Let’s not beat about the bush.
Whilst networking definitely is one of the most effective BD tools open to lawyers in every practice area, you will need a) to enjoy what you’re doing and b) meet the right people if you’re going to get a return from the time you are giving up. This means that you need to choose your events wisely.
Networking is only onerous if the vehicle is onerous. Take the time to choose something you like doing with an audience you like and again, if what you want to do doesn’t exist, start it with a few like-minded colleagues, clients and contacts.
In Sheffield one of our clients started the Sheffield Gin Club, a mixed group of disillusioned professionals bored with the same old events. They decided to meet up to taste gin at different venues and having started with less than 10, they are now 40 strong.
In London one law firm decided to invite contacts and clients they knew liked cycling to a local velodrome a couple of times a year. They’d have a bash round the track then finish up with a chat and a laugh over a pizza. Everyone got on so well it’s now a regular fixture and the addition of a +1 on the invitation is keeping the group both fresh and growing.
At Size 10 1/2 Boots we practice what we preach. We are highly reliant on referrals and introductions but we’ve replaced set-piece formal events with more of our own informal events in different cities. We choose an interesting pub and invite around 8-10 clients, contacts and targets that we know will both enjoy the format and get on with each other. It generates results for us but it also leads to long-term relationships between the other attendees. At one event we even saw the creation of a brand new law firm so well did two of our guests get on!
To choose the right event you need to consider a number of factors:
Timing: Is it at a time of day that suits you or, over time, is it at a time of day that is going to stop you from attending consistently.
Format: Is it an open room, a set lunch/breakfast, an ‘everyone get up and talk’ or is it based around an activity or hobby? Choose what suits you best not what you think you should choose.
Audience: Is the audience actually relevant to your practice (in terms of job, age, sex or industry)? An organiser will have stats and examples of who goes and if it there’s no overlap between the attendees and who you want as clients, don’t go because you won’t win work!
Activity: There are all sorts of events for almost everything imaginable (cooking, cycling, shooting, 5-a-side, wine tasting … even Come Dine With Me), if you want to go down the activity route, make sure it’s something you really do like doing because otherwise you won’t keep doing it.
Hearsay: When you choose something, sound your colleagues out. If they say it’s not very good it probably isn’t and you can dodge a potential bullet before investing any time, effort or budget.
Recommendation: When a client/contact/colleague says “you should really try this”, they will undoubtedly be right. Don’t be afraid to act on that type of recommendation.
If you can put a tick next to the majority of those, you have probably found the right event for you. Now all you need to do is commit.
A good number of the lawyers we work with still think quantity trumps quality when it comes to networking. It doesn’t. You are always better picking one or two events and going to as many meetings across a year as you can. You will only get to know people properly (and generate opportunities) if you go consistently, join in and do the follow up between meetings.
Moreover long-term attendees can’t/won’t engage if you drop in and out when it suits you and that means any available work will go to another member of the group and your time will be wasted.
Similarly nothing will happen because you went once (and I have lost count how many times I hear “yes, went once, didn’t get any work so I won’t be going again”).
It’s another cliché but you really do only get out what you put in. The good news is if you choose properly, you will end up with an event you like which immediately makes attending consistently much less of a chore.
If you can’t find an event that suits you, start one. Choose something you like doing and invite the colleagues and contacts you know like a similar format.
If you’d like to discuss your or your team’s approach to networking (or any other aspect of your business development) please drop me an email and we can arrange your first free 45 minute session. Alternatively if you’d like a free copy of our networking tool kit, click please here.