To win clients, you must play the networking game and you might like it

Ellen Keiley, The Daily Record Newswire

Establishing a strong network is a key component to developing business. It sets the stage for more client work and referrals. It's therefore highly advantageous to your practice to attend events, meet new contacts, and raise your visibility as part of your business development efforts.

But that can be easier said than done. Not everyone is comfortable working a room. In fact, many people are overwhelmed or even fearful of attending events.

The good news is there are many things you can do to make the process more manageable and enjoyable.

First, the setting can be intimidating enough, so don't overwhelm yourself. Take small steps to develop a network of strong relationships over time rather than looking at it as one huge task. Set a goal to attend one event a month, and increase the number of events you attend as you get more comfortable and as time permits. As with anything, the more practice you have, the better you will get. With experience comes confidence.

Remember: Networking doesn't have to involve walking into a huge room full of people you don't know. There are many different types of events to choose from, such as small group events and programs with assigned table seating.

At a program event, you may have the option of attending only the program and skipping the networking piece until you are more comfortable. That way, at least you will meet new people at your table.

Another option is to attend networking socials, such as after-work meet-ups. Go with a friend and approach others together. Chances are there will be many people there that are just as uncomfortable with networking as you, so if you see someone by himself, use that opportunity to make an introduction. He will appreciate that, as you would and it's a much easier approach than breaking into a group.

General networking events may not be your exact target client audience, but you will get networking practice and diversify your network. Anyone can be a referral source, and you never know who may be in a position to hire you or your firm.

Choose specific organizations that interest you, from professional associations to nonprofits that meet at convenient times and locations, and attend regularly. You will get to know people within the organization, making it more comfortable to attend related events and meet new people. Even better, join a committee within the organization, and you will get to know more people on a deeper level.

When attending events, some rely on serendipity to meet the right folks. Others view guest lists and focus on finding specific people. Do whatever you feel comfortable with; however, if you go into an event with the sole intention of meeting someone to develop business, your intent may be apparent. Instead, have an open mind and attend with the intention of simply meeting new people. You never know what opportunities may arise.

Attend events prepared to tell others about yourself. Many find the thought of giving an "elevator speech" overwhelming, and I've heard some lawyers say things like, "My experience is too broad, and I don't know what to say." Don't overthink it. It's as simple as saying your name, telling people about the type of work you do, adjusting it to your audience to the extent you can, adding a brief success story, and throwing in a few words about what your firm does.

If you talk about what you truly enjoy doing, it will be natural, you will come across as genuine, and your energy will shine through and make others want to know more. Adding in your firm helps you to adjust the conversation should someone be interested in a practice area or industry focus in which you are not personally experienced. It also gives an opportunity for you to make an introduction and set up a future meeting with a colleague.

I've often heard younger lawyers echo the sentiment: "I am not a partner, so people won't take me seriously." That's just not true, and you can always introduce a more senior colleague to your contact after the event if there's a potential business development opportunity.

When you meet a new contact who you connect with, be sure to follow-up with a personalized email or handwritten note. It's a waste of your time and energy to make the effort to attends events and not follow-up.

Also, add people you meet to your contact lists and connect on LinkedIn. Always think about how you can help those in your network, and don't let good relationships go stale. Develop a specific follow-up system to stay in touch.

It's a new year. Get out of your comfort zone and make it a high priority to incorporate events into your marketing plan. If you don't get out there, you're missing out where others are making headway. Get into the practice of attending events, and, over time, you'll see your network grow. And who knows - one day you might realize you're actually enjoying yourself.

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Ellen Keiley is president of EMK Consulting Group. She can be contacted at ellenkeiley@EmkConsultingGroup.com.

Published: Wed, Jan 28, 2015

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