try to integrate networking into your daily routine—from sending a simple check-in mail in the morning to inviting them to a coffee meeting.