Networking Events: How to Work the Room
By Liza Vasquez CMC ICF and Jeffrey F. Silber CPA MBA CMC
Certified Master Business and Life Coaches
The best way to grow your law practice is to meet new people.
Simply put, this is called Networking. Where does networking take place? Everywhere! If you are at a meeting of homeowners, or at a meeting of the Parent-Teachers Association at your children’s school or at a friend’s birthday party – these social situations are all just as valid for networking as more formal events such as at cocktail parties at the Pharmaceutical Association or after at a speech by a famous economist or at a Chamber of Commerce meeting.
In many ways, we find that our clients are more successful at networking in the more social situations than they are in the more formal situations. Why would that be? In the social situations, the atmosphere is more relaxed. You usually feel you can be yourself because you are not there to “sell” yourself nor is anyone trying to “sell” you something.
Your conversation can be light and easy. You show yourself at your best as a pleasant, friendly person, not like a wolf drooling to pounce on a lamb.
In the more formal networking settings, the entire point is that it was organized for the specific purpose of meeting new people so that everyone could grow their businesses. Some of these events are dominated by accountants, lawyers, insurance brokers, bankers and stockbrokers all in search of new business.
Sometimes these predatory new-business seekers dominate the event and there are precious few real potential clients in attendance.
Meeting other professionals may not be an entirely bad outcome because they could always refer clients to you if they do not already have a preferred lawyer in your practice area or jurisdiction. Nonetheless, we recommend that when you look for some formal Networking opportunities that you look for those events where you are more likely to meet potential clients than other lawyers, such as at the Telecommunications Association or at the Medical Equipment Manufacturers’ Association, for example.
The more formal networking events are traditionally a more direct way to seek out new clients rather than in social settings because you will come in immediate contact with people who hire lawyers. Whether they will need you or not remains to be seen.
Nonetheless, after working with lawyers for twenty-five years, we have learned that one of the most disliked marketing activities is attending networking events. Why? Among other reasons for hating these situations, our clients tell us that they despise making meaningless small talk; they don’t know anyone there; they don’t know what to say to sell themselves; they don’t want to be seen as needy or pushy; and they don’t know how to follow-up once they have gotten someone’s business card.
You may not enjoy networking events right now, but honestly, it is part of being a lawyer. In your day-to-day activities as a lawyer, you are not passionate about everything you do – but you do them because it is part of the job.
If you don’t like Networking, think of it as a requirement of the profession. Networking functions can be less painful and you can you can make them highly productive if you go about things the right way.
Not Being Shy
Keep in mind that everyone is there for the same reason - to meet people. No one will be offended by reaching out your hand, smiling and saying “Hi, I’m Emily / Pedro, this is my first time here. Are you a member?”
The next element of being shy is that you don’t know what to talk about. Shyness is situational. After all, you are not shy around your family, friends or in the office. You may become shy at a networking event because you think you have to say something brilliant to make an impression.
People will remember you by how you make them feel. You do that by focusing the conversation on them. Since most people like to speak about themselves, encourage them to talk. Hopefully, they will reveal a lot of important things that will be very useful for you in the future.
You make them feel important by asking them questions. Research shows it takes an average of six contacts to turn a potential client into a fee paying-client. How relieving knowing that you do not have to be brilliant at the first meeting. Act more like you do in social events, relaxed not trying to sell anything.
Ask a Lot of Questions
As mentioned above, when you are asking a lot of questions, it takes the spotlight off you. Andy Warhol said: "Everybody can be world famous for fifteen minutes." Try to discover what is interesting about this person.
You will need as much information about this person as you can gather because all the information you just learned through your questions will be the basis for some future contacts. You will need logical reasons – both business and personal – for making those future contact.
Then, there is the old sales adage that the customer (or client) will tell you how to sell to them if you know what questions to ask. Instead of telling this person all about your law practice with details that may not have any significance for this person or his/her business, ask questions.
Eventually, you will hear something and you can say, “That’s interesting, Amanda, because that is the area of law I practice and I think I could help you with that.” Too often lawyers shoot arrows in the air not knowing where the target is. Don’t waste your time of this person’s time talking about irrelevant things. If you can discover where their need is and you have the solution – you have hit a bullseye.
Arrive Early and Stay Until the End
You have taken time to get out of your office, you fought the traffic, you gave up some billable hours or time with your family or friends in order to attend this event. Don’t cut it short.
One school of thought is that it is easier to approach and start a conversation with someone who is by him/her-self rather than to insinuate yourself into a group of people who seem to already know each other and are actively engaged in a lively conversation.
Also, someone by him/herself will appreciate having you to talk to. That will make them feel good right from the start.
On the other hand, you could also look around the room for a group of people who call your attention. Listen to the conversation in progress for a while and ask, “This topic sounds interesting, do you mind if I join you.”
That is why it is good to arrive early and strike up a conversation with someone just arriving before they connect with their friends. The same at the end of the event as people start to disperse and there are individual stragglers you can catch.
Do Not Prepare an Elevator Pitch
Unless you are a trained actor, a prepared “elevator pitch” will sound very rehearsed and insincere. This will impress no one. Whatever you say about yourself and your law firm should be by way of reflecting what this person told you about his/her company and business needs.
This will be a much fresher and more genuine response than a re-recorded Elevator Pitch.
Create Your Sales Force Through Six Degrees of Separation
If you are forced to talk about yourself, clearly and concisely describe the benefit your clients obtain from working with you. No one will use your legal services simply because you give good service. They come to you for a result. Therefore, tell this person what your clients achieve by working with you.
Our client, Alex, is a tax lawyer in Miami. When he used to be asked “Alex, it’s nice to meet you. What do you do?” He used to answer, “I am a tax lawyer.” This was not a memorable answer nor did it inspire questions that would have prolonged the conversation. Now, Alex answers, “I keep the government’s hands off your money.” He goes on to explain that he plans strategies for companies and wealthy families to keep more of what they earn. This is an answer that creates a powerful image.
The result is the person Alex just met, will remember him. Whenever a friend of his mentions that they are having a tax problem, they will say “You know, I met a guy who specializes in tax strategies. In fact, I think I have his business card with me.”
Do you see what just happened? In the most subtle way possible, the person Alex just met, is happily out looking for clients for him without feeling any pressure and is doing unaware that he has become Alex’s salesperson.
If you meet 10 people at networking events, and you make this kind of impression on them, you have just hire a ten-person sales force and not cost to you – other than a thank you note when they refer a client.
Look the Part
You want to look successful, but you must not be overdressed. Contact the organization in advance and ask how people usually dress for these meetings. If you go in a three-piece suit to an event in Silicon Valley, you will find you are the only one wearing a necktie.
Don’t wear a tee shirt like Mark Zuckerberg, but take off the necktie and wear a sports shirt with your suit. Women should similarly not over dress in those circumstances. And be sure not to dress too informally if it is a high-level serious event.
Do Not Look Hungry
“If you are such a good lawyer, why are you so disparate for clients?” Do not act as if you are trolling for clients. Of course, you should do all the things we have mentioned here as well as all the follow-up work described below. Clients are attracted to busy lawyers because it implies that are good.
Prepare to Give Before You Get
When you meet people at these networking events, finds ways to be helpful to them. Perhaps send them a link to a book you recommend or connect them with one of your clients because you can see some synergy for them.
These sorts of things will let the potential client realize that you are looking forward to full two-way relationship and that you are not only an “ambulance chaser” just after their business.
Talk to a Number of People
Don’t monopolize the time of any one person for too long. It is a networking event and they want to meet as many people as possible also. If you made a good connection and are enjoying the conversation and want to spend more time together, schedule a follow-up coffee or lunch.
Perhaps it is obvious, but when you break off contact with someone you just met, get their business card or other contact information. Do accept if they say, “I don’t have any business cards with me. Give me your card, I will send my information.” For some reason, people never do it. If they don’t have a card, you must write down their e-mail address. If you do not get this information, it will be as if you never met them.
Following Up After the Networking Event
Your Networking activities do not end when the event is over. In fact, that is just the start. You asked all those questions and obtained their contact information so that you could remain in contact with them.
A week (not sooner) after you meet these people, send a personal email saying you enjoyed the conversation, mentioning something you learned. Then every thirty or sixty days, follow up with something appropriate — an article, a link to a website, an introduction or ask about family, if that came up in conversation. Search in Google to find out more information about his/her company and your monthly email could be some intelligent question to show you know their company and industry.
You may not receive a reply to your ongoing monthly or bimonthly contact emails. Do not get discouraged. Unless they specifically say, “Stop sending me these email,” you continue to do so. You just never know when they will be ready for you.
Send a LinkedIn invitation
Take the time to personalize the invitation.
Top-Of-Mind / Conclusion
The reason you must stay in contact is because when they need a lawyer in your practice area, you will be the one they think of. Also, they may not need your services, but if you stay top of mind, they may refer a client to you when a colleague asks for a referral.
© Copyright 2019. All Rights Reserved. Any unauthorized distribution or reproduction of this material in print or in any electronic form is strictly prohibited. Persons or organizations desiring to use this material, must obtain the prior written consent of Silber, Vasquez & Associates.