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How do you use networking to build your practice rather than just tick a BD box?

Douglas McPherson of Size 10 1/2 boots reveals how to do it.


Networking is as much maligned as it is misunderstood.  On one hand it’s probably the activity most solicitors will associate most readily with business development.  On the other, many have probably never taken up too much time considering what networking is and what actually makes it work.  The result is that all too often networking becomes synonymous with formal networking events but given the majority of us (me included) don’t really like formal networking events, this misconception can often put budding business developers off before they’ve even got started. 


With that in mind, what I’d like to do here is set out a simple 6 step model that will help any lawyer from any practice area and at any stage of their career to:


a) Debunk some of the myths that still exist around networking.

b) Work out how they can network their way - and in their own way - to new opportunities.


Understand networking


Networking is a verb rather than a noun.  It simply means building a network around you. 


Networking events are of course one of the ways you can network but it is by no means the only way.  Successful networking should really involve doing what you like doing, in the way you like doing it and doing it with people you like.  It definitely doesn’t mean forcing yourself to go to the same old over-lawyered events that everyone else goes to.


Similarly – despite the insistence of some - it doesn’t mean forcing yourself ‘out of your comfort zone’; if you are on edge an event you won’t be yourself which means you won’t give your best which in turn renders the whole exercise a bit of a waste of time.


Set objectives


As with all things marketing/BD-related, you won’t get the return you want if you don’t know what that return is.


Have a think about who you want to meet.  The simple answer to that question is “well, it’ll be the people who might want to instruct me at some point”.  Correct!  But who are those people? 


When our clients try to answer that question their first reaction tends to be to concentrate on where they’ll meet new prospects but in reality these people will probably already have lawyers so, however noble an aim new client acquisition may be, it can often be the hardest nut to crack.  Instead look at where you are likely to come across a combination of new contacts, current clients and the other professionals you know in your area or marketplace.  This audience will afford you the highest chance of success and as there’s people there you already know, by far the easiest way of gaining introductions to totally new contacts.


When it comes to what you want to achieve, don’t think about winning work.  It won’t happen immediately unless you are unfeasibly lucky.  Instead concentrate on doing one thing – get on with the people you talk to and leave a positive impression; you never know who’ll those people will talk to or who’ll ask them for a referral in the near future and you want to leave the door open so you can pick up with them at the next event you’re both at.


Choose the right events


Once you know who you want to meet, it is immediately easier to identify the right events to meet them at.  Online tools like Eventbrite provide the perfect hunting ground as you can enter your preferred location and the key words associated with your chosen audience and they will find the events for you and let you sign up there and then.


Your clients and professional contacts will also help.  Ask them where they tend to go and which events they rate.  Human nature will probably mean that you will get  an invite to accompany them which is the perfect intro as you’ll be walking in with someone who’s already known in that group.


At this point I’d also return to the point about it being absolutely essential that you’re at ease so I always suggest the final filter when you’re choosing events is what I call the TAF test –


T - Is it at the time of day that suits you best?

A - Is it attended by the right audience?

F - Is it based on the format (traditional open room, lunch, breakfast) or activity (cookery, beer tasting, pool, cupcake decorating) that suits you best?


As a general rule of thumb, if it doesn’t tick all 3 boxes then it probably isn’t an event you’ll go to consistently.




Successful networking is about consistency.  You will always achieve better results if you choose 2 events that pass the TAF test and go consistently throughout the year (obviously accepting any ad hoc invites that come through that pass the TAF test).


The reason for this is simple.  You will not immediately crack your new network’s confidence.  Referrals/introductions/opportunities will only come once people know you and have built up a modicum of trust in you, your approach and your technical know-how.   This means going once and expecting a deluge of new instructions simply isn’t realistic; you’ll need to work at it from the off and be prepared to make at least a medium term commitment.


However, consistency also makes the whole process much easier for you. 


When you go to an event for the first time you may meet 3 people.  When you go the second time you will be able to pick up with them and meet another 3 people (preferably with the first 3 making the new introductions) and so on.  If you go consistently then by the end of the year you’ll know all the regulars but if you’re just dipping in and out, you’ll be starting afresh every time.


Always look for alternatives that suit you


If you can’t find the right event for you, then look at alternative vehicles (and please note I’m using the word ‘vehicles’ as opposed to ‘events’ very purposefully!). 


Sometimes this may mean setting up your own groups of likeminded clients and contacts based around a preference for a particular type of venue or a particular activity.  We’ve seen a plethora of very informal pub meets, 5-a-side teams, Gin Clubs, cycling meets, classic car enthusiasts and all sorts of other more personal initiatives yield real results for the organisers.   


And this type of alternative networking doesn’t need to be a closed shop nor should it involve you farming the same old contact list every month or every quarter.  Set up a LinkedIn group or a page on your website to help you stay visible in between meetings and attract new members.  Most importantly, operate on a plus 1 basis so your contacts are bringing new people into the groups every time you meet.


Follow up, follow up, follow up


The golden rule of successful networking is always do your follow up because turning up doesn’t win new work, following up does.


Within 24 hours, send a personalised LinkedIn invitation to the new people you’ve met.  As long as your account is active (i.e. you’re posting regular updates), this will keep your name front of mind before you meet again.


Now you need to mindful about the time you have available for BD and a ply a bit of discipline.  Have a think about who you met and who would be worth taking the time out to have coffee with (this doesn’t necessarily mean they are obvious potential clients, it could be that they are well connected within your local area or chosen sectors or that they are professionals with a complimentary specialism to yours).  Send these people an invitation suggesting a couple of different dates for that coffee.  The reason for suggesting possible dates is that it tends to work better than just saying “shall we meet” and leaving it open ended … I don’t know why but I know it does!


In most cases you will get a positive response – after all these people will be trying to build their networks too and you’ve just saved them a job!  But if you don’t get an immediate response please don’t take his as a sign off no interest.  It may be that your email arrived at a particularly busy time or was misfiled or even lost.  Be prepared to give them a nudge at a respectful distance.


The remainder can then be added to your firm’s database so that they receive your updates, e-shots and other marketing communications.  And of course you’re likely to see them at upcoming events so there is every chance they will work their way onto your coffee list as you get to know them.


One of the trickier elements of follow up appears when there’s been a bit of time lag between meting someone and actually getting around to the follow up.  If you can think of a couple of contacts you are long overdue to invite for a coffee, please email me and I will share 3 ideas which will help you over this hurdle and set a date for that all important follow up meeting.


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