How to Network Like You Mean It

A colleague used to tell me, “They call it networking for a reason.” I would politely laugh, then walk away and remind myself to never, ever go to another networking event again. Networking is hard because it can be no different than a bad date: you meet someone, make small talk, promise to see each other again, and neither of you ever calls. Here’s how to change the narrative and turn networking into something that energizes you and grows your business.

Talk to Other People about Themselves

I used to freeze when networking in a room of strangers. I never knew how to introduce myself or integrate myself into the room.

Then I realized I was focused on the wrong thing: I was trying to figure out how to make myself known instead of spending time getting to know them. When you remember that people love to talk about themselves, it takes all the pressure off figuring out what to say. Ask them genuine questions, find out who their ideal clients and referral partners are, and they will probably like you, remember you, and want to send business your way.

But Also Talk about Yourself

Talking about them doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about yourself. Networking, like any relationship, should be mutual.

Advocate for yourself and your business. Tell stories. Talk about your favorite kind of client. Be confident when discussing what you do and why you do it. Don’t be afraid to ask for other connections, whether that’s referral partners or clients. This is a time to present who you are in a way that gets people interested in sending you business.

Talk about Business or You Are Wasting Your Time

I’m in a networking group, so I have a lot of individual meetings with people. It’s important to get to know each other, so we often talk about our personal lives. In the meetings where this is all we talk about, I go home weary and feeling like I never want to do networking again.

Why? Because I’ve spent all my energy and gotten very little in return. Sure, it is important to like each other and to know each other well enough to send business to each other, but that’s not the end game. Make sure you’re talking about business: what you do, what you don’t do, who is a good client, how this person can help refer you business, what other introductions might be helpful.

Discuss Your Niche

When you’re networking, you have to set yourself apart. You can’t say you do family law and expect someone to send a referral based only on that generic explanation. Be more specific. Do you handle divorces? Custody modifications? Appeals? Do you charge for initial consultations?

These details will help others think of someone to send your way, and it will set you apart from all the other family lawyers they might know. I know about a hundred financial planners, but I only refer to three of them because I know enough about them to know which clients will be a great fit.

Be Intentional

When I first started to grow my estate planning practice, it seemed important to network with financial advisors. Dozens of them reached out to me over the course of a few months, and I met with everyone who asked.

Now, I don’t remember any of their names, and we have never passed any business to each other. Why? Because they were just trying to hit a quota of meeting with prospective clients and referral partners, and I was naïve enough that I assumed just spending time networking would turn into referrals. It doesn’t. You have to know who you are professionally so you can confidently sell that to other professionals. And you have to know what you’re looking for in a referral partner, or what your clients are looking for, to determine whether the two of you are a good professional fit.

Consider Networking the Investment That It Is

My best referral partners are people who I meet with regularly. Anyone can meet once and say they’ll pass business. It’s important to continue the relationship and show that you’re determined to help each other.

Have lunch every quarter to check in and see what’s new in their business. Keep them updated on new laws that might affect their clients. Serve as a resource when they have questions, even if that won’t lead to new business. Look for opportunities to partner on presentations or community education classes. Find ways to support mutual clients, because clients love to feel like they’re being taken care of by a team of professionals. And look at referral partners as more than just a referral stream—recognize how they can add value to your clients. When one of my family law clients isn’t sure how her life insurance policy works, I am thrilled that I know an agent who can walk her through her policy and make any changes.

Networking is what you make of it. Know who you are, what value you bring, and what you and your clients are looking for, and your next networking event will be a much different experience.

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