Strategic Networking: Getting The Best Bang For Your Buck
Many lawyers avoid networking like the plague.
“I’m too busy”
“I’m no good at it”
“I’m an introvert”
“It’s not part of my job”
We’ve heard all the excuses before. Some of this stems from a fear of failure and a lack of skills. You are not born with networking skills and it is not taught at law school. But it is a skill that can be learnt and practised. And then discipline is needed to make it part of your professional life.
SOME BACKGROUND BEFORE WE GET STARTED
The starting point is to learn techniques to assist in the “live” networking situation eg clients drinks, conference/event etc. This article is not about that training and those skills. But as someone who teaches this, I know from experience that you can learn those skills and the sooner you start, the better.
Rather, this article is about the next step. With limited time and money, how do you get the best bang for your buck, how do you choose what to do and where to go to focus your effort?
Firstly, be clear about what you do and why you do it.
I facilitate a practice management course for lawyers who are starting new practices or becoming a partner in an existing practice. One of biggest mistakes I see people make is to not have a clear vision. Why is this important for strategic networking? Focus! If you have a small/medium practice and are trying to work across a range of practice areas, you are stretching your limited resources and nowhere is this more clear than networking. How can you be strategic when you are after Family, Criminal, Conveyancing and Estate Planning work? Each type of work requires a different approach.
Secondly, apply the 80/20 Principle.
It is suggested that about 20% of your clients account for 80% of your profit/value. And 20% of your clients cause 80% of your headaches. 20% of your practice areas account for 80% of your profit/value. 20% of your practice areas bring little or no value to the practice. OK, you may disagree with the %’s but your get my drift. Not everything is equal and if you start to identify where the best value is coming from and what is of little value, then your can start to focus your efforts and limited resources in the right direction and not wast them on the 20% that adds no value.
Thirdly, are you B2B or B2C?
B2B=Business to business and B2C= Business to Consumer. Are your clients companies/government/legal entities or are they people? Because your approach to networking and business development will be quite different for each.
Fourthly, understand what you are selling. Whilst most lawyers these days still record time and bill accordingly, you are not selling time. You are selling solutions. And your client are looking to buy trust/reputation/reliability.
Fifthly, learn from other professions/businesses. In my training session, I often talk about used-car salesmen. Yes….there are lessons to be learnt from them. Research in the US showed that a key indicator to success for this group was not who was the most charming or good-looking. It was quite simply who was the most persistent and consistent. For example:
48% of sales people never follow up with a prospect
25% of sales people make a second contact and stop
12% of sales people only make three contacts and stop
ONLY 10% of sales people make more than three contacts
2% of sales are made on the first contact
3% of sales are made on the second contact
5% of sales are made on the third contact
10% of sales are made on the fourth contact
80% of sales are made on the fifth to twelfth contact
I get it,…there are so many differences between lawyers and used-car salesman but the point of the story is clear:
‘BE PERSISTENT AND CONSISTENT’.
And finally, consider your profile and “Points of Contact”.
I suggest to those in my training courses that they need to build up about 5/6 points of contact with someone before they get that real connection that tips the person toward instructing you. For example:
Meet at a function/event
Be introduced by a mutual acquaintance
They visit your website
They look at your Linkedin Profile
They notice your Linkedin Presence..eg something you posted/liked/commented on
You speak at an event/seminar
They read your blog/newsletter
Member of organisation
Be the identified leader in a field
It’s unlikely that one of these on it’s own is enough to bring in a new client. And whatever else you do, the most important thing is usually that the potential client has met you or knows someone who knows you.
So there we have it….why networking so very, very important? Because without the personal connection, all the other actions and the time and cost involved are not as valuable. So let’s focus on how to get the best bang for your buck with limited time and money by being strategic about networking.
WRITE IT DOWN, COMMIT TO ACTION, TRACK RESULTS AND TWEAK
The best networkers commit to action. They have a method of setting out what they intend to do: a spreadsheet, calendar, white board, electronic or hardcopy. Writing the plan down is the very first step to being accountable and achieving goals. For example:
Attend 2-4 networking events per month
Have 1-2 coffees per week
Have 1-4 lunches per month
Post/blog on social media X number of times
Present talk 4-6 times per year
Host client event X number of times per year
Send newsletters or email updates to clients/contacts X number of times per year
Estimate how long these activities will take and how much they will cost. And then track what is done, and record actual time and cost. Why? Because at regular intervals, you need to assess what is working well and you should do more of, what is not working at all and so you should cease doing and everything else can be reconsidered to see if you can tweak to get better results.
There are many ways to stay accountable:
Record time spent on networking and make this a part of the practice’s KPI’s. People do what is measured and rewarded so if you expect everyone to put their weight with networking, then give them goals and rewards when the goals are met.
Have a buddy/team that works together. Share the plan and meet to update and report. Having to check in with another human keeps people accountable. I love a stand-up meeting and these really suit networking/business development. Honestly, 10-15 minutes once a week is all it takes for 2 or more people to get together and say what they have been doing, share outcomes, brainstorm ideas and collaborate. Even a walking meeting works for just 2 people.
WHO DO YOU WANT TO NETWORK WITH?
Really give this some thought.
DON’T JUST FOCUS ON CURRENT/FUTURE CLIENT’S: REFERRERS ARE A CONSTANT SOURCE OF WORK.
Where a practice gets one-off instructions from different clients for each matter eg family law, as opposed to repeat instructions from one client eg insurer or bank then it is really important to build a great referral network, eg accountants, financial planners, real estate agents who are traditional referrers for lawyers. And don’t forget former clients, other lawyers and people you know through social/family/sport/hobby relationships who might recommend you.
CONNECTORS ARE GOLD.
A connector is someone who knows lots of people, who goes to lots of events, who is generous with their time and knowledge. Who is this person in your area of work? Do you know them. When I started my own business I contacted a number of people that I perceived as connectors and asked to meet for a coffee. Literally, everyone one of them said “yes” and then offered to introduce me to other people eg via email. And would introduce me in person to others at functions. It's what these people do, it’s part of their personal brand and it helps them with their work.
GO WHERE YOUR CLIENTS OR POTENTIAL CLIENTS MIGHT BE.
I know this sounds obvious but strangely,
some lawyers don’t think about this. I’ve seen lawyers wanting to move into tech/start-up work, I suggest they might want to join a share-space facility where tech/start-up businesses operate. Some family lawyers I did training with were only half joking when they said that the best networking opportunities for them were at their kids’ school, the church or community groups they belonged to.
MAYBE AVOID GOING WHERE THERE WILL BE LOTS OF OTHER LAWYERS.
I’ve been a member of a business association that over time became flooded with lawyers. Once this happened, many of the non-lawyers grew wary of going to networking as every second attendee was a lawyer looking for work. Having said that, some lawyers get a lot of their work as referrals from other lawyers eg overflow work when too busy, conflict, work outside area of expertise. And so good connection with other lawyers is important for them.
BE STRATEGIC ABOUT WHICH MEMBERSHIP ORGANISATIONS YOU WILL JOIN.
These things cost money to join and then money and time to attend events. Don’t just keep renewing year after year without taking time to assess the benefit. Does all your team need to be members or just a select few?
GET CREATIVE AND INVESTIGATE DIFFERENT OPPORTUNITIES AND EVENTS.
I’ll often see things mentioned on Linkedin. Or go onto Eventbrite (on line event booking service in Australia) and put in a few search terms and sees what comes up. Lots of organisations allow non-members to attend events at slightly more than a member’s price.
HAVE SOME GUIDELINES ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR IN AN EVENT.
I have a very limited budget and don’t want to commit too much time to random networking.
So here are my guidelines:
I like to go to events that have educational value + networking
What is the talk about?
Who is giving it?
Who is going to be there?
What is the cost?
Sometimes I invite a client/contact to attend with me
Often, I’ll message other people to tell them that I am going
I ALWAYS stay for drinks, even if I am not drinking
I try to get an attendance list or get there early to look at the name cards
I have a terrible memory so I make notes (straight after on my phone or notepaper) of who I meet and what we talked about.And always follow up in the next couple of days-email a person to make time for a coffee if that was suggested, connect with all the people I met on Linkedin etc
STAY TRUE TO YOUR BRAND.
Whilst I highly encourage you to get out of your comfort zone, it’s also important to stay true to your brand. If you are not comfortable with big events with lots of drinking, then don’t do this. Find what is right for you and reflects your brand. Here is an interesting example from one of my coaching clients. As a female lawyer in her 30’s working in construction/commercial litigation for SME, most of the networking she attended involved predominantly male attendees and lots of drinking. She decided to hold a late afternoon drinks function in the office for a select group of current and former clients and some contacts. By controlling the environment and setting things up to suit her brand, the event was less stressful for her and a huge success. She had quality time to talk to those she invited and they also appreciated the opportunity to meet others in similar businesses. Apparently, the last person left after 10pm!
WORK AS A TEAM.
If there is a group of you ie working in a particular practice area, get strategic to save time and money. Consider the following:
Don’t all go to the same events
Don’t all join the same networks
Don’t all connect with the same people/groups
Review a list of referrers/contacts/clients and allocate individuals to be responsible for that relationship
Make time to meet as a team and discuss what each person in doing
Track results as individuals and as a team. What software do you use? How can this help your team collaborate?
WINGMEN & ALLIANCES.
So this might sound like I’m playing some Xbox game but these relationships can be really valuable:
If you are new to all of this and find the idea of turning up to a networking event as daunting (and you are not alone), go with a wingman. Now, don’t spend the event just talking to each other….that is not the point. But work together. Both of you might know different people and if so, make a point of talking to the people you know and introducing each other. As a pair, join another pair to talk together. Then split up and each try to meet someone new.
As for alliances, I’ve heard of lawyers who create a group of people around the same age/level of experience from different professions. They meet say for breakfast/lunch/drinks each month. If you can’t work out the benefits that might flow from this, well I’m not sure that I can help you.
THE ELEVATOR PITCH
Wikepedia describes the Elevator Pitch as a short description of an idea, product or company that explains the concept in a way that any listener can understand in the time it takes to ride in an elevator eg 20-30 seconds. It usually encompasses the value statement and so for laywers this might be around what you do, why you do it and what benefit this brings for your clients. I recommend that you write this down and practice saying it until it feels very natural so that when someone asks you “What do you do” you have that Elevator Pitch statement ready to go.
There is no magic to any of this. Networking is about learning skills, practising and then getting strategic about what you do as no one has endless time and unlimited budget. As Nelson Mandela said “I never fail. I either win or learn”. So be prepared for some “failures” but more importantly, be strategic so that you are constantly learning, refining what you do and challenging yourself to do things smarter. And don’t take the foot off the pedal when you get busy. Successful networking requires you to be consistent and persistent.
About the Author Cathryn Urquhart studied Law at the University of Western Australia and was admitted in Western Australia in 1988. She has had a diverse career working for national law firms mainly in Insurance and Construction litigation, as well as time spent as an in-house lawyer managing professional indemnity claims made against lawyers and developing and presenting risk management. Currently, Cathryn is the Facilitator of the Legal Practice Management Course at the College of Law in Western Australia. She also has her own business and works for a range of law firms and other businesses as a Professional Skills Trainer and Coach.