When it comes down to it, networking is nothing other than opening yourself up to new relationships and new possibilities. This requires you to get out there and follow up.
While this is important for all lawyers, it is downright critical for solo attorneys and small law firms.
Effective Networking Basics
You build business by converting potential clients into paying clients. Potential clients often come from word-of-mouth referrals, and the best way to get those referrals is to build referral relationships through networking.
Legal representation is incredibly personal. Potential clients are more likely to lean on referrals from friends and colleagues because they don’t yet know you or whether they can trust you. So networking, whether you are new to practice or decades in, is critical to building and maintaining a steady client base.
Networking is not about the quick sale. Nor is it about have a “one and done” conversation or meeting.
Instead, networking has everything to do with making new connections and building relationships. To be successful at networking, you need to follow these three simple steps:
- Show up. You will not make a good impression if you are not present. That means you need to find a networking event or meeting and simply show up. If you can, show up on time or even early. There is no room for “fashionably late” when it comes to networking.
- Engage. Put away your phone. Do not be a wallflower. Actively seek out conversations, make eye contact, ask questions, and listen. Take business cards from people you want to maintain connections with.
- Follow up. Once you have someone’s contact information, it is up to you to follow up and keep the initial conversation going. This point is key to building strong relationships and growing your business.
While there are many ways to enhance your networking skills, let’s focus on the last step: following up.
How to Follow Up Properly
The sooner you follow up, the greater chance you will have at making a stronger connection with each person you contact. Do not wait a week to call. Instead, pick up your phone the next day and reach out. Remind the person you are contacting who you are and reference a point of discussion from the event itself. Request a time to sit down over lunch or coffee to get to know each other’s business better.
If phone calls are too time-consuming for you, send a follow-up email instead. Cover all the same items you would in the phone call, but be sure to schedule a time in your own calendar to follow up if you do not hear back within a week.
Creating relationships can mean the difference between getting referrals and becoming “that person I had lunch with once that does something I can’t remember.” For solos and small firms, all of those missed opportunities add up quickly.
Networking is not a Race
One meeting is not enough to build a relationship. Invest your time reconnecting and building upon what you already know about your new lead. Send a follow-up email or handwritten note. Ask to schedule another meeting for a month or two out. Share emails, blog posts, and other items that you believe your contact will find interesting.
Once you make a strong connection with someone and you understand their business and client base, you should consider sending referrals yourself. Show your new connection that you bring value not only with the work you do, but by the company you keep. This spreads goodwill, which can only help to grow your reputation and, in turn, your business.
There are numerous forums in which to network — find one that gets you slightly out of your comfort zone and pursue it. For instance, I’m a member of BNI. I love it because it provides me with structure, reliability, and accountability. It also includes individuals from a variety of industries, so I am consistently defining and redefining myself and my goals in the eyes of individuals who do not work in my field. I’ve also attended various one-off networking events, ranging from attending Network After Work socials to scouring Meetup.com for meetings happening in my neighborhood. There are obviously numerous bar association and law-related groups you could participate in as well.
If in-person networking terrifies you, get active online. Participate in LinkedIn groups. Become more vocal in bar association email lists. Start sharing interesting articles and blog posts directly with contacts on Facebook and Twitter.
The more people who see your name, and see that you are willing to share information and participate in conversation, the more likely they will reach out to you to learn more.
Originally published February 19, 2015. Republished July 22, 2016.
Featured image: “social network concept” from Shutterstock.