You’ve identified a great prospective client but you don’t know the person and the only person you can find who might be able to connect you is an ex-coworker you’ve not spoken to in years.
The situation presents a dilemma for you. What do you do?
One option is to not try to connect at all. You take the prospective client off of your list of potential clients.
Another option is to send a personalized message to the prospective client. If done right, a personalized message is extremely powerful and you’ve had success with personalized messages.However, there is a third option and that is reaching out and asking the person you’ve not spoken to in years for help. This is also the best option because a solid introduction from a trusted person adds a level of credibility to an initial introduction and helps with building a mutual relationship.
No one is to blame for the disconnect between you and the ex-coworker. You simply lost touch with them because of limits on your time, demands of your professional and personal life, and daily paths no longer crossing. Losing touch happens.
Whether you are new to consulting or been consulting for years, it is common to need help from someone with whom you’ve not connected with in quite some time. Reaching out to that person can be awkward and feel uncomfortable.
I remember the first time I needed to reach out to an old connection. I hedged to ask for help because I didn’t want to be seen as the person who only reaches out when they needed something. But a good colleague reminded me that the worst thing that could happen is the person ignores the email or they say no.
Most people, no matter how long it has been since you corresponded, are open to helping a person. But it also means you, the consultant, needs to be sensitive to the situation and be apologetic.
Re-establishing a Relationship.
Here is my process for reestablishing a relationship.
- Start by communicating with them using their preferred communication method. If they prefer email, use email. If they prefer phone calls, call them.
- Send an email (or call) acknowledging the fact that you have fallen out of touch. In the subject line, I’ve used words as “Mea Culpa. I’m sorry I’ve been out of touch.” or a simple “Are you open to reconnecting?” I’m not the best with humor, but if your relationship is informal, consider using a use a humorist quote such as “Boy, time sure flew. Where has it gone?”
- Apologize for being out of touch. Provide a brief update to let the person know what has been going on with you professionally. If appropriate, don’t hesitate to provide a personal update.
- Ask if they are open to helping you but also provide them with an out such as “I’m sure you are busy. I understand if this is not a good time.” Then, explain your reasons as to why you are asking them for assistance. Don’t hesitate to say that based on your research, you believe they might be able to help you with an introduction (or maybe it is background information on a person, an industry, or an event.) Be confident in your ask but be respectful of them and their time.
- If they say YES, make it easy for them by providing what they need to help you. If you are asking for an introduction, write the introduction email message for them. Better yet, before you even reach out, write the message.
- Try to reciprocate by asking what you can do for them. The ask could be as simple as “What can I do right now that is helpful for you?” If they respond with a “nothing right now” let them know that they shouldn’t hesitate to reach out in the future.
- Never forget to thank them for their time and help. The thank you can be a hand written thank you note or a small gift. Additionally, thank them by letting them know how their help helped you. Did that introduction to that great prospective client materialize into the creation of a proposal?
- Finally, the most important last step—add them to your Remain in Touch Relationship Strategy. You don’t want to fall out of touch again.
Reaching out to a person that you’ve not spoken with in years and asking them to help you can feel awkward and uncomfortable. There is no way around that feeling.
But, it is important for you, a consultant, to learn how to put the discomfort behind you and reconnect. Reconnecting is part of networking and the better your network, the easier it is to grow your business. However, reconnecting requires, you to be sensitive to the situation, be apologetic, and gracious in your approach. It also requires you to take the time to ensure you and your “ex” don’t fall out of touch again.
Laura Burford partners with solo-consultants and boutique consulting businesses helping them clarify their CORE (focus, ideal client, point of view and services), build relationships, and get clients. She is the founder of Laura’s Consulting Guide and offers a free weekly Consulting Insights focused on providing tips, techniques, and thought pieces for consultants at all stages of their business.