In a recent post I stated that in order to become a “rainmaker” you need to develop relationships with both your colleagues and potential clients through networking. This isn’t a particularly controversial idea or original concept. Savvy lawyers have always understood the value of making personal relationships in developing a book of business.
There are two primary ways to engage in networking. First, there is the “old fashioned way” of meeting people in person, especially by meeting people at networking events, trade shows and conferences. Second, modern lawyers connect with people through blogging and social media. We’ve already spent a lot of time considering how you can utilize social media and blogging platforms to engage with colleagues and clients on Twitter, LinedIn, Facebook and through a blog. But we haven’t really looked into the more traditional arts of event networking. And although social media supercharges your ability connect and network with large numbers of people, it should not be considered a total replacement for meeting people face to face. To build and create new business, lawyers still need to get out of the office and schmooze. With that in mind, here are a few tips for making the most of your next networking opportunity.
Before you even leave your home or office for your next networking event, do some due diligence first by targeting the individuals you’d like to connect with. Read the bios and LinkedIn profiles of the event’s speakers to learn a little about them. Many conferences provide a running list of the individuals who have signed up for the event. Examine the list and consider which individuals might be good people to meet once you are there. While you’re at it, consider some thoughtful questions to ask the people you’ve targeted once you do actually meet with them. You may even want to consider sending an email to some of these individuals in advance of the event indicating that you’d really appreciate an opportunity to speak with them for a few minutes at the event and attempting to schedule this meeting.
Get There Early
Don’t show up at a networking event late or even shortly before it starts. Get there early. After all, it’s not uncommon for people to pair up early on at an event, leave early, or simply develop fatigue from all of the networking going on. By arriving early you can identify the people you targeted before they pair off with other people, before all the names and faces of the people they are meeting start to blur together, etc.
It’s probably obvious, but this is the most important step in the process. After all, your preparation is specifically to get ready to mingle with people once you are actually there. The first thing to remember is that your ultimate goal is to develop a true relationship with the people you are meeting. Don’t make the mistake of simply running through the place collecting as many business cards as you can. Make each interaction count. Be friendly, courteous, and smile. Ask people questions about themselves and what they do. Obviously, this is the time to try to use some of the information you gleamed about people from your pre-event research. Don’t presume that someone you’ve met isn’t important just because you don’t recognize their company or affiliation. After all, even if someone isn’t in a position where they can work with you now, you never know where they may end up down the road.
Be patient when approaching people by trying to select appropriate moments to introduce yourself. Don’t try to interrupt groups of two who are actively engaged in a conversation. Instead focus on individuals standing by themselves, groups of three, or people (regardless of the size of the group) who appear to be having a lull in the conversation. Schmoozing is a fine art and you’ll have to rely, in part, on your instincts. Personally, if I see a group laughing or having a good time, I’ll step up and say something like “This looks like a fun group!” followed by “Hi, I’m Matthew.”
Hopefully at the end of the night you’ve made some connections and planted the seeds for developing relationships with potential clients and colleagues. But it’s not enough. Now you need to work on cultivating those relationships. Pull out your stack of business cards and connect with the people you met on LinkedIn; send them an e-mail telling them that it was a pleasure meeting them; follow them on Twitter; and “Like” their business or firm on Facebook. But remember you are building a relationship, so you still aren’t done. Continue to interact with them using social media and other platforms. As a result, your network will continue to grow.
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