How can attorneys become successful networkers?

By karlsmith-then…, 20 January, 2010

For many attorneys, the word “networking” conjures up trepidation and concern about their own inadequacies about not being able to “schmooze,” coupled with misconceptions ranging from not having enough time and not having “star” power, to networking being a waste of time that robs them of valuable billable hours. So it’s no surprise that networking often ranks on the lower rungs of business development activities. By holding these misconceptions to be true, attorneys are really doing themselves a disservice.

If you succeed in your networking, it enables you to build a name, and it can help you stand out from your competition. If you become a good networker, you will develop a reputation as a center of influence, and you will be the beneficiary of many referrals and introductions. If you don't focus on improving your networking skills and networking behaviour, it will become a tedious and uncomfortable business development behaviour that will lead to failure and frustration in the business development part of your practice.

Before we discuss networking skills and tactics, it is important to define networking. Many attorneys only think about networking in terms of a structured Chamber of Commerce or bar association event, where people wear nametags and stand around in crowded rooms. Networking occurs any time you are at an event where you are meeting people. It can take place at charity functions, board meetings, industry association events, alumni association functions, golf club events, seminars and workshops or even a child's school function. Networking is about connecting (find a common bond) to result in trust and relationship. People are not likely to do business with you or refer business to you if they do not trust you.

The problem lies in the fact that attorneys, by nature, are more attuned to viewing networking as a transactional relationship. Networking, though, is rarely transactional; 99 percent of the time networking is relational. Attorneys have to make that intellectual shift for their networking efforts to be successful. Fortunately, the same skill set required for being an attorney— being organised, focused, and applying yourself — is required for networking.

Another expert Bob Burg author of Endless Referrals confirms that the golden rule of networking is: “All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like and trust.” However, building enough trust so that a referral source will send a client or clients may take more time than it would for another business. The essential elements of “trust” are both character (who you are) and competence (your strengths and the results you produce). When I say I trust you, I am really saying that I trust that you will behave in a way which I expect, and that way will be in my interest. In other words, I believe, based upon my experience, that you will not hurt me.

As with criminal law, intent is a key component building trust. In my experience, I have seen 2 commonalities in attitudes of attorneys at networking events: 1.) The “what can you do for me first” attitude or 2.) Quid pro quo and I really don’t want to be here but the Partner insisted. Both attitudes will obviously and inevitably lead to failure.

One of the most potent weapons in your networking arsenal is the referral you have to give. A referral to one of your networking contacts is a form of emotional currency. Though it is not a direct quid quo pro transaction, most people who receive referrals want to return the favour. Thus, each referral you give makes a deposit in that person's gratitude account. The more gratitude people have for referrals you have given, the more referrals you are likely to get in return. Here are some networking tips to get off to a good start:

First, successful networking requires time and repeated contact in order to build trust. With attorneys, more time is generally necessary. In other words, they have an affirmative obligation to meet with and follow up with a desired referral source. Once you have had your first meeting with the contact, you have established the foundation upon which a relationship can be built. For most attorneys, this is where the process ends because they don't follow-up. Good follow-up elevates you above 95% of your competitors. A timely follow-up letter will differentiate you as being highly professional. A call to a contact for no reason other than to see how he/she is doing reinforces the perception of a continuing relationship. Continued contact and meetings help that contact grow into a friend. With each step, the probability of getting business improves.

Second, successful networking requires delivery of excellent customer service to the referral. Follow-up with your referral source is especially important.

Third is preparation. Whom do we want as a referral source? Prepare before attending a professional body event, seminar, board meeting or any other function as you would before meeting with a client. Then focus on a few good possibilities and attempt to make a quality contact.

Fourth, say thank you. When a contact sends you a referral, you should escalate him/her up your relationship building hierarchy. Invite the contact out to dinner or a show. If he/she sent you a substantial piece of business, you might want to go directly to dinner with the spouses. Use each referral as an occasion to create a more personal and friendly relationship. This will increase the probability that you will get future referrals.

Fifth, find the time for social networking. One thing you can be sure about is that social networking is not going away — it is shaping the way that people do business.
Why not join LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace or ZoomInfo and consider starting a blog? Blogging can be time-consuming, but if you are smart about it, you’ll either share the workload with others or pick a topic where you have a steady stream of potential blog topics coming your way. Who knows — you might actually have some fun in the process — and wouldn’t that be a welcome addition to your workday!

Smith cautions that with all the demands on our time made by our business, professional and personal lives, it is tempting to assign a lower priority to networking as an activity designed to meet new people. This thinking would be wrong because by not consistently widening our circles of acquaintances and contacts, we may be severely curtailing our chances for advancement and success. Networking and building business relationships are very much acquired abilities which, with proper training, can be learned, developed and mastered.

Copyright 2010 by Karl Smith
This article may be copied or republished with the following credit:
"By Karl Smith, Business Networking and Referral Coach, Cape Town, South Africa. +27 (0) 082 7779431 [email protected][email protected] "



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