On Friday, I received an email from someone I don’t know – like everyone, I get LOTS of these, but this one struck me. He must read my blog, because he mentions it in his note. He even manages to spell my name correctly. 

However, the purpose for his email is to tell me about this blog post he wrote, to suggest that I use it as the subject matter of a blog post, and that I tweet out his link to my Twitter followers. In fact, he goes so far as to mention that his is a topic worthwhile of discussion by the entire legal blogosphere. Really?

Well, I’m certainly not biting.

And why not? Perhaps his article is interesting, even provocative. Perhaps I will have something to say in response, or thoughts to add.  But for me, he’s broken a cardinal rule, and asked for a favor without having any relationship equity at all. 

Relationship and social equity are things we’ve talked about here before – we’ve defined "social equity" as "how you build your credibility online to increase your perceived value by others." So, by extension, I would say that relationship equity is how you build your credibility in general to increase your perceived value.  Further, the more relationship equity you have, the stronger the bond is. 

 

There are those with whom I have strong relationship equity – these are my friends and family.  If they were to write something that they thought would be relevant to my audience here at Zen, I would be likely to read it and follow up on it. 

The reason behind that is trust. Over time, we have built up mutual trust, and so at the point at which they ask me to read something and share it, I trust that they believe it will be valuable to me, and not just that they want something from me. 

From this circle of close friends and family, with whom I have strong relationship equity, there is an growing sphere of people, each layer of which has less and less equity with me.  On the outer reaches of that sphere would be people within the industry whom I have either rarely or never interacted. 

These people have no relationship equity with me, and I have none with them. 

In today’s world, we’re bombarded with information. For example, even though I checked my email from my mobile over the weekend, I came in to 1,400 emails in my inbox this morning. The majority of these are spam, of course, but there are also those that are just noise – potentially useful information, but thrown at me so constantly that I ignore every one. 

So the thing that will make something stand out for me involves this relationship equity – it’s not that I will only read the things that those I know, like, and trust write.  But I will read the things they write, AND the things they recommend – the articles that they share that they find organically, the posts that someone who has equity with them has shared, etc.  

Even then, there is a LOT of information coming at me, so if it’s not accompanied by a personalized note about why the piece matters to me, I’m only going to read the things that strike a chord with me for one reason or another. 

How could this have gone differently, so that I would have been motivated to read this piece? 

  • Acknowledge the lack of relationship: When someone assumes a relationship without any previous interaction (and honestly, no reputation within the industry that I’m familiar with), acknowledging the lack of relationship equity can go a long way. It comes off as honest and transparent, instead of "sales-y" and rude. I also feel less like this was a form email that my name and blog name got dropped into. 
     
  • Let it happen organically: If the piece is really so groundbreaking that everyone in the legal blogosphere should be talking about it, then everyone in the legal blogosphere WILL be talking about it. I follow some of the smartest minds and publications in the industry, and even if I’m not taking a first crack at something, if it’s worth discussing, I will read and respond to it at some point. Telling me that something you’ve written is groundbreaking pretty much guarantees that I won’t want to read it – none of us like being told what to do.  Now, if someone ELSE tells me that it’s groundbreaking, and I trust that person, I’ll be all over reading it.
     
  • Use relationship equity: Obviously, there will be people within the industry with whom this person has strong relationship equity. He should start with those people – and then the rest will happen organically, as we mention above. If someone with whom I have strong relationship equity (not the writer) then comes to me with this piece, suggesting that I read it, I am likely to do so. That’s how it works. 
     
  • Catch me at the right time: It happens sometimes that someone will catch me at exactly the right moment – the stars align, I have a few minutes to think, and I’m interested in the subject.  So I’ll read whatever they’ve sent me.  But sending me at email at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon in August is NOT the right time. Again, if you’re just trying to get something out of the way before you head out for the weekend, be up front about it – he would have gotten more traction had he said something like, "I know you’re probably about to head out for the weekend, but perhaps you could look this over on Monday morning." 

    Not only am I not going to be interested in reading something potentially heavy and thought-provoking on a hot Friday afternoon, but there is no way my readers (many of whom are on vacation, if the out-of-office emails are any indication) are going to read either a related blog post or the tweet that I send out. So it’s all for naught anyway – there’s a very calculated reason that I only publish a quick round-up on Fridays. 

I’m sure there are many of you wondering what this has to do with you, specifically if you’ve never done anything like the above.  But let’s think about this for a moment – how many times have you sent your clients a bulk email? How many times have you posted a blog post, only to wonder, where are the clients that are supposed to come from this? How many times have you gone to a networking event, and come home disappointed that a new matter didn’t come from it? 

It all boils down to relationship equity. And that takes time to happen. 

For example, let’s look at social media. If I am a Twitter user, who only logs in to post my own articles and blog posts and then logs out, I will never get clients from that. Never. Sure, there may be a one-off, but the likelihood is both that very few people will click through to read my posts, very few people will follow me, and even fewer will want to use my services. 

Why? Because it’s all about me. Even if I write the most ground-breaking, intelligent posts and articles, people will be turned off by how wrapped up in myself I am. 

Instead, if I log in and follow others that I trust and respect, share the things that they’re writing and reading about (both through retweeting them, and posting their links directly), and then share the things I think those who follow me will care about – both my writing, and the writing of others in the same area, people will be genuinely interested. What’s more, if I read what people are saying, and engage them in dialogue, I am building equity with them. 

Will it result in clients? Perhaps. But it will definitely result in people getting to know you, like you, and trust you. In turn, they will help to build your sphere of influence by reading and sharing what you write because they feel that loyalty to you that is borne from relationship equity. 

What are the lessons here for lawyers? 

  • It’s a marathon, not a sprint: Networking is not a sprint. With very few exceptions, you are never going to engage in a networking activity for the first time and immediately get a client. It’s just not natural. But every networking activity that you participate in is a building block, and that will get you to your goal. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but someday. 
     
  • If you build it, they will come: We’ve all heard and chuckled at the Field of Dreams quote, but it’s true. It’s all about  building those relationships, and it happens one step at a time. You listen, you connect, you engage, you share, and over time, you will find that you have more and more relationship equity. The Field of Dreams is an apt corollary here – when Kevin Costner’s character starts building the baseball field, no one shows up the first day. But he keeps working at it, and keeps working, and once the entire field is built, both the ghost players and the fans come, in droves. 
     
  • It’s just not all about you: We talk about this ad nauseum here, but it’s true – when it comes to relationship-building, you have to be in it for the other person. Genuinely. The more helpful you are, the more equity you will build, and the more likely that person will eventually become loyal to you and want to help you out in some way.  So this means knowing what your clients and potential clients want to hear from you, and how – and this is one size fits one, not one size fits all. If you’re not sure what your clients want, ask them. 

    Sometimes, you also have to look at it from your perspective – not in the sense that you should be thinking about what you want, but what you would want if you were in your clients’ shoes. For example, is your client going to want a note from you late on a Friday? Are they going to want to get bad news on a Saturday morning, or can it wait until Monday? How likely is it that they’d be happy getting a bill without a heads up on extra charges? Or getting the bill last thing on Friday afternoon? We all like to clear things off our desks before the weekend, but take a few minutes before engaging with clients to ask yourself whether you would want a service provider coming to you with the same information in the same way, or at the same time. 

    Obviously, there are exceptions to this – we’d all want to know if there was a major leak in the house during home renovations as soon as it happens. And there are similar client emergencies that require the same level of attention.  But there are also those things that could wait, or those things that just add to the noise that we’re already getting so much out of. You may have noticed that those who people listen most closely to are the ones who speak the least – usually, they only speak when it’s very important. 

What do you think, Zen readers? With all of the information out there today, how much does relationship and social equity mean to you?