Beyond the Business Card

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How often have you found a business card in your pocket and tossed it, simply because you couldn’t attach the name to a face? We’re all guilty of it. In fact, hundreds of card-stock rectangles with your name on it reside in a landfill at this very moment.

Granted, the cost of printing business cards is negligible, so it’s not exactly a waste of your money to hand them out, regardless of the outcome. However, if you want your name to live inside a Rolodex instead of on a pile of tissues, you need to approach networking as you would a client’s case — make a strategic plan, execute it with confidence, and follow up on promising leads that will guarantee you a win.

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Networking Strategy

A strategic plan must always start with the “why.” Why are you networking? The obvious answer is that you need business to prove both your loyalty and potential to the firm and stay employed. Now, let’s set the obvious answer aside in one of your old case files and get introspective. Outside of the firm’s goals and objectives and your own need for a good income, why are you, as an individual, networking at a particular event?

Maybe your stream of clients is less steady than you’d like because you’ve been unable to answer challenging questions or provide quality referrals when asked. Or maybe you’ve come across too many individuals you can’t represent due to conflicts of interest within your firm and you previously lacked professional connections to offer as an alternative. Or maybe you want to share your unique knowledge and promote yourself within the business world.

Whether your goal is to grow your list of resources, promote your own services, or expand your social circle, you need to approach each networking situation with a plan that includes a list of people or professions you most want to meet and why.

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Quality vs. Quantity

Now that you’ve identified your networking objective, it’s time to go shake some hands. It’s not just about the number of business cards you hand out, but about taking the time to explain how you can be of service to others and find out how they can be of service to you.

Let’s face it, you have a snippet of time to be memorable. It’s critical that your introduction sets you apart from others. Think how you may be specific and illustrate what differentiates you from other attorneys in your space. You’re not just a divorce lawyer, for example. You’re a divorce lawyer who specializes in helping women with custody battles. You’re not just an environmental lawyer; you’re an environmental lawyer who specializes in litigation with aerospace companies. When in doubt, modify your introduction so it’s less a laundry list of qualifications and more conversational in case you meet a quality contact who hasn’t passed the bar. Be sure to mention how you help your clients and provide details about the kinds of cases on which you’ve worked.

When you come across a contact who meets one of your strategic needs, spend enough time chatting to really get to know them and ask who they are outside of work. Finding common interests is an effective way to get to know someone on a deeper level and remember who they are when you find their business card later.

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Check yourself a few minutes into your conversation to ensure it’s not one-sided. Networking experts ask more questions than they answer. The back-and-forth is what seeds a successful, quality connection.

Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up

Follow-up is a critical step in the networking process — and one in which many of us would receive a failing grade. Your networking strategy should include long-term goals. You want to meet people you can refer to your clients throughout your entire career.

But you can’t make quality referrals if your connections are only surface deep. Follow up with promising contacts while you’re still top of mind and make a plan to meet face-to-face. Repeat this process every several weeks. Over time, this person will not just be a professional acquaintance, they’ll become someone you know well, actually quite like, and have grown to trust. If the trust if mutual, you’ll have developed a reciprocal referral relationship that benefits you both and grows your business.

Remember: aft er that initial introduction, don’t let too much time pass before you reach out — a day or two, maximum — because, by then, your business card may have already made it into a landfill. Nikki Potter 

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