Connecting with your legal clients along their journey is critical to business development. This post…
Connections are key to getting hired whether for direct client work or full-time employment — and you gain the most traction from them with strategic networking.
This post is the third and final in a Client Development Series:
- Part 1: Marketing Research Plans for Solo and Small Firm Lawyers
- Part 2: Attracting Business through the Legal Customer Journey
First, a few definitions and explanations. Strategic networking is the implementation of a strategy plan and process for expanding your network. The purpose of networking is to meet new people and deepen existing relationships. Your next best client or referral source may be the next person you meet. A networking event is any event or experience where you interact with other people. Your network is the group of people you know and the people they know.
An attorney may not “give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer’s services.” Mass. R. Prof. C. 7.2. This rule does not prohibit referral fees disclosed to the client in writing. Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.5(e).
MAPPING YOUR NETWORK
Your network map is an illustration of your connections, so you can visualize who is connected to whom. You can add detail to your map by including the roles, responsibilities, and power your connections have. Do they have the power to hire you, influence others to hire you, help you with your business development and networking strategy, or none at all? Keep in mind that almost anyone can spread your brand and reputation.
Start by mapping your network. Look at your LinkedIn and Facebook connections. Who do you know? Who do they know? Who are your clients and referral sources today and who may become either in the future? Develop a plan to get to know these people and let them know you. Find a way to be helpful to them and stay top of mind when they need someone who provides the services and experience you offer. LinkedIn’s retired InMaps and an out-of-service tool Socilab.com created a diagram of your LinkedIn network — stay tuned for updates when a new mapping tool emerges, as the visualizations can reveal important insights. A visualization of the author’s network map is below — one insight you can immediately see is that the author has two groups of related people and many people who do not know each other at all.
Next, look at your contacts and fill in this Network Relationships Summary table to get a better idea of how your relationships are or can be of value to you.
The next step is to decide what to do to develop, maintain, or repair a relationship. If a customer is in stage three of the relationship, all that may be necessary is regular communication about their matter, although you may also have the chance to gather feedback or delight with unexpected value. Customers in stages two and four need more. They need reminders of what you offer, that you are available to help, and what you need from them. Also, people want to know that they matter beyond what they can do for you.
When you evaluate your current network, consider what you have done for others and what you can do. Evaluating your network includes considering the date of your last interaction, what it was, and what you should do next. For all people in your network, consider how to create conditions for them to want to continue to connect with you over time.
What happens when a relationship goes south? What happened? What did you learn? What will you do differently in the future? What can you do to repair the relationship? What did the client expect you to do compared to what you delivered? Was there a variation in the expected solution, speed of delivery, relationship, delivery means, or added value? Own your mistakes, apologize, and fix them ASAP!
It is easy to neglect networking when you are busy with legal work. The best advice is to network always. Do not wait for dry spells.
Fill in the details of this Network Relationships Assessment. This will help you evaluate how to maintain a network, strengthen or repair a relationship, or eliminate or cut back on efforts for a relationship with a low return on investment (ROI).
Identify the time and dollar costs associated with maintaining a contact. Identify other relevant criteria. Decide to maintain, strengthen or repair, or make a downward adjustment on the efforts expended on the contact within your network.
ATTITUDE AND APPROACH
Regardless of whether you enjoy the process or not, you can run into trouble or excel at strategic networking. It is a matter of self-awareness, planning, and grit.
If you are an introvert, being in crowds and talking with many people can feel exhausting. If you are shy, going into a roomful of strangers and striking up conversations are daunting. If you believe that talking about yourself is bragging, you will have a difficult time crafting and delivering effective marketing messages and embracing others. However, you also may be a very good listener, and others may find it easy to talk to you.
If you are an extrovert, being in crowds and talking with many people is energizing. If you are outgoing, entering a roomful of strangers and striking up conversations may be too much fun for you to take seriously. You may talk too much and listen too little. If you love to talk about yourself, you may end up accidentally bragging or undermining your credibility without realizing it. However, you also may exude a natural confidence and charisma, which could attract people and work to your advantage.
If you believe that networking is a waste of time, it will be. If you believe networking is a party, you will forget that it is also work. Be prepared to identify your hidden feelings and thinking and develop a plan to manage those feelings or implement changes to make networking part of your cache of marketing and sales skills. The author thinks that one of the most valuable self-assessments for insight into your communication preferences is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). You will need a certified MBTI consultant to administer and interpret the results. The best way to do this is in a workshop setting so you can see how your preferences appear to others and what different preferences look like to others.
Create a networking plan with specific steps to execute before, during, and after a networking event. Many lawyers attend events without any goals or planning. They enter the event and do not know what to say, whom to engage, or how to engage. They are not surprised when they leave the event without any new leads. In fact, their confirmation bias paves the path to their conclusion that “It was just as expected—a waste of time.” They will be sure to tell you that they could have told you in advance that they “knew they would not get any new clients.” Do not be that person. Know what networking is, use it effectively, and develop your networking skills.
Planning for a networking event means, at a minimum, doing the following:
- Choosing events that the people you want to meet are more likely to attend. Is your goal to meet decision makers in your target market, competitors to gather intelligence, or volunteer events to recharge? It is possible to meet your next best client; however, knowing your primary purpose and behaving in alignment with that purpose and event will serve to strengthen rather than undermine your brand image.
- Being ready with stock phrases, statements, and questions that will help you enter, maintain, and exit a conversation with strangers, acquaintances, and friends. This is where your elevator speech and headline phrases are useful. How, in thirty seconds or less, will you answer the following questions: “What’s new?” and “What do you do?” Do not aim for a comprehensive answer. The purpose of a first meeting is not to push out every bit of information about yourself and your firm that you think someone may need to know in the future. The purpose is to get a next meeting. When you talk about your work, try to identify a problem you can solve, how you will solve it, and for whom.
- Preparing yourself psychologically. Review the materials on grit, resilience, and a learning mindset. Run through some common biases to minimize their impact. If you enter an event with a negative attitude, your experience will adjust to make your attitude a reality. Loss aversion is another common bias that can interfere with effective networking. If you frame the experience as a likely loss of time or an exchange of a positive emotional state for a negative one, you will try to avoid the risk of loss. Instead, frame it as a learning experience and a chance to practice your elevator speech or communication and relationship-building skills.
Preparation includes knowing what you will say, how you will enter conversations and exit them gracefully, what you will do, where you will go when you need a break, and being prepared to collect and store business cards and/or give them out.
Answer the questions about what you do as if you have been handed an opportunity to sell to a willing buyer and the opportunity is yours to lose. Before you start talking about yourself at length, ask a few questions to figure out what matters most to the person on the other side of the conversation. What problems do they have? What solutions will they embrace? That is one part of the process.
The other part is knowing your key characteristics. Do you know yourself well enough? Can you easily talk about your brand, and how you are different from your industry competitors? How would you describe your business? Who are the people you help? What are the solutions you offer? What is it like to work with you?
Review and keep in mind the following tips. Get them a single sheet to print for easy reference here.
- Your cell phone is a distraction to yourself and others. Put it away.
- Volunteer your name when meeting others. If you have met before, remind them of the context. When you are feeling anxious, your cognitive skills may not be in top form, and recalling others’ names and where you met may be too difficult. Many people are anxious at networking events.
- If you are able, introduce people to each other and explain how you know them. Mention anything you think they might find interesting about each other.
- The purpose of networking events is not for you to eat or drink; however, think of how to use the context and the available props to create an attractive, calm, and pleasant image. If you are standing in the drink line, you already have something in common with the other people in line.
- Everyone at a networking event has the same purpose of meeting new people, so you are helping yourself and others if you avoid spending all of your time with people you already know.
- Ask questions. Look for topics of mutual interest. Offer a compliment. Ask others for introductions to people they know.
- Be positive. Do not complain. Smile, and it is likely that someone will smile back.
- Start a conversation with someone who is standing alone. It is likely that networking is even more difficult for them than it is for you.
- Use props to help you exit a conversation. Mention that you need to freshen your drink or want to try the food. Perhaps you see someone across the room and want to say hello. The biggest prop of all is the event itself.
- Everyone is there for the same purpose—to mingle and meet people. Use that shared purpose to exit a conversation.
- When exiting a conversation, mention how much you have enjoyed the conversation.
- Ask for a business card. If you are able, make a note on the back of the card that will help you decide what to say when you follow up. Keep your cards and store others’ cards in an easy-to-reach place.
- Not everyone is a decision maker who is able to buy what you are offering; however, everyone is in a position to strengthen or weaken your brand image. Some people influence decision makers directly, while others will be your brand ambassadors, spreading news of your reputation, credibility, and trustworthiness. Never ask a person to make a decision he or she does not control.
Learn to develop relationships through engaging conversations. Engaging conversations have an opening, a rally, and a closing. They are opportunities to gather information about the other person and beyond. The opening and closing are processes to manage boundaries. Relationships deepen because of the rally.
An effective rally is one in which you create the conditions for the other person to enjoy talking to you, disclose helpful information, and find you likable. One researcher who measurers networks also measures the amount of positive energy reported after an interaction with a particular person. Triggering positive emotional responses should be part of your intention in the rally. It is a measure of your effectiveness. Before offering a question, statement, or gesture, ask yourself what emotion you intend and what you expect it to trigger in the other person. As discussed above, being aware of others’ emotional state and being able to affect it are two aspects of emotional intelligence.
An effective rally is built on curiosity, engaged listening and empathy, body language, and building bridges and energy. Connect the dots of the conversation by selecting good questions, offering bridging statements, providing energizing compliments and ideas, and using appropriate body language. Model the role and behavior in the conversation that you hope to inspire in the other person.
Good questions are open-ended—they cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no.” They request an explanation and offer an opportunity to disclose information. During the rally, they create conditions for the other person to engage with you. When possible, they should connect to something already in the conversation. Good questions are attuned to the level of the relationship. Early in the development of the relationship, your questions should have a very low risk of offending the other person. Avoid anything too personal or sensitive subjects such as religion and politics until you know enough about the person to reduce the risk. Avoid the inadvertent strong sell. Not everyone needs or wants what you have to offer; however, everyone is a potential referral source and brand advocate.
If your conversation partner has disclosed a recent trip or a favorite destination, frame your question with broad curiosity. Ask, “Why do you like the beach so much?” or “What are your favorite things to do there?” Avoid leading questions. Do not ask, “Did you like St. Maarten?”
Some good topics for questions or energizing ideas include
- how one spends leisure time;
- popular books, movies, music, or television;
- new trends in technology and popular culture;
- family and friends;
- shared experiences;
- upcoming events; and
- vacation spots.
Engaging conversations include bridging statements that demonstrate your interest and understanding of what the other person is saying through attentive listening and conveying empathy. Attentive listening is very different from targeted listening. Targeted listening is the search for evidence that proves or disproves a point. It is a mistake to try to prove to someone that they need your legal expertise or that they are wrong in their belief that they do not need it. In contrast, attentive listening is driven by curiosity and an intention to create a positive emotional climate.
One of the hardest skills is to stay in the attentive listening phase for a sufficient amount of time. We have a tendency to shift inadvertently to targeted listening and offer a solution or sympathy, share a story of how we faced a similar challenge, or sit quietly so the other person will quickly finish talking. Each reflects impatience, which appears in body language. The tendency becomes even stronger when we are worried about time. The hidden mindset or underlying belief is that time spent listening is wasted. You can be sure that this hidden mindset will be hidden only from you!
The key to attentive listening is to allow time for a person to convey information without your interpretation and attempt to solve anything you perceive to be a problem. The attentive listener will acknowledge the person’s story and feelings and convey interest and empathy. Attentive listening influences the speaker to share an experience without feeling judged, interrupted, or controlled.
Good listeners are inquisitive listeners who assume they need more information from the speaker before they can truly understand the meaning of an action, event, or word in the same way that the speaker does. Good comments summarize the speaker’s words and feelings and show an understanding of those feelings. Effective body language includes a smile and a softer voice, leaning toward the speaker, and physical touch, if appropriate. Ineffective body language conveys boredom, distraction, and judgment.
One technique to encourage someone to keep talking and share more information is the use of dangling questions that are left open for the other person to finish, such as, “When you say [whatever the person said] . . . ?” Use the tone of a question with the dangling statement as a way of allowing the other person to finish the sentence. Another technique is to directly ask the person to tell you more or acknowledge that what he or she has said is interesting to you. Yet another effective technique is to repeat a phrase or key word used by the speaker. Finally, respecting the speaker’s pauses without jumping in to eliminate the silence signals interest in the speaker’s situation.
Bridging statements can often be followed by a question that offers the other person another opportunity to talk about himself or herself:
- “I loved St. Maarten, too” or “I’ve been wanting to go there.”
- “So, you love to ski [sky dive, rock climb, hike, etc.]. That’s so interesting [fun, adventurous, exciting].” This can be followed by a question like, “What’s your favorite part of [sky diving, rock climbing, etc.]?”
- “I loved St. Maarten. When I was there [then share a funny, short story].”
- “I noticed that you work on . . . . How did you choose that field?”
- “So you love to rock climb because . . . ?”
- “So, you’re saying you chose to work for Biophara Inc. because they had created a drug to treat . . . ?”
- “It sounds like we both like . . . .”
- “I went into patent law because I wanted to be part of the process that brings to market the next new drug to cure . . . .” (This statement also discloses something personal about the speaker.)
Silence is a bridging statement too!
Energizing compliments and ideas tell the other person that you are interested in him or her. You can tell a person that you like an aspect of their physical appearance or what they are sharing with you. You can also build on their train of thought with new ideas. You might suggest someone or something that might be of interest to your conversation companion:
- “I love your [choose an article of clothing, accessory, hair, etc.].”
- “You know who also loved St. Maarten—John. He’s a treasure trove of information on the best restaurants there. I’d be happy to introduce you.”
Appropriate body language conveys warmth and interest. Eye contact is important, but also remember to look away. There is a fine line between showing interest and staring uncomfortably. Touching the arm or back might complement the conversation. However, be careful that you have evaluated the risk of being perceived as inappropriately friendly. Nod and lean in to show that you are listening and interested in what the other person is saying. Smile to show warmth and enjoyment. Hold a relaxed and confident posture. Try not to cross your arms. If you are cold and trying to keep warm by crossing your arms, acknowledge the situation.
Your post-event follow-up checklist should include the following:
- Update your contact list or network contact system to save and easily access information about your new contacts. Consider using a free app, like Scannable, to quickly input contacts into your system.
- Decide when, how, and with what content to follow up. Should you follow up by an e-mail or a phone call? Do you want to suggest getting together for a drink or lunch to get to know someone better? Did the person mention a need that you can easily satisfy?
- Connect with new contacts on social media.
- Integrate your new contacts into your network development tickler system.
RESILIENCE IN NETWORKING
Networking is not easy; it is a skill that takes grit and focused practice over time. Leaving a networking event without a new client does not mean you have not done everything right. Some experiences will have better outcomes than others. Generally, it takes years to build a pipeline of new clients.
Resilience, grit, and a learning mindset combine to create the ability to pick yourself up and try again when your networking skills are not as polished as you wish. This twinge to one’s self-image can be difficult for someone who is accustomed to excelling academically, like most lawyers. It is easy to leap to the conclusion that the attempt was a “failure.” Marketing and business development are different skills that will improve with deliberate practice.
Ten closing tips for networking events follow. Find them on an easy reference sheet here.
- Decide on your goals and develop a plan for accomplishing them.
- Connect with groups and people who spark your interest.
- Use power poses to feel confident and calm.
- Prepare a thirty-second explanation about yourself and what you want or need.
- Consider how you can help someone else directly or pass along a message so it has a better chance of getting to the right person.
- Ask open-ended questions: What business are you in? How did you get there? What is your ideal customer or client? How can I help you?
- Have fun.
- Thank people for their time and interest in you.
- Follow up after the event.
Is there anything getting in the way of your networking? Perhaps you need to take a break for a round of self-development. Take this self-evaluation quiz to figure out where you need to focus developmental efforts. Make a check mark next to each skill that you have, indicating whether your skill level is poor, average, above average, or highly skilled.
Leadership research suggests that the most successful organizations are led by people who are highly skilled. Take the time you need to enhance your client development and networking skills so you will be more effective going forward.
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This post originally appeared as part of Chapter 6, “Client Development and Networking” in MCLE’s Hanging Your Shingle.