Networking terrifies people. They immediately think of maneuvering in a crowded room full of strangers asking for favors. Your first step is to re-think networking. I encourage my consulting clients to think of networking as simply building relationships. Some of the people you meet will become friends, others will hire you and others will become referral sources that will help you build your practice.
By becoming strategic about legal networking, you will develop into a master rainmaker and have an enviable referral network.
WHAT GOES WRONG?
- No strategy
- No goals
- No opportunities to connect with someone new
- Rehashing the famous “I’m so busy” conversation
WHAT IS THE “I’M SO BUSY” CONVERSATION?
You’ve had this conversation a million times. You see a professional colleague at a networking event, “How are you?” The reply is immediate, “I’m so busy, I don’t know where time goes, I can’t get anything done. How are you?” And your reply? “I agree, I’m so busy!”
Who wants to send work to someone already overworked? Who wants to hire someone who is constantly complaining? What can we do instead? Be purposeful about preparing your conversation starters and sharing your news.
This can include personal news (professional development, upcoming events, personal updates); recent accomplishments (project completed, successful initiative); work projects (current initiatives, legal or industry trends, how you are spending your time); new at the firm (new services, recent wins or upcoming events); or looking forward (what is on the horizon, what excites you about the future)
After you share your news, make sure to follow up with your contacts.
- Connect on LinkedIn or other social media as appropriate
- Send thank you note or email
- Take any next steps that you promised such as an introduction
- Provide value to your new network connections
- Schedule next steps with your new contacts
As soon as you return from networking events, do your homework. Add your new connections into your client relationship management tool and calendar deadline dates to keep in touch. It typically takes 8-10 touches (coffee, event, firm newsletter) over 12-18 months to turn a prospect into a client. It’s not enough to meet someone at a Chamber event, put a business card in their hand and then wait for the phone to ring. Here are a few suggestions for how to build a relationship with your new contact:
TAKE THE NEXT STEP
- Show interest in their business or industry.
- Ask for their opinion, input, ideas.
- Continue to share your news.
- Offer an invitation.
- Make a direct request for their business or for them to serve as a referral source.
Making time to build your referral network is your best investment in your law practice. Take the time to find out how your clients find you. Include this question on your intake form or ask during the initial interview.
If lawyers are referring work to you, take the time to get to know the lawyer doing the referring. Thank them each time a referral comes in with a phone call or quick note. Consider inviting the lawyer to coffee to learn more about their business so you can return the favor of referrals, as well as to provide more information about your practice so you are getting the best referrals.
TIPS TO BUILDING REFERRAL NETWORK:
- Identify the types of people who can use your service or refer work to you.
- Create a list of everyone you know who falls into these categories.
- Identify those you don’t know who you want to know – how can you get an introduction?
- Research your list and start building a database.
- Prepare your elevator speech and your news.
- Prepare lists of questions to ask and be prepared to answer questions about what you do, why, how, why you are looking for a job, why they should refer work to you or send you work.
- Call people and invite them to lunch or coffee (it gets easier the more you do it).
- Get comfortable with the logistics – you pay and make it easy by talking to the waiter in advance or telling the waiter when you order to bring you the check, choose convenient locations for your guest, arrive early, review the etiquette rules, have an agenda, be prepared to lead the conversation but be sure to listen.
- Google “networking for introverts” if you are worried.
- Provide value to your referral sources.
- Your professional life is long, relationships add value. But they can also help the bottom line. Camille Stell