I recently started attending a networking group comprised largely of professional services executives. In talking with one of the founders of the organization, he noted that they’ve had a hard time keeping attorneys as active members.
He personally invited about 25 different attorneys to participate. They attended a few events but slowly dropped even though the organization itself had grown tremendously.
He believes, and I agree, that most lawyers just don’t understand how to network effectively and would benefit by taking a lesson from their counterparts outside the legal profession.
The Strategy of Networking
Networking is as much science as it is art. Too many lawyers think about networking as a single act rather than a process with rules that must be followed.
Rule #1: Engage
Networking is about building relationships with people who need your services or can refer you business.
A networking event is merely the first stage of this process. It’s a place people go to make introductions. That’s it. You don’t have to sell. You don’t have to buy. All you have to do is engage.
If that is outside your comfort zone — and you aren’t alone if it is — try this formula: Smile. Say, “My name is…” and ask a question. Chat for a couple minutes an learn what the person does and whether they are someone who might be of value in developing your business. Exchange business cards. Move on to another person.
Rule #2. Follow-Up
An introduction alone is not a relationship. That takes place after the event is over, starting with the follow-up.
Don`t wait for people to reach out to you. Send a short email to the people you met. Tell them you enjoyed meeting them. Mention something specific that you discussed. Offer yourself up as a resource in their efforts to grow their business. If they are a strategic contact — and not everyone is — suggest coffee or lunch.
Rule #3: Connect
Coffee or lunch is where the real relationship begins. This is a connection, not a sale. Your goal is to find out if this person can help you. Do this by learning everything you can about them and identifying how you can help them. The more you do for them, the more likely they will want to help you. Again, you need to follow-up.
Rule #4: Reciprocate
Chances are, if you are networking properly, the person you met is going to try to help you with another introduction, a referral or a business development idea. This is where the most important rule of networking comes in to play.
You have to reciprocate.
Relationships are a valuable commodity and sharing them is an investment that comes with a certain amount of risk. The people you are networking with are there for the same reason you are. They deserve the same return on investment as you.