None of us are perfect networkers/relationship builders.

Yes, it seems to come more easily to some than to others, but it’s not an exact science. For the most part, it’s an ever-adapting process that we’re constantly refining based on our current goals and our target’s needs.

But there are a couple of areas that we tend to go astray with building relationships, and that’s where we’re going to focus today.

Blunder One: Goal? What goal?

Does this sound familiar?

An event comes up that you’d like to attend, so you register to go. On that evening, you show up, meet a few people and share some conversation. You may even get some business cards, and hand out a few of your own. You return to work the following day, and you don’t hear anything from anyone that you met. You had a nice time, but that was it.

Or, your firm hosts a seminar in your practice area and your colleagues are speaking on the panel. You pop out of your office to attend and sit in the back, checking your smart phone to make sure you don’t miss any emails. During the coffee break, you head back to your desk to answer a couple of phone calls, and then pop your head back into the seminar just as its finishing up. You shake a few hands, and duck out because you have an evening commitment.

This is “networking” right?

Not exactly – while it’s not *bad* per se, it’s also not strategic.

Any time you want to spend the time connecting with other people (whether it’s your first or hundredth meeting), it’s important to know what you’re trying to achieve, and how you plan to achieve it – as Winston Churchill said, “He who fails to plan is planning to fail.”

Your first step is to know what your goal is – do you want to:

  • Grow your reputation?
  • Grow your network?
  • Business development?
  • Raise your profile?

All of these are valid goals for networking/relationship development, and will help define the types of networking and activities you want to pursue in order to achieve them. For example, if you’d like to get more speaking opportunities, it would make sense to attend the conferences that you’d like to speak at and to meet with the conference organizers. If you’d like to develop more business from existing clients, you should be meeting with those clients more frequently on your dime to identify what issues they have that you can solve.

Then, put your strategy in place to meet these goals.

  • Who is your audience?
  • Where do they spend their time? What events will you participate in to connect with them?
  • What is your pre- and post- event follow up strategy?
  • What collateral do you need to solidify your reputation with them?
  • How can you leverage social networking in addition to in-person networking?
  • Who else can you enlist to assist you in this process?

There’s more to this process of course, but it depends on your individual goals as to what your ultimate strategy will be. But without goals and strategy, you’re just throwing jello at a wall and hoping something sticks – marketers like to call this “Random Acts of Marketing,” and they’re rarely successful.

Blunder Two: Me, Me, Me

Goals and strategy are important, but you can’t forget the other key ingredient – your audience. “Audience” may sound like a strange word to use when we’re talking about networking, but that is essentially what we want to be looking at here – when you do the work of identifying the goal and strategy that you want to be using to achieve success in your networking efforts, you also have to ensure that you’re correctly focused on WHO you’re targeting.

I was reading an interesting article about what content marketers can learn from publishers, and one of the key things that struck me was this:

The best traditional publications are consumer-oriented, while brands often publish with a ‘me’ mentality. When a business becomes so focused on sales numbers, it can quickly turn off audiences with sales- or spam-like content. Traditional media, on the other hand, builds engaged, loyal audiences that it can monetize. By following the lead of successful publications, brands can use some of those dollars to attract qualified clients.”

Let’s rewrite this so it’s less sales-y and fits in with what we’re looking to do here:

The best traditional networking is consumer-oriented, while lawyers and law firms often connect with a ‘me’ mentality. When a firm becomes so focused on getting new clients, it can quickly turn off readers with promotional or spam-like engagement. Traditional networking, on the other hand, builds engaged, loyal audiences that it can monetize. By following the lead of successful networkers, lawyers and law firms can use some of those dollars to attract qualified clients.”

It can be tempting, with our goals in mind as we discussed above, to be focused on what we want to achieve and forget to be of interest to our audience. But what is it that the people that you meet actually want?

You can ask them, or you can look at other networkers in your market and see what they’re doing successfully (and not so successfully) and adapt it to your own strategy and goals. The article above (which focuses on content, but we’re going to adapt it to our networking focus) suggests publications build these four traits into everything they publish, and that’s how they keep their audiences coming back for more:

  • Quality: This should be an easy one for lawyers – you’re smart, talented people who know what you’re talking about. But remember to temper quality with limiting the legalese. This is easier when you’re speaking to someone in person, but lawyers are still tempted to use too much legalese in conversation. Speak the language that your targets speak – review their websites, attend their events and watch their influencers, follow them on social media, watch their presentations, and get a sense of the language that THEY use to communicate, and then emulate them in conversation.
  • Uniqueness: What is the “defining element” that you will bring to your audience that no one else in your area of the marketplace is offering? Make sure it’s something that your audience wants, and not just something you want to offer.
  • Consistency: I know many lawyers fear that they have to reach out to their connections daily in order to be good networkers – not true. But whatever you decide your follow up schedule is, be consistent about it. Don’t attend an event and never follow up, or promise that you’ll reach out within the next week, and email two weeks later.
  • Competitive Advantage: This is different from your “uniqueness” factor – this is about the value you deliver. Provide something of unmatched value to your audience, and it will keep them coming back.

In order to avoid the two biggest networking blunders, make sure to have your goals and a strategy in place, and know your audience, and what they want (hint, they should be a key part of your strategy development).