Networking. You know you have to do it, but does the thought of engaging in endless awkward conversations at cocktail parties leave you cold? Does another round of seemingly irrelevant meetings of trade or civic or association groups make you want to scream? Do you find it difficult to engage in meaningful conversation with a client over lunch? If this describes your networking efforts, then you’ve been wasting your time.
Networking, like every other aspect of your professional life, is based on a set of skills and behaviors — skills that are easily learned and behaviors that can readily become habits. What will you get in return? You will reduce the time you invest and gain a network that goes to work for you. Here are a few easy steps to help you get on your way.
1. Identify Your Targets
You’re busy, so only invest your time wisely.
- What are the characteristics of your ideal client?
- What trade, industry or civic groups would they join?
- What trade journals would they read?
- Where do you find this person?
- Are there people you already know who can make the introductions?
2. Narrow Your Focus
You can’t be everywhere, so carefully consider where your time should be spent.
- Which associations allow meaningful involvement?
- Do they have a local, regional, national or global presence?
- Do they accept articles for their publications?
- Do they have committees that are active?
- What is the composition of their board?
3. Be Engaged and Engaging
Don’t just join an organization and then vanish.
- Be realistic about how much time you have to give.
- Know where your interests lie and focus on how your talents can best serve the group.
- Be conscious of developing a reputation as someone who can be counted on to add value.
- Read and contribute to the trade publications.
What Else? Be Prepared!
Now that you are out there, how do you make the most of your time and your efforts? Calendar a predetermined amount of time each day or each week to manage your network — and stick to it religiously. Then be prepared for each meeting and event.
- Identify your goals for attending.
- Know in advance who will be there.
- What do you need to know about them?
- What do they need to know about you?
- Prepare and practice an introduction that teaches people about you and what you do.
- Focus on forming relationships, not on selling.
- Follow up on your promises.
- Afterward, capture and manage your contacts in a format that makes sense for your business.
- Connect through social media.
And remember, a healthy network is made up of contacts from all aspects of your life, not just your professional life. You can never identify where all of your business will come from. It is just as likely that your spouse’s first cousin may be as valuable a contact as someone who holds a senior position with your largest client. Make sure everyone in your life knows what you do.
Roberta Montafia is the Chief Visionary Officer of The Legal Mocktail, a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management, a Past President of the Legal Marketing Association and a member of the Legal Marketing Association Hall of Fame. She can be reached at Roberta@montafia.com.
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