Ah, spring is in the air! The flowers are blooming, the birds are chirping and I have just received annual invoices from the two business organizations to which I belong. Between the two, I just paid about $500 for the opportunity to list my firm as a member organization and attend their events to shake hands and exchange cards with strangers.
As a solo firm owner, about half of my job is networking. Like many lawyers, I’m constantly talking to people — in-person and virtually — in the hopes that I will be top-of-mind when they need legal advice. As I’ve said here before, networking is a process, not an event, and you have to keep showing up to build the relationships that will eventually turn into business.
To Renew or Not Renew?
So, in the year since I last paid my membership dues to these groups, did I see any results? One group is an organization for science and technology companies. The other is dedicated to promoting locally owned businesses and the benefits of shopping locally — every member company must be based in the state and locally owned. As I evaluated whether my membership has been worthwhile in either, I asked many questions:
- How many of their events did I attend?
- How many connections did I make? Were they quality connections?
- How many paying clients did I get as a result?
- What educational opportunities did I take advantage of?
- Why did I join this group? Am I achieving that goal?
- What opportunities did I turn down to be part of this organization?
- Can I get the same value without being a member?
- What fringe benefits come with membership?
- How does being a member of this organization affect my and my firm’s reputations?
One group’s dues are significantly lower than the other’s, so it’s easier to see the value in renewing. Also, I’ve been a member there longer than in the other organization, which has probably contributed to the fact that I’ve found more paid work and connections there.
The more expensive organization, though, is actually a better fit in terms of the types of potential clients I want to meet. The drawback is many of these companies already have lawyers, and many of their decision makers may not take me as seriously as other lawyers because I have the blessing and the curse of being a woman with a youthful appearance. (To put it into context — I will be eligible to run for president this year and recently someone thought I was 18 years old.) On the plus side, this association puts on quality events every week that are well attended. Also, a core group regularly attends these events, which contributes to building good rapport.
It definitely takes a lot more time and energy to get my money’s worth out of the second membership, but it was a good enough first year to make it worthwhile to pay for the second year. I feel like I’ve created a solid foundation of contacts to build on. One of the benefits of joining a general business organization is that very few lawyers attend the events, despite the fact that several large law firms in my city are members and even sponsors. Every time I sign up to attend an event, I enter my name as “Ruth Carter, Esq.” so it will appear on my name tag that way, and before we shake hands, everyone will know what industry I’m in.
One New Thing
I’m going to do one thing differently this year with the science and technology organization and speak at one of its free lunch events. I’ll be talking about “Social Media Horror Stories from the Legal Trenches (and How to Avoid the Same Fate).” Yes, that does mean I’ll have to pay for everyone’s lunch, but it will be interesting to see what it does in terms of valuable connections and, hopefully, clients.
What about you? When’s the last time you took a look at the business organizations and associations your firm belongs to and considered whether you’re getting your money’s worth? Be mindful that membership is a two-way street. If you’re not getting the value you expected out of a group, look at how much energy you’re putting into the experience, too, when you evaluate what they’re doing for you.
Ruth Carter is a lawyer, writer and speaker. Her law practice, The Carter Law Firm, focuses on intellectual property, social media, First Amendment and flash mob law. Ruth is the author of the new ABA book The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers, as well as Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans. In “Nothing But the Ruth,” she writes about the lessons she’s learning while building her new practice. Follow her on Twitter @rbcarter.
Illustration ©Image Zoo.