As a lawyer, you know you need to do more networking, more industry outreach, and more one-on-one lunches with prospective clients and referral sources. You likely won’t dispute the fact that a significant portion – up to 80% – of your business comes to you from referrals. The most common referral sources are your clients, other lawyers, and targeted industry contacts. But let’s look at how you spend your marketing time. It stands to reason that if 80% of your business comes from referrals, you should be spending a commensurate amount of time networking and building relationships with referral sources, right?
In theory, yes. But we know there are many other things lawyers do to position themselves in the marketplace. From your website, social media and blogging, to client communications, writing and speaking, all these activities are important because they build your name recognition. The reason you spend time on these areas, is so that when you meet with someone, they are familiar with you and with your firm.
So fast forward to the meetings you have on your calendar next week. Hopefully at least one will be with a current or prospective referral source. I know – you’re busy with work and it’s hard to take the time to do even one networking meeting each week. But assuming you have committed to going, treat that meeting like any other you would attend, and prepare for it! Following are three steps to ensure your networking meetings are the best use of your time, and that the people you meet with will start actively referring clients to you.
DON’T JUST WING IT. DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Before you meet, make sure you take a step back and gather some important information:
No. 1: Web and Bio Review. Visit their website and read their bio and pages applicable to what they do. Make sure you also read their LinkedIn profile; a treasure trove of background information!
No. 2: Google Them! Do a basic Google search on the person you are meeting with and on their firm. What if they were just quoted in the daily paper? You want to be able to congratulate them.
No. 3: Look for Commonality. Visit their LinkedIn profile and see what contacts you have in common; see what they like to do in their spare time; review where they used to work. You are always looking for the things you might have in common with your contact.
No. 4: Mental Agenda. Before you leave your office, think about what you want to get out of the meeting. What would the best-case scenario be? It could be an agreement to write an article together or team up to deliver a webinar. It might open the door to having you go to their firm and present something educational to others.
No. 5: How can You Help Them? After doing your research on the person, spend time thinking about who you could introduce them to – those who could help them achieve their business or personal goals.
YOU’RE THERE. NOW LEAD THE CONVERSATION
Remember the mental agenda you created? Now it’s time to start using it. In addition, there are other things to think about as sit down to lunch:
No. 1: Ask Questions. Remember that when you ask questions you are in control of the conversation. Don’t let the discussion meander around to different unstructured topics. Remember what you want to get out of the meeting, and start by asking questions like:
How are you? Then turn their response into more questions like:
- Did you take any interesting trips this winter?
- How is your business going? Which can lead to:
- Who is your ideal client?
- How could we work together to benefit both of our practices?
- Is there anyone I’m connected to on LinkedIn I can introduce you to?
- How can I help you in your business?
No. 2: Take Notes. If you take a few notes, it shows you are engaged in the conversation, and that you value what the person is saying to you!
No. 3: Treat Them. If you invited someone to lunch, consider picking up the bill. You can always agree to let them get the tab the next time.
No. 4: Agree on Next Steps. Identify any next steps you agreed to including when you should get together again – and write it down. You always want to leave a networking meeting with a list of action items and next steps.
YOU’RE BACK IN YOUR OFFICE. NOW FOLLOW UP
You prepared for the meeting and had a delightful time with your contact. THE most important part of your networking meeting is the follow up you do when you’re back in the office.
No. 1: Do what you Say You will Do. Because you were taking notes, you know you offered to introduce your contact to someone or send an article or blog post you wrote. The moment you return to your office, take action! Make that LinkedIn introduction, refer them to your landscaping consultant, send the article outline you discussed, or present next steps on the joint presentation you could do together.
No. 2: Make it Easy for Them to Refer You. Chances are you had a great meeting and left with promises of referring business to one another. Take it one step further and create a one-page document you can send to your contact that conveys:
- Your photo and contact information.
- Summary of your practice.
- Representative case studies (type of client, problem, your solution, result).
- Testimonials from your satisfied clients
By sending this to a referral source, you are making it easier for them to refer you. You are not relying on them to position you. Rather, you create your own messages on the value you bring to your clients. Your contact then simply mails your 1-page summary to people they want to refer to you.
No. 3: What Next? During your meeting you agreed on some action items. Make sure you calendar your next follow up with this person, even if it’s three months from now. If you don’t, the relationship will likely stagnate. Always be the driver of next steps to ensure the relationship continues to grow.
While many lawyers think that having a lunch meeting is just showing up for an hour, it is in your best interest to spend time preparing for the meeting. During the meeting, focus exclusively on how you can help THEM. I know – it’s networking, but the conversation will always come back to you. When you ask questions, you show your contact you are genuinely interested in them – so interested you are taking notes. Then, take your best intentions and when you get back to your office, take immediate action on them. And don’t forget the most important part: always have a next step. Schedule a reminder on your calendar to meet with your contact again. If you implement this approach with your contacts, you will build deeper relationships built on genuine fondness, respect, and trust. Terrie S. Wheeler