For some people, networking comes easy. They love to meet new people, talk about their business and press the flesh. But are they building the business, or just talking about themselves?
Think of networking as a skill set that can be developed, honed and modified. Lawyers often think networking means just giving out your business card and making some small talk, but the truth is there’s a science behind the art form. I’ve been to hundreds of networking events over the course of my career, and as a PR professional who has worked with lawyers extensively, I counsel my clients on how to make the most out of it with the nine “P”ieces of advice.
Plan Ahead: Find an organization where the events happen regularly. That way you’ll begin to make contacts that will see you over time. The legal community is a leader in this area—there is no shortage of events designed to celebrate some aspect related to lawyers. Attend frequently— showing up once doesn’t usually work. People are more apt to be attracted to consistency. Make a commitment—stick with it.
Prepare for the event: Know about the event you’re attending. Is someone speaking? Find out who and be ready to comment on it. Is it a judge you know who is addressing the group? Maybe a law professor of note? Do your research in advance—check out the LinkedIn account. Will there be high-level discussions? Know the material.
Position Yourself: Is there a committee you can join? Can you take on a board position? If you show your value, business people will see you as a dedicated person, ready to take on challenges.
Pound the Pavement: Are you with a colleague, someone from your firm or someone you know from the courthouse? Don’t just stick by his or her side—mingle. That’s how it works, after all!
Portray your knowledge: When you identify someone you want to court as a business prospect, get familiar with his or her company and profession. Show knowledge about THEIR business before you profess your talent in your own industry. Just as every law firm has its own culture, so does every business—try to get a little inside insight.
Pay attention: Conversation is how to begin a relationship—but pay attention to continue it. Did someone you met at a networking event say he knew someone from your law school? Did you meet a contact who said he was about to get a new dog? Were you commiserating about office politics and billable hours? Make sure you paid attention so that you can send an email and say “How’s it going with the new dog?” or “Did you resolve the troubling situation with your bookkeeper tracking hours?”
Polish your pitch: When you find the right moment, talk about your business, your skills and how the person can benefit from what you do. Be quick; be accurate; be professional. Lawyers always advise witnesses to keep it brief—they can take a slice of their own advice. Make sure you are polished but don’t sound rehearsed.
Post about it: Remember, if you’ve been reading up about the organization, its membership, the mission, others have, too. Post about your experience. Share photos. Provide insight and perspective. Social media is a business tool—and professionals will seek out others who may share a similar point of view.
Persevere: You might not have the best success the first time around, but that’s ok. The more you get out there, the easier it will become. Like law, networking takes practice.
You never know who you’re going to meet, or where. You could be at the supermarket, your niece’s soccer game or out for dinner. Take every opportunity to be on the lookout for your next business venture.
Julie Talenfeld is the president of BoardroomPR, an integrated marketing and PR firm based in South Florida. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org