April Showers Bring May Flowers
Becoming an effective networker is mission critical to growing and sustaining your practice. Business development is not typically a “quick fix” activity; you can’t expect to meet someone today and get new business from that person tomorrow. (Exceptions do, of course, exist — but don’t count on them when the survival of your practice is at stake.) You must build relationships with your clients, with potential clients, and with referral sources since the majority of your business will likely come from those sources.
Beyond maintaining and growing existing relationships, you’ll also want to expand your circle of contacts. Your business development plan will help you to identify where your ideal clients and referral sources gather, and that in turn will tell you which meetings and gatherings to attend. As you look at invitations you receive or announcements of meetings, ask yourself whether the kind of people you want to meet will likely be there. You must identify the groups that are most likely to include the people you want to meet, and you need to be prepared to start conversations and then to develop and maintain the relationships over time.
Is it better to attend every possible event where your ideal clients and referral sources are likely to gather or to focus on developing relationships that seem more likely to yield business? There’s a place for both. Sometimes it’s helpful to investigate new groups and to see who goes to what kinds of meetings. But be aware that it always takes more than one or two meetings to get established and to start developing relationships that may lead to business; if you just attend once or twice and then move on to another group, chances are that you won’t see any results. I recommend that you identify no more than two or three groups (potentially only one, depending on your other commitments) that appear to be a good fit for your objectives. Commit to attending regularly and participating in the group activities for six months, and then evaluate your results.
At the end of the day, building solid relationships will always be more effective because people generally prefer to hire and work with those they know, like, and trust. You don’t get to know, like, and trust someone immediately, so it’s important to invest time in growing relationships. That comes through repeated exposure and through consistent follow-up. If you fail to follow up with people you meet and develop relationships with them, you might as well not bother networking.
The more consistent you can be in your networking, the more successful you will likely find yourself to be. Most of the time, relationship-building and business development is much like farming — you’ll find that you have to do the equivalent of preparing your field, planting your seeds, nurturing them as they sprout, and then harvesting.
Want to enhance your business relationships quickly, starting right now? Make a list of top contacts. This list should include clients and former clients, referral sources, and warm contacts with whom you haven’t done business yet. Then choose your top 3 to 5 from this list, perhaps the people who’ve been instrumental to growing your practice and those with whom you haven’t been in close contact recently. Take those people to lunch or dinner, or at a minimum, have a telephone call to catch up with them. Find out what’s going on with them, how business is going this year, and what you can do to help them, whether that’s legal work or something else.
These conversations are concentrated and intentional, and they can lead directly to additional business. Why? Two key reasons: first, you’re enhancing or delving back into a relationship that already exists. Your contact already knows, likes, and trusts you, so you’re not starting from ground zero. And second, you’re opening conversation in a way that allows you to focus on what your contact needs, and then you’re doing your best to meet that need. If the need is legal and within the scope of your practice, you have an opportunity to land the business. Even if not, you’ve shown yourself to be a helpful resource.
Tending to your relationships will certainly pay off for you in the long-term, if not immediately. Review your business development plan to ensure that you have a systematic approach to connecting with your contacts on a regular basis and make sure to block out time on your calendar to make it happen.