You know by now that there are many reasons why a strong network is invaluable. One of the best is that your network is a group of people with whom you don’t have to start at square one: Meaning, you don’t need to build rapport before you pitch a business opportunity or potential partnership.
The problem? People take advantage of this all too often. Remember: Just because you didn't have to work to get an introduction, doesn't mean you can simply wing the rest. It's tempting to think, “My contacts already know I'm smart and professional, so obviously, any opportunity I approach them with is a good one.” But even if people believe in you, and even if they believe you'd be a great hire, business partner, vendor, or whatever, people aren't just looking for a good opportunity, they're looking for the right opportunity. And selling anyone on the right opportunity takes prep work and a solid approach.
So, how can you ensure your contacts give your pitch serious consideration? Pitches are, of course, as unique as the products or experiences themselves, but I can tell you—across the board—there are four things you must avoid at all costs. Read on to make sure you don't make any of these mistakes when reconnecting with an old contact for a business opportunity.
Mistake #1: Using the Wrong Medium
Instead: Use What You Would for Any Other Professional Communication
I recently had someone reach out to me with a business opportunity—via Facebook messaging. Facebook, Twitter, Gchat—if it's a platform where messages are often sent for social purposes, your contact may assume you’re reaching out to reconnect socially (rather than professionally). Moreover, limited characters will truncate your pitch, and emoticons don't exactly scream professionalism.
So, what should you do? Reach out by email, LinkedIn, or phone, just as you would for a prestigious client. Only connected to the person via Facebook or Twitter? Send a short message that asks for his or her contact information, and proceed from there.
Mistake #2: Being Overly Friendly
Instead: Be Pleasant, Then Get to the Point
When you’re reaching out to an old contact, some niceties are obviously appropriate, but too many “catching up” messages will seem inauthentic. If you spend too long framing your interest as reconnecting, one of two things will happen: 1. She’ll take you at your word and not be interested anything other than chatting, or 2. She’ll see through it and wonder how much time you’re going to spend buttering her up before you get to whatever you’re trying to sell.
Instead, send a message that’s a complete first impression. It should be friendly enough to demonstrate that you're already connected, but straightforward enough to show you mean business.
For example, “Hi Sara, I hope this email finds you well. As cold as it is here, I can only imagine what it must feel like in Maine! I am reaching out because I recently launched a new fitness company that I’d love to discuss with you further. When might be a convenient time, and what is the best way to reach you?”
Mistake #3: Assuming Someone Will Be Interested
Instead: Make Sure Your Pitch is Professional and Compelling
Again, your contacts know you’re great—but that doesn’t mean that they’ll immediately know your business idea or sales opportunity is. Even if you’re excited to get started, remember that you should show people you know the same level of professionalism you’d show anyone else. What do you need before you’d feel comfortable approaching someone random—a killer phone pitch? A website that’s up and running—or at least a landing page? A professional PowerPoint presentation? If you want someone to hire you or invest in your product, you need to bring your A-game.
Of course, there’s a time and a place for reaching out to people for advice before your pitch is polished and perfect. So, group your contact list. Contacts you feel comfortable asking for advice go in a different column than contacts you are trying to impress. Wait to reach out to the group you “want something from” until you know exactly how you want to present what you're selling.
Mistake #4: Skipping the Follow Up
Instead: Be Present (But Not Annoying)
So, your contact is interested or wants to learn a little more? Great. Now is not the time to assume everything’s in the bag—it’s time to follow up the same way you would with anyone else. For example, I once had a contact pitching me on an opportunity who, upon being asked a question (that I can only assume she wasn't prepared for), fell silent for one week. Think I’d want to work with someone who, when thrown a curveball, disappears for a week? Not exactly. (On the flip side, of course, don’t harass people if you haven’t heard from them right away—and wait at least five days between your initial inquiry and when you check in. You want to come off as proactive, not needy.)
Another common follow-up mistake? Not listening. I had someone approach me, and when I asked for a link to learn more, she said she only wanted to follow up by phone. Perhaps she had her reasons, but if you want to impress someone, be the kind of person he or she would want to partner with—knowledgeable, accommodating, and kind.
If you want to get an old contact on board with a new project, lead with a strong, professional pitch, and then be responsive to the follow-up that works best for him or her. If you start out with a solid plan and are prepared to regroup when necessary, you’ll do just fine.