Most attorneys say that their business comes through word of mouth or referrals. But how do you keep those referrals coming? How do you establish and maintain relationships with referral sources and potential clients? Through effective networking. In the internet age, that means networking online as well as off.
A lot of the lawyers I speak to are still lost when it comes to using social media and networking online. It doesn’t have to be complicated. The same rules apply whether you are networking in “real life” offline or using social media and other tools online.
Here are some of my “golden rules” for networking:
Know your purpose or plan
Set clear objectives when you attend a networking event or decide to participate in social media. Is there someone in particular that you want to be sure to meet or speak with? Do you want to get known within a certain circle? Are you simply trying to determine whether a particular group is worth your time and effort? Are you seeking information about a particular person or group? Are you trying to identify potential prospects or strategic alliances? Having a clear objective will help you determine whether your participation was worthwhile.
It’s Not All About You – Focus on Others First
I am a member of a networking group whose mantra is, “It’s better to give than receive, but what goes around comes around.” This is a great networking philosophy and it makes networking much easier. Some lawyers avoid networking because they are uncomfortable talking about themselves and they are under the mistaken impression that promoting yourself and talking about what you do is what networking is all about. It isn’t.
Those who make every conversation about themselves and are constantly promoting are the least successful networkers. Networking isn’t about soliciting or making sales. It’s about meeting people and making connections.
Remember: people do business with people they know, like and trust. The best networkers know that the most effective way to gain others’ trust and loyalty is by showing an interest in others. Look for ways to help people. Make introductions. Offer resources or information.
The same is true online. Instead of tweeting only about you and what you are doing, promote others – link to their information, encourage others to attend their events, engage people in conversation. Instead of promoting yourself and your expertise, demonstrate it by offering valuable information on topics of interest to your audience.
If your goal is to meet new people and make a positive and lasting connection, listen much more than you speak. People love to talk about themselves. Let them. Listening allows you to find out about others’ needs and address what you can do for them and how you can benefit them – whether directly through the services that you provide, or by putting them in touch with others that can help them if you can’t.
Ask questions about others’ needs, business, problems, challenges, and desires.
Quality, not quantity
Networking isn’t a race to collect the most business cards, followers, ‘friends,’ or connections. It isn’t about quantity – it’s about quality.
Don’t try to talk to everyone in the room. Don’t feel that you need to be engaged in every conversation on social media. You can’t be all things to all people. Building trust requires more than just superficial interaction. Focus on meeting one or two people and establishing an initial connection through meaningful and memorable conversation, rather than just collecting business cards or followers. Make sure to learn something concrete about each person you meet. Get to know them.
Who your friends are says a lot about who you are. Be mindful that in some sense, you will be judged by the people with whom you associate online, too.
There is no point in going to a networking event if you are going to hide in a corner. Introduce yourself and start meeting people. Online, make sure to post a photo and fully complete your profile so people know who they are talking to.
The virtual world isn’t so different from the “offline” world. Join discussions; volunteer to help; attend events. Whether online or off, the more you participate, the more visible you’ll be and the more people will get to know you – and that’s the point, isn’t it?
Participating also allows you to demonstrate your expertise – to the extent that the ethical rules of your jurisdiction will allow. Of course, you need to be mindful of creating inadvertent attorney-client relationships and include all appropriate disclaimers, but joining discussions or answering questions relevant to your area of expertise online, posting documents and articles, linking to resources (including your own website, blog, etc.) will all help demonstrate your knowledge and allow others to get to know you.
Get involved with something you’re passionate about. Networking isn’t just cocktail parties and networking breakfasts or online conversations about business. It’s making lasting connections with other people that are mutually beneficial. (Yes, this is why all of those people are talking about restaurants, food or wine on Twitter; it’s what those people are interested in, and how they connect with others).
You are more likely to participate if you’re passionate about a cause or activity, so join groups or discussions on social media that you care about. Get involved in your local community. Sharing experiences creates a deeper connection – and makes it more likely that you’ll get business.
Speak your clients’ language
Don’t use legal jargon – real people don’t talk like that. Instead, use the words your clients use. I call this “speaking your clients’ language.” If your profile is filled with legalese and jargon, you create more distance between you and your audience. When you talk to others, describe what you do without naming your practice area.
If your goal is to demonstrate your expertise and show potential clients and referral sources that you understand their problems and can help them, you want them to feel like they know you. The best way to do that is to speak to them in a way that they can understand, not to use big, fancy legal words to sound smart.
Seek out strategic alliances
Potential clients aren’t the only reason to attend networking events or participate in social media. Facebook is probably not the first place most clients go to search for a lawyer. Consider networking events and social media as places to meet strategic alliances and referral sources. Find other people who provide services that complement yours or fill a need for your clients that you can’t.
Remember that when you’re networking or meeting people, you’re connecting with their entire network, too. This is particularly true online, where your LinkedIn connections can see who else you are connected to, and your Facebook friends see what you ‘like’ or who is in your news feed.
Make diverse contacts
Many lawyers make the mistake of joining groups or speaking only to people who are too similar to them. That creates an ‘echo chamber’ effect in which people are echoing back the same information and contacts to you. The goal in networking is to widen your net. Look for new groups and discussions online. Seek out people in other industries for new ideas.
Keep track of your networking contacts
Create a database or place to organize and store information about the people you meet – don’t just throw a pile of business cards in a drawer or collect followers willy-nilly. Your database should include information about where and when you met each contact, what they do professionally, and what their business and personal interests are.
Follow up to continue the relationship
Most networking efforts fail in the follow up. Intentions aren’t enough. Action is the key. Networking is about creating relationships, and real relationships can’t be formed in a few minutes in a room full of people or in 140 characters. For networking to be effective, you need to follow up with those you meet at a networking event or online. Stay in touch. Send them relevant information. Make introductions. Take your online relationships offline by arranging a time to talk by phone or meet in person.
Say thank you
One of the best ways to follow up and to cement a relationship is by saying thank you. That might mean sending a handwritten thank you note thanking someone for taking the time to speak with you or introduce you to others at an event or sending an email or social media message thanking a connection for linking to your content or ‘re-tweeting’ your posts online.
Research shows that it can take between 7 and 9 contacts with a prospect before they make a decision to do business with you. The same is true for strategic alliances or referral sources. Don’t get discouraged if business doesn’t magically appear immediately. It takes time to get to “know, like and trust” someone.