First, get over your fear of networking. How? Treat it as an opportunity to meet and get to know new friends. As I said in another post, don’t put pressure on yourself by thinking you have to come away with a new client every time. Just enjoy yourself!!

Okay, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be smart about it.

An article by my friend Roberta Montafia has a succinct article on Attorney at Work about planning your networking to make it as productive as possible – yeah, while you are trying to enjoy yourself. Her main points are:

  • Plan your targets. Think through who your ideal clients are and where they are likely to be; and then plan to attend those events, conferences, etc. so you can meet them and…remember… make friends;
  • Focus. On how to make the biggest impact within those organizations where your targets are. In other words, what is the best way – writing for publications, volunteering, seeking positions of leadership – to make a contribution;
  • Be engaged. Don’t just join, raise your profile by being recognized as a meaningful contributor to the goals of the organization in whatever way that will benefit it and your reputation; and
  • Be prepared. Know as much as you can about who will be there, your goals in attending, what the targets need to know about you, and make sure to follow up.

Networking is a necessity in the business world. But, you don’t have to waste your time or dumbly go about doing it.

A referral network does not just happen. Like everything else in legal marketing, it takes work. William Melater, the Dis-Associate contributing author on Attorney at Work, tells us that it doesn’t matter where you went to school or your class rank. What does matter, if you are to “be successful as a lawyer,” is that you are able to bring in business. How true when it comes to the real world of law.

Since most business (in my experience at least 80%) comes from referrals, every lawyer needs to develop a referral network. Okay, I agree that that is easier said than done. But, it doesn’t have to be difficult. Melater suggests three simple things to do in his article "Building a Referral Network from the Ground Up."  His tips can be helpful:

  1. Try it. By getting out and about. And get over your fear. Look at networking as an opportunity to meet new interesting people and making friends (not initially to get business);
  2. Associate with older guys. Like me for instance — or better still, with "the more experienced attorneys." Not only can they be mentors, but by getting seasoned lawyers in your network, you could send them work you do not handle. It’s also a good way to connect with those who already have an established network you may be able to hook into. (See my post entitled “Top 10 Marketing Tips: No. 9 – Networking With Super-Connectors.”); and
  3. Be patient. Aah, patience. One of my strong suits I’d tell ya (if I wanted a longer nose). In any event a good referral network doesn’t happen overnight.

That is all the more reason to get working harder today at building your network.

I know that many lawyers are turned off, if not terrified by the concept of networking. The idea of walking into a room full of strangers and striking up a conversation is truly worse than a root canal. I can’t say that I’m overly comfortable with networking myself.

However, I found an article entitled “Bad Networking Ain’t Networking” by John Snyder on Attorney at Work to be quite helpful. When Synder left BigLaw for a solo practice, he was told “you’ve got to network.” His response to that in the article raises two excellent points:

  • Don’t go to networking events to get business. Rather look at it as opportunities to make new friends; and
  • Think of ways to help those you meet.

He sums it up beautifully: “So here is how I would amend that ‘you gotta network’ edict. It’s not about networking – it’s about being a friendly, generous and helpful person…(and those are) the qualities that clients or potential referral sources seek in a lawyer.”

So, attend networking events with the idea of making friends, not networking.  The results may surprise you.

With the crush of year-end and the busyness of the holidays, I decided to post an encore of a holiday post I did in 2007 on reaching out and touching clients and referral sources by telephone during the holidays.  Personal attention is better than (but not to the exclusion of) holiday cards. Here it is:

December 18, 2007  
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Work Your Network During the Holidays

It’s a good idea to touch base with contacts within your network during the holidays. It’s even better than sending holiday cards. Pick up the phone and reach out to everyone you know (okay, if you are THAT popular, not everyone) and wish them a happy holiday season. It especially makes sense to at least speak to every referral source and client, including those you haven’t done work for lately or received a recent referral.

And talking about networking, I thought I would call your attention to a post I did in December 2005 entitled “Ignore Your Friends At the ‘Business’ Holiday Party.”  The premise of that post was that you can get together with your friends anytime, so use business-related holiday parties as productive networking and business development opportunities that you can cultivate further in 2008. If interested in reading more of my thoughts on that subject, give that post a look.

Again, Happy Holiday(ing) Everyone!

Social media is obviously one way to network these days, and it can work. But, it is not as effective as face-to-face events with clients, referral sources and prospects. So, it’s time to get up from your desk, and get out and about. That is the theme of an article on Attorney at Work by Theda Snyder. And I completely agree.

Further, Snyder points out some simple tips on networking that aren’t new, but I have to admit I appreciate the reminders myself; to wit:

  • Go where your potential clients hang out. That is, it is better to spend time with trade groups, business organizations, etc. where your preferred types of clients are likely to be found. Spending time with other lawyers makes sense too, if they are a source of your referrals;
  • Be active in any organization you join. Be a “doer” not a “joiner.” Show that you are a player by volunteering and even seek a position of leadership, if possible, to raise your profile;
  • Mingle at events. Don’t just talk with people you know, or stay with one group. Take advantage of the occasion to speak to as many people as you can;
  • Remember to put your name tag on “your right side so it is easily visible as you shake hands.” Use a magic marker to write your firm name and nickname, if the organization used only your more formal name;
  • Introduce yourself to odd-numbered groups, as it is easier to interrupt than is a twosome;
  • Exchange business cards, and put a note on the back for recall conversation, and to remember the connection;
  • Follow up after the event. As Snyder suggests: “keep the conversation going.” Take a look at my post “Networking: Flawed Fallacy About Follow Up” on suggestions on how to do that.

The important thing is get out there and mingle face-to-face. Don’t just rely on social media for your networking.

Okay, you’ve decided it’s time to do some networking at a conference. The first thing you need to do is identify the right conferences to attend. Those would be ones that your clients and/or referral sources attend. If your main referral sources are other lawyers, you would want to go to bar association meetings, and, of course, CLE is an extra benefit.

An article by Sharon Meit Abrahams on Law.com’s Small Firm Marketing and in Law Firm Partnership and Benefits Report newsletter provides good insight into how to approach your attendance at conferences generally. Her recommendations (with some of my additional thoughts) include:

  • Seek out clients and referral sources. Naturally one would spend time with clients to enhance the relationship, but don’t spend too much time to the exclusion of meeting new contacts and potential clients. Additionally, it is a good idea to ask clients for introductions to other attendees whom you would like to meet;
  • Identify key players within the organization and among the attendees/speakers you know will be there;
  • Set up meetings, breakfast, cocktails, etc. with clients, referral sources and others at times that are open or not otherwise scheduled for conference activities;
  • Be prepared by planning ahead. Bring plenty of updated business cards, and write your mobile number on them (if not already printed on) to showcase your accessibility to them. Ask others for their card, and make sure to follow up with handwritten notes, telephone calls or emails to those you would like to build a relationship;
  • Think through ahead of time and practice your approach, including what you will say and how you would say it to those you hope to meet;
  • Ensure that you are on top of your game in terms of issues impacting or likely to impact conference attendees and other members of the organization;
  • Share your knowledge in discussions and Q&A sessions, instead of trying to sell yourself. Follow up after the conference with responses to specific issues raised during any encounters. Also, try to get on future speaker panels where you can demonstrate your expertise to a wider audience; and
  • Finally, plan out your available time during the conference to ensure you meet a large number of contacts.

Although not everyone will follow all of Abrahams’ or my suggestions, hopefully several of them will work for you. The important thing is to use any networking opportunity, especially at conferences, to the maximum extent possible.

Too often when working a room, many of us do so with little thought on being organized. As lawyers, we are methodical by nature in many of our dealings, but I expect networking isn’t one of them. Then, I ran across a post Bruce Allen did on his Marketing Catalyst blog during the holidays, that I like for it’s systematic approach and wanted to share it.

Allen talks about working a room in 60-minutes, presumably because during the busy holiday season, people have numerous events to attend. Whether you limit your networking to a fixed time, isn’t the point, what is has to do with being organized to get the most out of what might otherwise be a haphazard approach to networking. So, here’s his suggestions:

  • Get there early and check out the name tags for people you want to talk with;
  • In the early stages, hang out at the entrance to see (people you want to engage in conversation) and be seen;
  • Invite people to join you at the bar or food table, and offer to bring drinks to a group you’d like to join;
  • After the event is in full swing, move to the back of the room greeting people as you go;
  • From the back, survey for additional people, including VIPs you would like to meet; and
  • Then, work your way back toward the entrance greeting people as you go.

Take a look at his post, as I didn’t capture all his points. A more organized approach to working an event makes sense, and after you get the hang of it, improve your chances of success at networking.

This is the second encore of my post from December 2005, and from a business development standpoint, it is worth repeating:

 

December 4, 2005 Posted By Tom Kane

Ignore Your Friends At The "Business" Holiday Party

Hey, you can get together with your friends anytime. From a lawyer marketing standpoint, you don’t want to waste a networking opportunity talking to your friends and pass up the chance to meet or be referred to your next client. Save that for your personal and family gatherings during the holidays.

But, at the business holiday function, try to move on to those you don’t know. I don’t really mean to "ignore" your friends and colleagues, but limit your time to saying hello and promising to get together in the new year. At this event your purpose is different, or at least it should be. It’s difficult I know, since most people like to stay within their comfort zone; and that means gathering near the bar with friends, sitting with them while eating, etc. Heck, I’ve done it myself plenty of times. However, from a legal marketing standpoint that is a big mistake.

So, try a different approach this year, and you might just see the business development benefits flow from it early in 2006!

The same applies to 2011!

Happy Holidays!

Promoting yourself is not about you, it’s about the other person. I ran across an article on the ABA Journal online where Ari Kaplan is talking about the value in promoting/congratulating others and how that can pay dividends in promoting yourself. It reminds me of the phrase attributed to Zig Ziglar; to wit:

“You will get everything in life that you want if you just help enough other people get what they want."

Or as Thom Singer put it, a simple way to get noticed is to “help other people… It’s so simple its nutty.”

Add to those tidbits, the comment by Charles H. Green to Kaplan’s article:

“…the best advertising is what others say about you; and the best way to get others to say good things about you is to do good things for them."

Together, that pretty much sums up how to best way promote yourself – promote others.

Usually, I don’t post about articles that are only available by subscription, since most readers are not going to sign up and pay to see the article. However, a recent one on LawyersUSA Online gave some pretty simple steps to increase referrals, and I thought they were worth mentioning.

The five pretty basic tips include:

  1. Ask for referrals. At the conclusion of a matter, according to Ross Fishman, ask your client if they know of others that could use your help, as they may know of someone who may be in need or otherwise unhappy with their current lawyer;
  2. Identify top clients or contacts that may be “centers of influence” (or as I mentioned in a 2005 post are “Super-Connectors”). They are likely in a position to know what the needs of others in their organization or community are. Plan to reach out and contact them at least quarterly suggests Susan Van Dyke;
  3. Send information of interest. Although the article suggests sending weekly or monthly eNewsletters, I’m not a big fan of emails since we are inundated with so much email, and much is spam. If you have, however, provide a quick opt-out process, I’m less critical, but still prefer law alerts with selected articles relevant to your audience;
  4. Attend “several events each week, if possible.” Networking and meeting contacts face-to-face at events, that are likely to include clients or people who could referral potential clients, is still one of the best ways to develop business; and
  5. Provide free work to people who can be referral sources. The example in the article tells about an estate planning lawyer who provided a free will to a financial advisor, who in turn has provided “a steady flow of work to him.”

Simple, but effective tips.