This is the second in my series on networking. Networking is more than just collecting business cards at an event. I have seen many lawyers with a stack of business cards held together by a rubber band. And while gathering contact information is critical, if you don’t follow-up and discern which individuals you would like to contact and then contact them, you have only collected cards…you have not truly embraced networking. Networking is engaging with likeminded professionals and building mutually beneficial relationships.
Lawyers must think of networking in the same way they think of other legal processes. For example, in litigation, we go through a series of steps to conclude a matter. In litigation, you begin by filing the complaint, followed by waiting for the answer then move to discovery and so on. Networking is also a process. Great networking includes preparation for the event, active listening, spotting opportunities and then planning follow-up. Each networking opportunity needs to have a plan.
The best networkers understand the need to focus on networking events that best suits their personality and lifestyle.
Networking, for many of my coaching clients, is a chore. I encourage my clients to think about several things in advance of making their networking plan. Answering these questions will make networking more effective and fun. These include:
- What area of law are you most passionate about?
- What type of clients do you most enjoy?
- Where do your prospects, clients, past clients, and referral sources network?
- What type of events do you enjoy…large gatherings or smaller intimate events?
- What do you want to accomplish while networking?
- What is the best time of day for you to network?
These questions will help you establish your networking plan.
Knowing yourself and what you enjoy can make a huge difference in your networking efforts. For example, if you are an introvert, consider smaller events where you may know some attendees or can go with someone. Introverts should also consider hosting networking events. For example, one on one lunches with referral sources or potential leads are great ways to further a relationship. Do your research on your attendees in advance and plan to ask open-ended questions. Remember the old line “you have two ears and only one mouth”, so listen more than you speak. Many introverts find these smaller events very beneficial, and they can help you build confidence to do more in the future.
If you are an extravert and enjoy larger events the same process applies. Do your research in advance of the event. Determine the purpose of the event, what type of individuals will be attending, who are the sponsors, who are the board members and understand the nature of the event before you go. If possible, get a list of attendees beforehand and if you cannot, arrive early and check out the name tag table to find out who is attending. You might spot a familiar name or company, and this will give you some targets to pursue during the event. As I discuss below, set a goal for the networking event and make the goal realistic. Great networkers seek to meet as few as five people at an event, but they make the most of those five connections with a process to follow-up that leads to strong relationships.
In addition to your personality style, think about the best time of day to maximize a networking opportunity. I’m a morning person, so morning coffee works well for me, but it may not be a great time for others. Lunch may be best for individuals who have obligations after-work while evening cocktails may work well for others. I encourage my coaching clients to keep an extra set of “networking” clothes at the office in case an opportunity to network arises. I know from personal experience that if you go home to change clothes, the chances of you ever going back out are small.
Also, I encourage my clients to attend or host events wherein they can meet people with whom they have a natural affinity. For example, if you are a lawyer who represents textile manufacturing companies, identify opportunities where textile industry leaders gather. If you are trying to network to create more referral sources, you should look at your current list of referrals and see if they fit into a certain group. For example, if you currently get referrals from accountants or wealth advisors, you should focus your efforts on attending meetings where more individuals like them can be found.
Effective networking requires goals. After you have done your planning, think about what you want to accomplish at each networking event and set a realistic goal. Do you want to solidify a connection with a past client to gain more work or create a referral source? Can you stay for thirty minutes or ninety minutes? Is the group made up of people you know already or all-new contacts? Your goals for an event with fifty unknown contacts within your identified industry niche might look like this:
- Arrive fifteen minutes early to review the nametags of attendees and see if you recognize anyone or any companies.
- Work to identify three to five “targets” and take time to look up their profiles on LinkedIn. Hopefully, they all have a current profile picture to help identify them at the event.
- Enter the event with confidence and open body language. Smile. Have a great handshake and have your introductory statement solidified in your mind. Understand the power of open-ended questions.
- Have business cards readily available. Before moving on, exchange cards and ask to follow-up if you have determined the contact is someone with whom you wish to establish further contact.
Once you have met your three to five contacts, you are free to go. Remember, you must follow-up with the people you met if you want to continue the conversation and further your relationship. Without a follow-up plan, you have wasted your time and energy. Begin by connecting on LinkedIn. Once you have done that, follow-up with an email in a week or so. Remember, everyone is busy, so you may not get an immediate response, but if you made a great connection and have a solid follow-up strategy, you should hear back.
Each networking event may require a different plan, but there is some definite no -no’s that you should always remember. These DON’T’s include:
- Consume too much alcohol. You will be memorable, but for the wrong reasons.
- Inappropriate attire.
- Arrive late or appear dishevelled.
- Hand out a crumpled or stained business card.
- Carry a plate of food and a drink and expect to shake hands.
- Use bad manners.
- Become distracted by your phone.
- Look at your watch.
- Fail to acknowledge everyone in the room including staff.
- Talk more than you listen.
Networking has become a required task for most every attorney. Find your passion, plan for success and maximize the opportunity.