Do You Have a Networking Strategy?

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Do You Have a Networking Strategy?
April 25, 2017

The most surprising thing I noticed about lawyers when I first started out in legal marketing was the high number who were not comfortable networking. I had assumed that the legal profession would naturally attract extroverts — and yes, there are some who have, it seems, an intrinsic sense of how to work a room; making immediate connections with all they meet. But a surprising large number are introverts who prefer to spend their time keeping their heads down and doing their job.

A job well done, however, is only one component to bringing in new clients and hitting billable hour expectations; in an increasingly competitive industry, getting out of the office and in front of referral sources and potential new clients is more important than ever.

The good news? There are several ways for even the most introverted to effectively network… after all, no one will be successful if they’re so uncomfortable in a situation that it’s visible to others. The better news? You don’t have to sell anything or meet with anyone you don’t enjoy to develop new business.

But it requires commitment – you must do it consistently, no matter which activity you choose.

Overcoming the common misconception that effective networking means becoming a salesperson and conducting cold calls is a good start. The Business Dictionary defines networking as “Creating a group of acquaintances and associates and keeping it active through regular communication for mutual benefit. Networking is based on the question ‘How can I help?’ and not with ‘What can I get?’ ”

So, no sales and no cold calls… that’s right, you can have fun building your network simply by being yourself, having conversations with people you like, and the work will come.

But where to start?

First, determine how you get the majority of your work – is it from in-house referrals by other lawyers at your firm? From attorneys at other firms? Opposing counsel? Or perhaps your targets are in-house counsel or business executives?

It’s crucial to understand where most of your work comes from, as you’ll want to make sure you’re spending your valuable time in a way that has the best chance of serving your business.

Once you have that list, start scheduling regular meetings, coffees or lunches with them. One every week is a good start, and this includes those attorneys within your firm who refer clients to you….sometimes attention to enhancing these relationships is overlooked because they work down the hall. If they never see you and hear about the type of work you’re doing, you’re missing an opportunity to update them on new services you offer or issues/legislation they should be aware of, and doing so solidifies their confidence in sending clients your way.

When scheduling meetings, select those with whom you have a connection and are already comfortable. This allows you to be immediately at ease in the situation and have a good conversation. A simple “it’s been a while since we’ve seen each other and I’m interested in hearing how you’re doing” is all it takes to get the meeting set and conversation in motion.

The meeting itself is easy – prepare by considering the following proven attributes:

  1. Listen to them – It’s about the target (“how can I help” vs “what can I get”) and opening the conversation with questions about their family, interests and how things are going with their business will not only please them but will give you some valuable insight for the future. Don’t rush this part and let it take you wherever it goes.
  2. Be authentic – Be present and focused on them during this conversation (put away the phone!) and show your genuine interest in the information being shared. Make mental notes for possible follow up later if you learn something that may be applicable to your practice.
  3. Find commonalities – You will undoubtedly find commonalities as the conversation progresses which helps cement the relationship and reminds the target of why he/she has worked with you in the past.

The conversation will turn at some point to you and what you’ve been doing. Do your homework beforehand and be ready to talk about your work as it directly relates to what you’ve done for them or what you think may be of use. You won’t have to ask for work and quite often, they will think of something for which they need legal advice during the discussion.

Make sure you follow up afterward with a quick ‘thank you/great to see you’ email; for even greater impact, attach a link to an article or blog post related to something you discussed.

If you conduct meetings like this weekly, you’ll become much more comfortable talking about yourself and your practice, and the returns will come. Personal relationships and human connections are still key to business development for lawyers; in fact, making the effort to connect personally in a world that is now so digital will make a positive impression in and of itself.

While personal meetings are always the best way to connect, there are many other ways for the more introverted to show their expertise in ways that include:

  1. Articles/Blog Posts: Write articles about your area of expertise for Bar Journals, association newsletters, business magazines, etc. Again, refer back to your list of targets and write for those that reach them directly. Better yet, determine your practice niche and launch a blog where you become the expert in your field. You can supplement these activities by commenting on related blogs posts as well. If you find you enjoy doing this and can commit to doing it regularly, consider launching a Twitter account where you can further promote your work, and comment on other related news in your subject matter areas.
  2. Industry and Trade Associations: If your business comes in from other lawyers, join a related Section of your local Bar and regular attend meetings and events. Better still, join a committee or help them in some way by providing expertise to their newsletter or programs. If you’re trying to reach industry executives, determine the types of industries you work with most, and join the local association. Again, joining committees, and offering to provide content to their publications and programming can help you meet and reach potential new clients.
  3. Nonprofit Boards/PTAs/School Sports: Already have a personal connection to a nonprofit whose mission is important to you? Involved in your child’s school or sports? This is a natural way to meet prospects who have business connections and could become future clients.
  4. LinkedIn Groups: Assuming you’re on LinkedIn (and if you’re not, DO IT as it’s the #1 referral source for all professions; you should be connected to all of your clients and referral sources here), dig deeper by joining appropriate groups and commenting on questions that come up as part of group discussions.

In the end, it’s about determining the connection, passion or knowledge you already have and capitalizing on it – your authenticity and expertise will shine through. And, you just might find that you’re having a good time as well!

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