Networking skills

Today’s post is for those of you who are fairly new to the practice and those who hate the idea of networking and business development more than anything else you can imagine.

Is anybody still reading?

Second (perhaps) to legal competence, business development is king of practice.  And to bring in business, it’s important to have a network of contacts who have — or in the future likely will have — legal issues you or your firm can service.  This is not news.

I’ve been doing a lot of networking lately, the formal kind where you go to a meeting armed with business cards and a smile and you leave with a stack of other people’s business cards and a serious question about whether the smilefest was worthwhile.  My take on it is that no “networking” event is, in and of itself, worthwhile.  It’s what happens afterward that makes the difference.  Networking isn’t about getting business on the spot, it’s about developing relationships that will lead to business, directly or indirectly, down the road.  Networking almost always requires the long-term approach. (A foreshadowing: I’ve recently found and will be posting about an article that suggests the relationship view of networking is popular in discussion but almost universally disliked by lawyers in fact.  But that’s for another day.)

A few thoughts on how to network well:

  • Make time and do it.  “Someday” and “later” have a way of never happening.
  • Be prepared with something to say.  Know what the big news story is, the key sports results, and have a positive or thoughtful comment.
  • Be prepared to introduce yourself in 15-20 seconds.  Without stumbling.  This is usually called the “elevator speech.”  Make it interesting.  If it’s boring to say, it’s boring to hear.
  • Carry business cards and have them easily accessible…..
  • ….But don’t offer indiscriminately them at the beginning of a conversation!  It’s far better to chat for a while, to know someone about the person, and then to ask for his or her business card.  What if, horror of horrors, they don’t reciprocate and ask for yours?  Not a problem.  Send them one when you follow up after the event.
  • When someone offers you a business card, look at it before you put it away.  A card is our tangible persona.  Notice it, accord it due respect, and then carefully put it away.
  • Pay attention to the conversation.  Don’t be one of these “power networkers” always looking over the shoulder of your conversational companion, looking for someone more interesting.  YECH.
  • Listen.  That deserves a separate bullet point.  When your companion is talking, that’s your signal to listen to what they’re saying, not to be composing your witty rejoinder.
  • Think about how you can help the person you’re talking with.  Make a contact, offer a lead, or just ask how you might recognize a terrific potential client/customer for her.
  • Don’t assume someone you’re talking to can’t help you.  A conversation may not lead directly to business, but you have no idea who that person may know or where they’ll end up next.
  • Set your intentions before you go (i.e., I will leave with 3 business cards of people I plan to contact again).  And aim for quality over quantity.
  • Follow up afterward.

To make the most of a networking event, it’s important to follow up with the key people with whom you speak.  Because I’m getting awfully tired of breakfasts, lunches, and coffee meetings, I’ve started thinking about other ways to cultivate business relationships (and the perhaps even more valuable social business relationship).  Golf is terrific — for golfers.  But for the rest of us…..

  • Golf.  It’s a cliche for a reason.
  • I like to follow up in writing with some of the people I meet at a networking event.  And yes, I do mean handwritten snail mail, tailored to the individual.  And then I follow up on my follow-up with articles, etc., that are relevant to that person.  Not so much that it’s obnoxious, but enough to make the person feel that I’ve really taken an interest in who they are and what they’re doing.
  • Reserve a table for 6 or 8 for lunch or dinner after your event (if it’s a cocktail party, for example) and invite several of the people you meet to join you.

More soon.

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  1. […] you’re interested in some of my previous posts on networking, they’re collected […]

  2. […] written about networking in the past and explained that networking is really about building […]

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