Legal Business Development: Are You “Networking”… or Building Relationships?

Networking… I hate that term. It conjures up images of “working a room”… smiling, shaking hands and collecting business cards. Business cards that end up on your desk under a pile of papers or left in your suit pocket only to be found the next time you wear that jacket. Sound familiar? What a waste of time and energy, don’t you agree? I think we need to redefine what needs to be done. To build a solid book of business requires strong relationships and that doesn’t happen with the typical networking methodology.

Building relationships: First you have to listen. Then it takes time, thought and trust.

Listen… Yes, I mean really listen! Not just stay quite until it’s your turn to talk. Listen and ask questions. The goal? Learn about their business and you will hear ways you could help them in the future. Remember… It’s never about being interesting… It’s always about being interested!

Time… Building relationships requires a series of touch points. An introduction, an email, a meeting, another email, a phone call, a lunch, a note with an article, another phone call, a thoughtful gift… and so on and so on. You’ve heard me say this before… Do something every day! I know what you’re thinking… “I don’t have time!” Make time! The legal profession is built on relationships… so, how strong are yours?

Thought… Cultivating a relationship doesn’t just happen because you happen to be in the same organization, conference or networking event. It happens as a result of strategic thinking. How could you help this individual before you ask for a thing? Who could you introduce them to? How can you deepen the relationship? Are you listening for clues to help you accomplish this? Do you really know what they do or have you assumed what they do? Do you know how you can truly help them? Not what YOU think could help them… but what they think would be helpful?

Trust… If you genuinely have something in common, you have something they need and want and you sincerely like them… then trust that the relationship will grow. And the work will follow.

Remember that there are many types of business relationships and they can all have a place in your circle. Even if someone provides a service you may never be able to use, you may have a client who would be thrilled that you introduced him or her to this individual. So treat every relationship as though it has value… because it does.

Charisma… I believe charisma is a helpful skill when you’re building relationships. And you can hone this skill, because it’s about how we treat people. Inc. Magazine contributor, Jeff Haden writes… 10 Habits of Remarkably Charismatic People, He says that, “Charisma isn’t something you have. It’s something you earn. Here’s how.

  1. They listen way more than they talk. 
  2. They don’t practice selective hearing.
  3. They put their stuff away.
  4. They give before they receive–and often they never receive.
  5. They don’t act self-important… 
  6. … Because they realize other people are more important.
  7. They shine the spotlight on others.
  8. They choose their words. .
  9. They don’t discuss the failings of others…
  10. …But they readily admit their failings.”

I think every one of Haden’s tips are true. Now armed with this knowledge what are you going to do? You might start with one tip; practice it for a week then pick another, until you have made all 10 a habit. Remember that this has nothing to do with being an introvert or extravert… it’s simply what you do and how you treat others. So put your stuff away and listen!

People hire lawyers that they know, like and trust. And the only way that can happen is to build a strong relationship. So, take the time that is required to make this individual feel heard and valued. Give the growing relationship strategic thought, how can you contribute to one another? And lastly stay on course and trust that it will develop into work… directly or indirectly. There are two things that are critical to your book of business… your experience and your relationships. And believe me… they are equally important!

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