Jon Kennedy, Principal Consultant, Partner team blogs about how to make the best use out of networking opportunities.
Often the first thing on a hiring partner’s lips when considering recruiting a partner or senior associate into the firm is; “what is the value of their following?”
It takes time and effort to build a loyal client base, so it’s important to make an early start. If you continually invest in your future by forging deep relationships with your clients, then you will always be prepared for any eventuality. Should your firm run into difficulties, or merge out of the blue, or lose key partners, then your client following will open doors for you elsewhere.
And no better time to prepare for what’s ahead than now. Once you reach senior associate level, you will be judged just as much on your client relationships as your technical legal abilities. So it is best to protect your position by forming strong bonds with contacts, new and existing.
Senior associates and partners with the best client followings are often effective networkers. If you are not speaking to your clients regularly, then somebody else is!
If you devote your time and energy to networking, it will inevitably yield fruit. Fresh contacts become prospects, prospects become new clients, and new/existing clients become part of your loyal client following.
This handy list of 6 steps will run through some of the basic ways to make the most of networking opportunities.
- Check the attendee list and target your ‘hot list’
Be wise in your selection process of which networking events to attend. Your time is valuable so only attend quality events which have high prospects of introducing you to equally valuable connections within your sector or area of expertise. If you have been able to take a look at the guest list, then you can make a conscious effort to seek out people who, on paper, are more likely to have a need for your services. Make a hot list of people you wish to speak with to avoid wasting time. Taking the time to do a little homework to identify areas of mutual interest of key people will help to initiate and continue the flow of conversation and make a positive and lasting impression on your new contacts.
Networking events are a great opportunity to meet with new people, so resist the temptation to spend too much of the occasion with existing clients or old friends whom you could easily catch up with one-on-one another time. You are more likely to make meaningful connections if you have ample time to chat, and your interaction will be more memorable if it takes place before the evening becomes busier/hectic. From a practical point of view, you are more likely to find available conversation partners earlier on, before everyone becomes engaged in more closed conversations one-on-one and in smaller groups.
- Be human
Not all networking sessions are suitable for ‘the big sell’. Charity events, for example, are not an appropriate platform for pitching for business. It’s about establishing long lasting relationships built on credibility and trust. Don’t misjudge the power of the ‘human’ element – people do business with people they like – normal everyday conversations can foster common ground and interests and an ease of communication on which to continue building connections with your new contacts. For shy types, it is not a bad idea to prepare a couple of ice breakers in advance in case you were to find yourself short of something to say.
Whilst you may not be best advised to sell sell sell to new connections, your conversation partner may ask about what you do. In which case it is a good idea to have a pre-prepared easy to digest and remember pitch of sorts on your company/function that is explained in a handy format from the point of view of the listener. I.e. What sort of problem you solve and how.
- Be yourself
There are more than enough professional and knowledgeable lawyers out there, and it is probably more important to focus on being more memorable and easy to deal with. People do business with people they like, after all. At this point you are not even looking to win them as a client, you are just looking to make a positive enough first impression to allow for a follow up at a later date. It is best to ask and listen as much as possible, rather than spend your time talking, so that you have plenty of information to rely upon when you do follow up down the line.
- Be useful
From the first conversation, think about introductions that you could make to help the person you are speaking to, without an expectation of something in return. Being generous with information, other contacts and connections, demonstrates remarkably easily how well connected you are and how useful you could be.
- Success is in the follow up
After the event, it is advisable to immediately make notes whilst things are fresh in your mind. Perhaps you had things in common wither someone you met? Or they told you personal things you would feel rude if you had forgotten when you speak next?
Hopefully your interactions will have been interesting enough for you to be able to follow up with people in a more bespoke way. For example, if he/she had plans for the weekend, or particular tasks scheduled for work, you can reference these things in your follow up call or email. It is usually a good idea to connect via LinkedIn. Relationships take time to develop, and this is just the beginning. Find a good reason to arrange to meet again. It is typically best to offer to help a new contact out first, rather than ask for something.
- Networking can take different forms
There are many forms of networking and different types of events. One on ones for those specific individuals you would like to meet with, small casual groups or maybe breakfast meetings and of course those huge events which can often take a more formal and structured form often with keynote speakers and breakout sessions. Different types of event will lead to different types of interactions and it’s a good idea to attend a variety based on your networking objectives. For those individuals who can be less outgoing by nature, but keen to become better at networking, start small, gain confidence until these events themselves feel more natural to you.
Jon Kennedy, Principal Consultant
020 3815 6814