The Problem With Networking Advice
When you started your firm, chances are that you were told to network using a system like this one:
Step 1: Attend bar association events or CLEs and introduce yourself to colleagues and collect a business card or contact information.
Step 2: Follow up with your new contacts by giving them a call to invite them for lunch and coffee to learn more about [fill in the blank]. If said contact isn’t available by phone, send an email as a backup.
Step 3: Schedule two to three coffee or lunch dates each week and sit back as the referrals start rolling in.
Instead, more likely, here’s the reality (certainly, this was my reality!)
Step 1: Attend bar association events or CLEs and wait patiently for someone to break away from their huddle to even talk to you. Take advantage of the 30 seconds of their attention by snagging a business card.
Step 2: Follow up with your new contacts by giving them a call to invite them for lunch and coffee to learn more about [fill in the blank]. After three calls, contact is never available, so try email. Radio silence. Give up after 2 months.
So why doesn’t the reality of networking live up to the hype? Several reasons. First, people – and particularly, lawyers – are really busy. Frequently, they truly don’t have time for lunch or a coffee meeting. Second, although most lawyers won’t admit it, networking is a quid pro quo. When lawyers agree to a meeting with a colleague, they want to get something out of the arrangement. So if you’re a new lawyer – whether a new grad or new to a city or a particular practice area – your colleagues assume that you don’t have much to offer them and thus, are more likely to decline your invitation.
One solution to getting together with those lawyers who decline an invite due to time constraints is to make a face-to-face meeting more convenient. That could be choosing a Starbucks in the lobby of your invitee’s building – or even offering to stop by the invitee’s office with coffee and snacks. When I first started pounding the pavement, I found that I could always get face time with an attorney if I agreed to stop by their office.
The other way to make a meeting more desirable is to offer something of value. That’s where having an eBook comes in handy. What if you could call a potential referral source — like an HR Director or an employment attorney and offer to get together to share or discuss your eBook on marijuana in the workplace. Giving the contact a valuable resource provides incentive for them to meet. Again, when I started my firm, I had just written a law review article on legal and regulatory issues related to ocean energy development. I found that my chances of getting a meeting were much higher when I offered to share a copy of my article.
Networking and personal referrals are still the gold standard of business development. Yet these tools won’t work if you can’t get your foot in the door to begin with. Making it easier for referral sources to meet with you and bringing something of value once you get there are two ways to get through the door.
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