While I was trying (desperately) to come up with a topic for this month’s column, I knew I wanted to have one that would be helpful in both promoting the Solo Conference, which is being held on Friday, November 15, 2013 at the BWI Hilton (www.msbasoloconference.org), and providing practical and useful practice tips for both experienced and new solo and small firm practitioners. Nothing like a challenge to get those creative juices flowing!
As I was thinking about all the really good reasons to attend the Solo Conference, as well as other types of programs and events, I was looking for a common denominator. Not to be minimized is the fact that you will learn a lot of great information to help your practice and get the opportunity to meet with vendors to hear about products and services.
But there is even more – building and expanding your network which is critical even in the new era of online tools because all networking is social. In fact, we even have an optional lunch for the sole purpose of giving attendees the opportunity to meet and talk and share ideas and referrals, i.e. networking.
Networking can have some negative connotations – happy hours, passing out hundreds of cards, endless chatter with little results. That is not networking. That is casting a net and hoping that you catch something worth keeping. I am talking about creating connections that you will cultivate over your entire career.
This month’s article is going to give some tips for practitioners, whether new, experienced, introverted, extroverted – anyone who wants to develop connections to help their professional and personal activities.
I pride myself in attempting to not just keep up with issues affecting lawyers in general and solo practitioners specifically, but sharing what I have read and learned with MSBA members. So, in addition to my own tips and suggestions, I am going to be taking ideas from a number of sources, including:
- “How to Make Your Network Work for You” from the Harvard Business Review Blog.
- “How to Network for Introverts” from Business Pundit Blog.
- “Learning to Love Networking” from www.Inc.com.
- “How to Make Networking Events Work For You” from Larry Bodine’s Law Marketing Blog.
- “Networking: The Basics and Beyond for Lawyers” from www.Law.com.
Who is Your Network
Whenever I talk to new solo practitioners about how to build a practice from scratch, I always say that in addition to getting new individual clients, it is critical to also start to build your referral network. Who is your referral network? Everyone you meet. And the more people you meet and connect with, the greater your potential for getting a client. You are going to have to kiss a lot of frogs to find those royal clients, but since you never really know where that next client will come from, this is an investment in time you must make.
Nothing Happens Overnight
Notice I said that you have to make an investment in time. Technology, for all its advantages, has created unrealistic expectations, especially among younger practitioners. Creating connections and developing referral sources that will ultimately result in good and profitable clients takes time. It is completely naïve to think that if you go to one or two events, meet a few people, pass out a few cards, that this will immediately result in a referral or a client. It takes time, and it takes effort, and it takes work on your part.
The article listed above, “How to Make Your Network For You,” mentions that too often people think more about the immediate need to get a referral or client and ignore the more important long term value of developing these relationships. “But with that approach, you only eat what you kill that day. Focus on becoming known and trusted instead; a long-lasting relationship is more beneficial to both parties.” That can sometimes be difficult to understand in a world where immediacy is the norm. It is especially difficult for younger attorneys who have not yet seen the value of long term business relationships.
This Should Not be Drudgery
You should not be going to any events just for the sole purpose of networking because you will find that you are creating more of a negative impression than a positive one. Rather, you should attend events that have a purpose, such as the Solo Conference (that purpose being to learn how to be a more successful practitioner) and use this event as a networking and connecting opportunity.
The same is true for business events or social events. Every event or program you attend is a networking opportunity.
Always take the opportunity to speak with someone new at an event even if you know many people at the event. If you do know many people at the event, invite others you do not know to join your circle.
Networking is not always talking about business – it is about creating relationships. Learn some tidbit about another person and make sure that someone learns some interesting tidbit about you. We are more likely to remember something interesting about a person than what type of law that person practices.
Practice Makes Pretty Good, if not Perfect
While there are some people who are just naturally at ease with meeting and talking with new people, there are many successful people who had trouble in the beginning. Even people who may be extroverts, have had to hone their skills. Being an introvert is not an excuse for doing no networking. It just means that you have to have a different technique. That is the good aspect of networking. While there are some skills you can learn, they are to be used with your own personality.
If you are uncomfortable starting conversations with people you do not know or barely know, do not wait until there is a networking opportunity to hone your skill. Take the opportunity every day to speak to someone in a more relaxed or non-business setting. Speaking to strangers or starting conversations with casual acquaintances is a learned skill and just takes practice no matter how uncomfortable you might initially find it.
Have a Plan
If you are very uncomfortable with the idea of walking into a situation where you know few if any people, then you need to keep your expectations realistic. This is more important if you are not familiar with many (or any) of the others at the event. You should try to speak to a few people and either ask questions about them or be prepared to tell a little about yourself. It is also important to understand that you will need to tailor your conversation plan to the situation.
Almost all of the articles talked about the importance of having a plan or goal for a situation.
People Refer Business to People They Like and Trust
As mentioned earlier, it is important to realize that you are building relationships and making long-term connections and that is how trust is built. If you say you will send information to someone you meet, make sure you do that immediately after the event. If you have the opportunity to volunteer for a task, make certain that you deliver. This is how trust is developed.
Make a note about some item about the person you are meeting to mention the next time you speak with that person. People like to know that they have been remembered. These techniques also help you remember names and people.
Hopefully you will use some of these tips when you attend the 14th Solo and Small Firm Conference. Here are some other tips for the conference:
- Wear your nametag on your right side as it is easier for people to read.
- Introduce yourself to someone you do not know.
- Speak to someone at the seat next to you and comment about the session you are attending.
- Attend the networking luncheon and sit at a table where you do not know everyone.
- Send a message to anyone you met or whose card you took on the Monday following the event if for no other reason than to say “Nice meeting you.”
- If you recognize someone’s name from a section e-discussion lists, comment on how helpful an answer was or indicate that you may have had a similar issue.
I hope to see many of you at the Conference at the BWI Hilton on Friday, November 15. Register now at www.msbasoloconference.org. Besides great sessions to help your practice, you might make a long-lasting connection.