It’s September, so you know what that means…it’s prime time to re-ignite your networking efforts! For many ILN members, they’ll have the chance to do that this week, as our European Regional Meeting kicks off in Oslo on Thursday.
While we’ve covered a lot of networking tips in the past, I’m always on the hunt for new ideas and advice to switch things up. I recently came across this post that offers seven tips for networking success, Let’s look at a few of them, and how they apply to lawyers and law firms.
There’s More Than One Way to Skin a Cat
There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as they say, and there’s more than one place to do your networking. As the post suggests:
Attend events at professional organizations that relate to your expertise or industry, but don’t be content with that."
The truth is, networking happens anywhere and everywhere – you may meet an in-house counsel at your son’s next football game, or your daughter’s soccer match, just because you’re open to chatting with the other parents! The key here is to be open – be ready to network wherever you are.
That doesn’t mean that you don’t have to find events that are designed for networking – you do. Attend your practice/industry-specific events, but also see what else might work. Are there reunions for your law school that you could be attending, or local interest-driven organizations that you might find fun and useful?
You may find that the events you regularly attend have gotten a bit stale, or you’re always running into the same people – there’s value in continuity of course, and building those relationships, but changing the organizations that you’re investing your time in may give you the boost you need to refresh your networking efforts.
How can you find different events? Let’s look at a couple of suggestions to get you started:
- Check your local paper: Newspapers often give you a list of upcoming events in the town, which can include professional networking opportunities. Even better, you may find some things that match your interests, and you can attend for fun (and find some networking possibilities as well!).
- LinkedIn: Find out whether there are groups on LinkedIn with events in your area – many groups are geographically-specific, and would help you to combine some online networking with some in-person networking.
- Join an organization: Is there another organization nearby that you can get involved with – a chamber of commerce, for example, or a special-interest group? Perhaps volunteering for a local charity or for your political party of choice would be a surprisingly good source of networking contacts.
Set Realistic Goals & Expectations
As the referenced post indicates:
It’s just fine to speak with only a key handful of people the room."
One of the complaints I often hear from lawyers is that they do this work of networking, but they don’t get any business from it – and that’s where managing your own expectations is key. The likelihood that you will attend an event or conference and walk away with business is close to none. It’s just not the way that it works.
That doesn’t mean that networking doesn’t work – it just means that you need to reset your goals. The purpose is to meet new people and start a relationship with them. From there, you build the relationship through additional business development tactics, and that will ultimately lead to business. Think of it like dating – you’re not likely to meet someone at a party and marry them that same night. But you might meet someone, get their phone number, and then call them to go out on a date, and the relationship progresses from there. Business networking is the same.
So set some goals for yourself that are reasonable when it comes to networking:
- Tonight, I will speak with five people and get their business cards.
- I’ll review the attendee list in advance, and choose three people that I’d like to get to know better.
- I’ll talk to the conference organizers to have them introduce me to someone I don’t yet know.
- I’ll write down one key fact about each person that I talk to, so that I have a reason to follow up with them.
- I’ll commit to setting up five phone or in-person meetings with the people that I’ve met within a week of the networking event.
Focus, Focus, Focus
I cannot tell you the number of times that I’ve been talking to someone and they are looking over my shoulder to see who their next networking target is. I can count on one hand those who have been genuinely interested in what I have to say, and focused on me as I’m saying it – they’re that memorable.
No matter who you are talking to, that person is valuable to you (we could go into why it’s just polite and good manners, but I’ll refrain from getting on a soapbox and stick to networking value). Whether you’re speaking with someone who could be a potential client, or you’re speaking with someone who may never give you business, that person is valuable.
Why? The former, for obvious reasons, but the latter is as well – every interaction you have with someone impacts your reputation. If you are polite, interested, and a good listener, you will be developing relationships and loyalty with everyone you meet.
You may think that someone isn’t going to be of value, because they’re not a potential client – but what if that person works for a publication that would be able to use you as a source, and that would get you in front of potential clients? What if that person is with a conference organization, and looking for speakers who could present in front of potential clients? What if that person is married to the in-house counsel for a client you’ve been dying to work with for years?
What if you make such an impression on someone that the next time they’re speaking with a friend or colleague who has a professional need, they immediately think of, and recommend, you?
There’s age-old professional advice that because you never know who is in earshot, you should always be careful of what you say – have you ever been critical of a friend, only to realize that her husband is right behind you? This is true for networking too – you never know who you’re speaking with, or how they’re connected. It’s just good business to practice your excellent networking skills on everyone you meet, no matter who they are – at the very least, you’re refining your skills for when you do meet a potential client directly.
Never Speak At Someone
And finally, let’s look at the recommendation that you never speak "at" someone – this can be a deal breaker. In the interviews we’ve been doing with general counsel, we’ve learned that a regular complaint is that lawyers lead with their expertise. You may be exactly what a client needs, in terms of expertise, but if you don’t listen to their individual concerns and problems, they will never let you in the door.
Even at networking events, where you could possibly assume that the purpose is to toot your own horn and show how you can help someone, the *best* way to network is to listen first, digest that information, and only then suggest if and how you may be able to help. If you are smart, talented, and an excellent lawyer, that comes through naturally – you don’t have to tell anyone.
From experience, I’ve seen that the most impressive people are the quietest, and the ones who never tout their own accomplishments. I know several lawyers who will chat first about social things, who remember details about those they are speaking with, who listen almost exclusively and add their thoughts seldomly, and they are some of the most successful, smart, talented people I know. It’s human nature to listen more closely to someone who is humble and makes you feel like an equal, than someone who is telling you how accomplished they are.
Take a read through of the other recommendations in the 7 tips for networking success post, and consider how they might apply to you. And when you’re out there meeting and talking to people, keep these in mind, and you just might be surprised as how vibrant your networking and business development becomes!