Lots of lawyers think that networking is a waste of time. And it IS a waste of time for many of them. But not because networking isn’t a great way to develop business. (It is.) Networking doesn’t work for lots of lawyers because they don’t know what they’re doing. They haven’t thought about it strategically, they don’t have a plan, and they certainly don’t have systems in place to get the most out of the time they spend. So they don’t get results. When it’s done right, networking is a great way for a small law firm to generate business. It’s especially valuable for a firm in the early stages – where the lawyer typically has more time than money available. So how can you make networking WORK for your firm? Here are four tips:

  • Select the right target audience. Who should you be building relationships with? The answer: people who are in position to give you business, either directly or through referrals. It’s baffling how many lawyers spend their time networking with other lawyers in the same practice area… of course those lawyers aren’t going to send you business! So start by identifying individuals and groups of people that are in position to give you business.
  • Look to give before you get. Once you’ve figured out who you should be networking with, the next step is to start developing relationships. And you do that by GIVING before you GET. How can you provide value to the people you’re meeting? Maybe by connecting them with others in your network… maybe by providing them with some friendly advice or feedback… maybe by sending them a memorable gift. This approach won’t generally create instant results, but it does lay the groundwork for a highly profitable long-term relationship.
  • Listen more than you talk. Most people would rather talk than listen. To actually create relationships, you need to do the opposite. People like to be listened to. When you listen, and when you ask intelligent questions to show that you’re listening, your conversation partner walks away feeling good about what just happened. And, listening gives you the opportunity to glean valuable information that you can use later to strengthen the relationship… hobbies, professional dreams, challenges, and so on.
  • Follow up… follow up… follow up! If you walk away from a networking event thinking that you’ve just had some great conversations and those people are going to remember you forever and send business your way every opportunity that they get… you’re crazy. It doesn’t matter how impressive you are. We’re all busy, we’re all distracted, we all have thousands of thoughts racing around our minds every day. So it’s your job to make sure these strategic connections you’ve just created don’t forget about you. Send them a note. Give them a call. Send them a gift on their birthday. Forward them an article or a blog entry that may be helpful to them. Stay on their radar screen.

Networking CAN be a waste of time… but it doesn’t have to be. Keep these four tips in mind and your networking will be more effective than ever.