Tis the season to begin to network

 

 
Summer vacations and long weekends at the cabin or campground are being replaced by meetings and social events. That can mean only one thing: it’s time to start networking.
“As fall begins, that’s when I see a plethora of events. Everyone has fall meetings and a bunch of conferences,” said attorney Daniel J. Cherrin of North Coast Strategies public affairs consultancy in Royal Oak.
 
“And then it goes into the holiday season, so now’s the time to get getting back in the swing of things,” added Cherrin, who was attending and networking at an event in Port Huron.
 
Many businesspeople — lawyers included — cringe at the thought of networking, meeting new people, being on best behavior and, many believe, selling themselves.
 
Trying to sell yourself with a slick spiel and handing out as many business cards as possible is probably one of the worst things you can do, said attorney Elizabeth C. Jolliffe, owner of Your Benchmark Coach in Ann Arbor.
 
That’s not to say that you should go willy-nilly attending events without any rhyme or reason, she said. Rather, you should really have some sort of plan in mind.
 
“Think about time, money and energy. Be strategic about the events you go to; otherwise you’ll be exhausted, low on money and pressed for time,” Jolliffe said. “Think ahead of time — what’s your focus? Go to where your clients or potential clients are, or, if you go for fun, remember that, too.”
 
You have to think of the purpose of the event and set goals, like meeting two new people, or helping connect two potential business associates, or, as she said, just to have fun. You will be much more productive if you set goals, and are more apt to take actions to meet those goals.
 
“If you don’t have any idea what events you should go to, develop a profile of your ideal client or referral source and where they network, what organizations they belong to or where they might go,” Jolliffe said. “And if you have a book of clients, find out what they belong to and where they go. And if it’s for fun, find out where is the most fun, who has the best food and the most drink tickets …”
 
The worst things you can do when you meet someone is make that “elevator” speech, talk incessantly about yourself and immediately hand out cards to everyone as soon as you meet them, Jolliffe said.
 
Networking is about relationship-building, and those actions are antithetical to the idea of building a relationship and building trust. They tell the recipient that you are shallowly trying to get business and have little or no regard for what they have to say or to offer.
 
Instead, she said, know your business and know the audience — and give brief explanation only if they ask. Same with cards; maybe you have a huge box back in your desk drawer gathering dust, but only give them out if someone asks or shows an interest, or when you are exchanging information.
 
“Know a little about current events, maybe have some questions in your back pocket you can ask other people,” Jolliffe said. “Another good tip is if you’re new, go early, meet the organizers and maybe even volunteer to help. If you go early, you can meet people as they come in; they tend to come alone, and it’s easier to meet them that way before the get into groups.”
 
And when the appropriate time comes to tell who you are, don’t just say, “A lawyer at X Y Z law firm,” Jolliffe cautioned. Instead, tell them what you practice, tell them what you actually do.
 
While Cherrin acknowledged the importance nowadays of electronic marketing, he said there is nothing like meeting people in person — something lawyers must not forget.
 
“Sometimes it’s more important to look people in the eye than [communicate] through electronic social media,” Cherrin said. “Both are important, but it is important to get out of the office to meet people and let then know you are here, who you are and what you can do for them.”
 
Remember that the most successful, effective business networking is not all about you and what the contact can do for you, said Susan M. Heathfield, of Guide to Human Resources, a Lansing-area management consultant, writer and online communication expert.
 
“Successful business networking is about what you can do for them,” she said. “And, you need to trust that, in some way, someday, maybe in the most unexpected, unpredictable way, what goes around comes around.”
 
You can effectively network and, in the process, create these results, Heathfeld said:
 
Build a network of partners to keep an open eye and ear for new opportunities for you, and vice-versa, you for them.
 
Reach individuals directly or indirectly through your contacts. Expand your network through colleagues with a reach that you cannot develop by yourself.
 
Build visibility within your industry or profession by raising your profile. Go to every social and business gathering that you possibly can.
 
Build visibility within your community to assist your organization to develop a reputation as an employer of choice.
 
Build a strong network with co-workers within your organization to accomplish work more successfully by utilizing your network of relationships.
 
Create a diverse network of people with whom you can share ideas and gain information.
 
Aim for a diverse group of people from whom you can learn. Other business people and professionals have much to teach and share when an individual is open to learning and change ideas.
 
Many business networking events involve fundraising or volunteering. For people who are shy when meeting new people, these are often the most comfortable events to attend.

Everyone is attending for the same reason and the event’s sole focus is not business networking. It’s an ancillary benefit of doing good.
 
Don’t just be a “fly on the wall” at events, Cherrin said. Instead, get out and meet people and if you think about how you can help them, rather than concentrating on your own self-enrichment, a lot of the butterflies and apprehension many feel will fade.
 
“I have been active in a number of industry groups and bar associations and you really need to get out and meet people,” said Jeffrey D. Weisserman, general counsel at Trott & Trott PC in Farmington Hills. “Sometimes you don’t want to go the fourth holiday party that week, but you’ve got to always be there, go often enough that they think you’re their lawyer.”
 
Weisserman reiterated the need to build relationships and trust. Early in his career, a senior partner told him the lines between client and friend become blurred and at the time,
Weisserman said he didn’t see that, couldn’t understand that. Now that he’s “got a little gray” that statement makes perfect sense.
 
“It takes time and there are a lot of non-victories,” Weisserman said. “You have got to be patient and look at these long term and not short term — there may be no immediate payoff but a long-term payoff.”
 
Cherrin agreed that relationships are the end goal, not just meeting people and giving them your card. In fact, Cherrin calls networking relationship building.
 
“You have to create relationships, you have to build trust, and when people want something they will want to talk to you,” he said.
 
If you work with organizations and events you care about, others in those organizations and events will share many of the same likes and dislikes as you, Cherrin said — and that’s where a lot of people make lasting friendships.
 
For example, Cherrin said he’s in the Representative Assembly for the State Bar of Michigan, to stay involved in the profession; he’s involved in the MS Society, as his wife has multiple sclerosis; and he’s in the Michigan Society of Association Executives because that’s a group he wants to get in front of.
 
“So everything I’m involved in has a purpose; something I’m passionate about personally or something I’m passionate about because it’s going to grow my business,” he said.
After you meet someone, it’s important to follow up Jolliffe said. If you remember, write something on the back of their business card, and keep notes in their electronic business card file. And go to LinkedIn soon afterward to connect to the person, reinforcing the connection you made.
 

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