It’s never too early to start networking. Even if you’re an associate attorney, it’s essential for you to meet people in the community so that, when you become a partner and begin having influence with clients, you will already have people in your Rolodex you’ll feel comfortable referring clients to (and, in return, people will likely refer business to you). Without your own book of business, you’re expendable to your firm in a recession, so networking is vitally important to your career sustainability and professional development.
Whether you’ve just passed the bar or you need a jumpstart within a new region or among new clientele, a strategy will greatly enhance your chances of success. First, identify someone who has been in the community for a long time and is well liked. Perhaps you’re involved in a relationship-building organization like ProVisors where you can see certain people are centers of influence. Introduce yourself and get to know this person. Make sure you genuinely like this person — and the quality of his or her work — because you’ll organically meet others in their professional circle who will likely have similar traits and values.
It goes without saying that attempting to do business with those whom you don’t naturally connect is not worth your time. If you hit it off with another professional, they’ll refer you business and you’ll feel comfortable referring your clients to them as well — but this doesn’t work without mutual trust and respect.
With a few exceptions (for example, if you provide an unusual product or service), networking events will not produce strong results. One-off handshakes are a waste of time and energy, and you’ll rarely refer a client to someone whose business card you randomly pull from your wallet. Instead, put yourself in a situation where you can connect with the same attorneys and professional resources over and over again. These connections will get to know you, your personality, the quality of your work and your reputation so that they feel comfortable referring their treasured clients to you. Relationships such as these are difficult to create during just one lunch, one cocktail, or one networking event.
While participation in networking organizations is one way to actively seek out new business, it’s important to remember that some networking is more indirect. Take, for example, the way you interact with attorneys working on the other side of a deal. Be professional and show them what you’re capable of because if professionals on the other side like the way you handle yourself, it may lead to business opportunities down the line. The same applies to other advisers of your client, for example, their CPA.
Finally, keep in mind that your clients can actually help you enhance your networking relationships. If you position yourself with clients in such a way that when they have a need, you’re the first person they pick up the phone and call, you’ll have the power and opportunity to make referrals to your best resources. In turn, referrals will come back to you. With a steady stream of referrals coming in, your book of business will grow, making you a valuable asset to your firm — economic boom or not.