How does the word ‘networking’ make you feel?
Sick? Scared? Bored? A combination of all three?
Whatever your reaction, there is no escaping the fact that networking is a powerful tool for lawyers. Yet many lawyers refuse to ‘lower themselves’ by networking and, when eventually and reluctantly they do go, they often make a mess of it. Though a key skill, law schools do not teach the subtle art of networking. They should.
People do business with people – those whom they know, like, and trust. Trust is critical when engaging a lawyer and many clients will not instruct one they don’t like they know.
It is crucial that lawyers make the most of networking opportunities. Here are a few tips and ideas on how you can do so.
Treat Everyone with Respect
Not a bad principle to live your life by in general. But when networking, don’t dismiss someone just because you don’t think they will use your services. One of the main benefits of networking is reaching not just the people you meet, but also the people that they know.
When meeting a new person, remember that you are looking at a potential introduction to all of their family, friends, Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections, Twitter followers, colleagues, and clients. That’s a lot of potential clients!
Don’t Expect Anything
Everyone knows the purpose of networking events is, ultimately, to gain new business. But the process is often slow. You might strike it lucky by running into your ideal client just when they desperately need your services – but the probability of this is low.
Networking is not one way, either. Be open to the products and services which may be of benefit to your family or business.
Think of each event of an opportunity to have interesting conversations. You never know what different outlook or topic you may encounter. One thing is practically guaranteed – each person in the room will know something that you don’t. Even if you don’t obtain any leads or potential clients, you should ensure you have learned something from the event.
Don’t be Too Pushy
Following on from the idea above – if you expect business out of every conversation, you end up coming across as desperate and making a lousy impression. Nobody instructs a desperate lawyer.
Anyone can tell when someone only wants to push their own agenda. If the person you are talking to gets that impression of you, it’s unlikely they’ll remember you favourably.
Ask Interesting Questions AND Listen to the Answers
Nothing undermines the beginnings of a business relationship more than the sense that the other person is not listening to you. If you ask questions and listen to the answers, you give the other person an opportunity to talk about their business: something which will endear you to them immediately. If you demonstrate you have been listening, either through good follow-up questions or verbal and physical cues, the effect will be amplified. Everyone likes to be heard and understood.
And remember people’s names. A good technique to help them stick in your heard is to repeat someone’s name to yourself when you first meet them. As the clever lawyer, you will be expected to remember names and details. Impress people with this simple feat.
Interesting answer often follow interesting questions. Everybody knows, and expects, the standard ‘So what do you do?’ question. In a networking situation, it’s easy to loathe that question – both asking and answering it. Consider other ways of eliciting similar information but in a way which will ignite someone’s enthusiasm.
For example, ask ‘What’s the most interesting project you’ve got going on?” An answer filled with passion usually follows, which will make your conversation more memorable. They’ll remember you and you’ll have a good idea of what makes them tick. To everyone in the room, it will appear as if you have both clicked – that you are clickable! – when all you have done is ask a simple question. Others will want to join you. Though it’s likely you will be in listening mode, essentially you are the conductor of the conversation, determining its every direction. When someone inevitably join you, take the opportunity to recount the key parts of the story to the new arrival. Both people will be impressed with your ability to remember key points. (Lawyers often forget just how good their memories are when compared to people without their training).
Play the Numbers Game
Knowing when and how to approach a group of people is essential. The key is numbers. So what numbers should you be looking for?
Two is a bad number – a pair of people are likely deep in conversation. And, if they are facing each other, any approach you make to join them runs the risk of going unnoticed. Potentially awkward!
Threes, on the other hand, are good. A group of three represents an opening. Only pairs can really talk to each other so, in a three, one person will always be slightly left out of the conversation.
Four people stood together often form two pairs. It’s going to be difficult to find an opening there. But a group of five people is made up of a pair and a threesome so there should be that opportunity to engage.
One, however, is the magic number. Someone standing on their own is a golden opportunity. No-one wants to be standing in isolation at a networking event. They will almost certainly be feeling slightly awkward. So how well-disposed will they already be their rescuer?
The numbers can help as quick guide, but it is always important to assess people’s body language and how they’re positioned. People squarely facing each other will make it difficult for you to join them. Instead, opt for infiltrating the more open, looser groups.
Become Single to Mingle
Obviously, we’re not talking about divorce here! This is the tricky task of politely closing a conversation so you can meet other people. When you’re getting on well with someone, it can be especially hard to break off. However, making the most of a networking event often means speaking to as many people you can. This means curtailing lengthier conversations. Whichever way you do it, do it politely. People will understand as they probably want to mingle further themselves. You can continue interesting or potentially useful conversations in a one-to-one meeting at a later date. A genuine promise to connect further in future can often be a good way to break off a conversation. It also leads us to….
You can get a lot more out of networking events by following up and arranging one-to-one meetings. Pay particular attention to the people you think would be able to help you in future, but don’t stop there. The nature of networking means you never know who might be able to help you the most. Expanding your business connections is the path to building a stronger, more profitable, network.
Don’t be Afraid to give Free Advice
As a lawyer, the product you are selling is knowledge. This might make you reluctant to give away any nuggets of legal information for free. Holding yourself back in this way while you are networking is a mistake, however. If you are willing to give away some free advice, it helps to build a great deal of trust between you and the person you are helping. Solve their problem for them and they are likely to remember it. It will convince them of your skills, much more effectively giving them the hard sell. Whilst they might not have a legal problem anymore, there’s a good chance that anyone they encounter with a similar problem will be sent your way. Good news travels fast.
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