With the summer in full swing, it is too easy to be lulled into a sense of complacency and slack off on targeted business development initiatives. Avoid the temptation, and leverage this next month with a concentrated effort to build and strengthen your network.

Contact lists — gotta have ‘em … and you should be growing them.

If there is one element in the business development arsenal that is fatal to ignore or not attend to faithfully, it is the contact list. This is and will be the foundation of your practice for many years ahead. Why, you may ask? Put simply, “no list” equals: no connections and communications with friends, peers, industry contacts, prospects and ultimately, no clients.

In my practice, particularly with newer attorneys, I hear consistently: “I do not have a list, how (or why) do I get one?” And, “I don’t know anyone to add to a list.” Unless you live in a cave on a deserted island, you have all the tools you need to grow your own quality contact list.

To be clear, a contact list should be comprised of a group of people who are interested, engaged and willing to both talk about and share your messages. These most likely will include:

Friends and family;

Clients;

School classmates (law school, college, high school, etc.);

Peers and former co-workers;

Contacts from former clerkships;

Professional contacts (trade associations, bar contacts, etc.);

Community contacts; and

Holiday card recipients.

In short, most people with whom you come in contact also have a network of contacts. Living in the age of social media, it has never been easier to develop a network, professional and personal. We all “know” people and they “know” people, etc. The point is: it is imperative to “collect” contacts as you move along your career, even as early as “day one” as a lawyer.

Collecting names in and of itself is useless, but, how you get and stay connected is the real prize. Good old “thinking of others” has not gone out of style, and it is an effective means of cultivating relationships with people who may be in a position to refer you new business and/or introduce you to new prospects.

In our hyper-busy work lives, time is of the essence, so we must be highly intentional in reaching out to our networks. Email marketing programs such as Constant Contact, Mail Chimp, Vertical Response and others are highly effective tools to send a quick legal alert and/or e-newsletter to a distribution list of many of your contacts on a regular basis. Once you create the email template, it can literally take less than five minutes to import content and send a communiqué out to your contact list.

Too many lawyers I coach make the mistake of omission of not focusing on their list as soon as they begin their legal career. Five or more years later, when they realize they need to concentrate on expanding their network and educate their contacts as to the legal services they provide, they find that they can’t put the “toothpaste back into the tube,” so to speak, with regard to individuals with whom they have lost touch.

It is critical to develop a clean, accurate and precise contact list in order to engage in specific marketing initiatives such as sending out e-newsletters, direct mail campaigns, blogging, seminars, trade show conferences, anywhere you want to demonstrate your area of expertise and communicate directly in front of those individuals who may retain you directly and/or refer you to others.

During the summer months, pace yourself with actively attending targeted networking events, and go in with a positive spirit of meeting and engaging new contacts productively. There are so many nuances to networking effectively that we can all learn from, but suffice it to say that if you are talking more than you are listening, you are not optimizing your networking time.

To leverage your networking time, be sure to have a plan in place to follow up with each new contact within two days following an event, with a simple email to stay on their radar. If you deem that someone you met may have little value to you, keep in mind that, at this point, you do not yet know the extent of their network. Do not undervalue the strength of the extrapolating value of networking. We are all living in a “linked-in” world, and it can be amazingly powerful for helping you build and grow a prosperous practice.

Speaking of living in a linked-in world, for those who understand the power of social media marketing, taking the time to browse through your LinkedIn connections’ connections can be fertile ground for expanding your network. The good folks at LinkedIn administration have made it very easy to request an e-introduction from our connections’ connections. This is analogous to being introduced at a live networking event, the difference being you already know the “basics” of this new person. You have a “leg up,” as it were. This is but one of the strengths of this social media tool.

Depending upon your area(s) of practice, you may find solid referral sources and/or direct prospects from your connections’ connections. In the spirit of LinkedIn, most contacts are more than willing to make these e-introductions, which provide a “warm” lead versus finding a way to break the ice of a cold lead.

One word of caution, however, would be to ensure that your profile is “up to snuff” (including a current headshot, a listing of specific areas of practice, any current publications, accomplishments, big wins/settlements, etc.), so that when prospective connections view your profile they will likewise see the value of connecting with you and pursuing dialogue of how to prospectively cultivate a business relationship.

As noted above, it is not only the exercise of updating your contact list, proactively participating in targeted networking events (notice, I said “targeted” — do not invest your time in events that do not hold any real value to your practice and/or those of your clients), and leveraging social media marketing, but also consistently and persistently maintaining and expanding these marketing tools.

This is typically where the rubber meets the proverbial road, and the aspect that is the most challenging for many lawyers: how to keep all the relationship-building tools working and moving forward. There are several solutions:

• Invest in a CRM (contact relationship management) or sales solution software which actually helps you manage your growing network. Depending upon the size of your firm and/or practice, there are software solutions that are specifically tailored to the legal profession for this very purpose.

• Work with your assistant to develop a system to create calendaring reminders for reaching out.

• An Outlook feature that can be useful is a “recurring” alert, which you can set for high-impact contacts, to reach out periodically. As many successful rainmakers know, staying in contact with solid referral sources is a very effective way to keep the referral flow open.

• Institute an e-newsletter to send to contacts to get and stay connected. These are great to cross post to your website and social media channels. Though they do not replace face-to-face relationship-building activities, this marketing tool can be very productive of staying in front of a large and growing contact list.

Take advantage of the rest of the summer to get and stay connected with your growing network. It is one of the most impactful business development initiatives in which you can engage. •