One of the best ways to market your law firm is through networking. Yet so many lawyers dread going to business events, sitting through boring luncheons or attending after hours Chamber of Commerce events. For other lawyers, networking means taking prospects to lunch, calling on past clients, or using people you know to get business.
When done with the right mindset, networking can be one of the most effective and affordable ways to attract new business. People do business with those they know, like and trust, so the heart of networking is meeting new people and creating relationships that are mutually beneficial to both parties.
Networking for Lawyers Who Hate Networking
Networking is the process of making specific contacts and building upon them by following up. Often, lawyers approach networking as a one-sided ordeal, where they must answer the question, “So what do you do?” and pitch their services a hundred times in exchange for someone else’s business card. Perhaps they meet one or two people who seem lukewarm about their services, but rarely do they meet a hot prospect, and lawyers often leave the event feeling as if they’ve wasted their time.
Instead of approaching networking as something you “should” be doing, approach it as a way to establish long-term relationships. Networking is not a hard sell. It’s about meeting new people and tapping into their vast network of resources. Each of us has a personal sphere of influence of roughly between 200-250 people. Most of these people aren’t close, personal contacts of yours. Rather, they are people you who would recognize you on the street, or who you might invite to your wedding or send college graduation announcements.
More importantly, everyone you know also has a sphere of influence of that size, so every new person you meet has the potential to add 200-250 more people to your own network. While many of them won’t be a good candidate for your services, chances are, someone in their network will be. If you’ve worked to build relationships and have a keep-in-touch strategy with the contacts you make, you will be a good candidate for any referrals if someone in their network does mention they need the type of legal service you provide.
7 Steps to Effective Networking for Lawyers
Here are seven tips on how to make your networking more effective.
- Genuinely connect with others – Networking should be about making connections and sharing ideas, information, advice, recommendations and referrals with those in your personal network. Some of the bonds you form will be stronger than others, but you should genuinely care that those in your network succeed and be willing to help them if you can.
- Network strategically – When you network to make business contacts, look for people who would be a good fit for your personal network and find ways to connect with them regularly. It’s important to define which types of people you want to meet and what you hope to get out of each interaction. Before you go into any networking interaction, be able to answer in a minute or less: who you are, what you do, and what you need from the group.
- Be selective – Because you will actively refer business to those in your network, you must be selective with those you add to your personal network. Look for people who are well-regarded among their peers and who already demonstrate that they understand the value of networking. Focus on people who are good at what they do, have a large network they have cultivated, and who are able to actively refer you business.
- Provide value first – Successful networking involves providing value to others. You must give before you receive. People won’t refer business to those they don’t know and can’t personally vouch for, so you must build rapport before you can expect anything in return. Things like a personal note, a referral, a thank you card, or an introduction go a long way towards establishing trust and credibility.
- Recognize leads for others – The best way to build rapport with people in your network is to frequently provide leads and introductions to those within your network. To do this, you must understand your prospect’s business well enough to know who would make a good lead for them. Ask them “How would I know if someone would make a good client for you?” In addition, every lawyer will talk with a prospect who isn’t quite right for his services from time-to-time. Realize that if you turn down business, that person could be a good lead for someone else.
- Don’t keep score – The best way to sabotage a relationship is to give something with the expectation of getting something in return. Building relationships takes time. If you provide a favor or referral to something and immediately expect something in return, there’s a good chance you’ll be disappointed. Focus on building good will and trust rather than that someone will immediately return the favor.
- Develop trust – One of the biggest fears people have when referring business is that someone will embarrass them or let them down. Effective networkers have high ethical standards and are well respected among their peers. They are well-known for providing high-quality service and going the extra mile to clear up any client disagreements.
Networking isn’t something that just happens – you must actively pursue it and make relationship building a part of your marketing activities. And because you will likely meet far more people worth networking with than you have time for, be selective and focus your time on cultivating relationships where there is the greatest potential for mutual benefit.