A quick glance at Phillip Russell’s website bio provides the usual information: The Ogletree Deakins shareholder is a leading attorney in workplace safety and employment litigation. Reading on, though, his personality shines: “Phillip is a Ramblin Wreck from Georgia Tech who bleeds White and Gold! He is also an avid spear gun hunter and Scuba diver who enjoys any time on or under the Gulf of Mexico or any place he can dive.”
This personal touch is a peak into his networking strategy.
“That’s how you avoid being looked at as a vendor or as somebody who does the same thing as everybody else,” he explains.
It also gives people a chance to make conversation at networking events if they happen to look him up on LinkedIn. He describes the professional social media site as an invaluable tool to his networking strategy. He often researches potential targets before attending conferences and other events, and posts messages during breaks to connect with other attendees. And then the serious work happens: He follows up within three business days to continue engaging in conversation.
It took him a while to find his footing, however. Russell recalls attending a lawyers-only event when he was just starting his practice. From a professional networking perspective, it was productive. From a business development perspective, it was an absolute failure.
“There was nobody in that room who could hire me,” he remembers. “What I have since learned is that I want the quickest path to decision-makers as possible.”
He no longer wastes time at events where business leaders aren’t present. He even has a formula that he uses to determine if an event is worth attending: He prefers events with executives or business owners. Events with in-house counsel are good, and even human resources conferences have provided leads. He also looks at industry events where he can meet decision-makers. Because he is experienced with OSHA regulations, for example, he attends construction conferences.
One of his favorite outcomes is when he can introduce a prospect to a current client. “Clients can sell me better than I can sell myself. One of things I challenge myself to do is to introduce a client to a prospect. I get them talking and building a relationship,” Russell says.
As his practice has evolved, so has his targeting. He likens this strategy to spear fishing, one of his favorite hobbies. Spear fishing, he explains, is more like hunting than traditional line fishing, which has a lot of variables to consider. “You pick out your pole, line and bait, and you need to know the tides and temperatures. Even if you know all these variables, once you’re out on the water, you sit there and wait,” he relates. Ultimately, it’s up to the fish to bite. Spear fishing is the opposite. Russell dives 90 feet into the Gulf of Mexico to hunt down fish—he doesn’t wait for them.
It’s the same approach he takes to networking.
Too often, lawyers think that networking is the end result of networking. It’s not—the ultimate goal is revenue.
Networking comes naturally to Russell, who describes himself as an extrovert. But he knows that introverts can be just as effective.
“Introverts are phenomenally good in one-on-one relationship building because they go deeper,” he explains. “Extroverts tend to want the whole room to like them while introverts are good with one to two people. And as long as they pick the right one or two people, they’re successful.”
But, for the faint of heart, he offers this advice: Lawyers should have scripts in mind for when they need to disengage from a conversation. He has a few candid escape strategies, like needing to call home or go to the restroom. If it’s someone he enjoyed talking to, he tells them, “I really enjoyed meeting you, and I can’t wait to get the chance to reconnect. I’d like to meet some other people, and I’m sure you would, too, so can we circle back tonight or tomorrow?”
He has never been turned down.
Russell says it might sound a bit Machiavellian to hunt for prospects but, after all, he is growing a business, and it’s the outcome that matters.