I have a confession to make. Up until last year, I was a bad networker.
When I started my solo practice, I didn’t have a network. Two years out of the work force, many of my relationships were stale. It was also pretty apparent that most of those connections were geared to an in-house practice I no longer had.
This meant I had to build a new network from scratch, a daunting task for someone who had NEVER networked before.
When I worked in-house, I wasn’t hustling for clients so I didn’t see the point. This meant I had zero networking skills.
Starting out, I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I didn’t know how or where to network. So as you can guess, I made a few mistakes, and learned a few lessons over the years.
Here are 3 of my biggest lessons learned.
1. Find Thy Client.
My first big mistake was attending the wrong events.
For example, a friend mentioned a local networking group. Several attorneys attended the meetings, and they were getting clients. So I went. I had a lovely time talking to the other attendees, but nothing happened. No clients, no referrals.
What went wrong?
The group consisted of very nice women who ran local small businesses (think real estate agents, dog groomers, Mary Kay consultants). However, they had no use for an intellectual property lawyer. In fact, they were often a little perplexed about what I did.
Lesson #1: You need to find networking events that your ideal clients attend.
Now, I struggle through bad pitch contests and boring technology lectures, but my ideal clients like them, so I attend. And guess what? The opportunities are much better.
So, where can you find great networking events that are right for you? Check out www.meetup.com. It’s a website listing thousands of free events across the country in any category. Seriously, the sheer number and type of groups is pretty astounding.
EventBrite is another great website to find local events, but they can cost more.
2. Stick Out your Hand and Say “Hello”.
Once I found the right groups, my second mistake was acting like the wallflower at a high school dance.
When I started to attend technology-focused events, I felt out of my element. The room was filled with young, smart people talking about technology and their start-ups. I was an outsider. I felt pushy, like I was asking them a favor just to speak with me.
But I had to get over that. They needed my services and I needed clients.
Lesson #2: You need to talk to the right people.
How did I get over it?
I introduce myself to the person next to me in the drink line or sitting by themselves waiting for the speaker to start. Then, I ask them about what they do, and let them talk.
When they eventually ask me what I do, I respond:
- “I teach start-ups how to understand their intellectual property.”
- “I help companies put their patents to work.”
- “I help companies use their best assets to build better businesses.”
I never start the conversation by saying “Hi Bob. I’m Kelli. I’m an intellectual property attorney.” In my experience, defenses go up when I introduce myself as an attorney, and it shuts down any meaningful conversation thereafter.
If you are networking with your ideal clients (and non-attorneys), start the conversation with what you do not what you are. When people hear you’re an attorney, they assume they know what you do, and they are more apt to walk away thinking I don’t need her services.
Instead, I try to convey my value. What would this person want to hear from an IP attorney? Then I tweak my introduction and pitch to match.
Another way to start a conversation is to research those on the guest list before you attend. Both Meetup.com and EventBrite.com will let you see the list of attendees. It helps when I can say that I saw that article featuring their company or I’m looking forward to hearing them speak or pitch. There’s nothing worse than talking to someone, ask them what brought them here, just to find out they’re the guest speaker.
3. People like warm beverages.
My last big mistake was not following up with the new contacts I had met.
Networking doesn’t stop after the event.
I would come home with a stack of business cards. I would connect with them on LinkedIn, follow them on twitter, and file the card away. Then I would wait for them to call me. As you might guess, not much came of that strategy.
Lesson #3. You need to stay in contact with the person after the event.
- Ask to get together over coffee.
- Engage them through social media.
- Ask them if they know of other events like the one you two met at.
- Schedule a “get in touch email” for two months out.
- Send articles that might be of interest to them.
- Compliment them if you see them in the news.
Just make sure you keep in touch beyond the initial meeting.
For any solo attorney, networking is an invaluable skill to learn. It’s how we get our message out to the masses most effectively. People can’t refer clients to an attorney they haven’t met.
I’m a much better networker today. I usually attend about 3 events per week. I know where to hang-out, and how to approach complete strangers. I even feel comfortable talking to people about what I do.
If you’re not networking well, I encourage you to get out there and learn your own lessons. If you’re a great networker, let us know what your networking tips are in the comments below.
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.