Nathan Smith introduces some simple steps that many have forgotten about when it comes to networking to generate more business.
Why do it and what hinders?
Networking holds an important role one way or another in running any legal business. It is the mechanism for establishing the foundations of new professional relationships as well as strengthening existing business relationships – and this is before you even consider raising the presence of your brand.
However, the pressure on time has meant that time for lawyers to engage meaningfully with contacts is being squeezed; networking events are increasingly becoming breakfast meetings, ahead of the working day, and often take place outside of regular working hours.
Long gone are the days when networking consisted solely of a round of golf, or luxury dinner with a client. Although events like this are great for building long term business relationships, nowadays there is greater pressure on time and emphasis on speed of making the connections; also, the number of online and offline channels for networking means there are now almost too many options to cope with, so decisions on priorities have to be made – and even that slows lawyers down in getting on with doing it.
Technological advances, changes to job roles and increased organisational pressure have all had an impact on the day-to-day running of business. While some of these changes have impacted positively, there are some aspects which many will argue have been affected negatively – one being how your people “network”.
So how can lawyers ensure they are getting the most out of their networking event? You just can’t afford to attend every event in the neighbourhood on the off chance of meeting someone who is of some benefit to your business – although it’s surprising how often new opportunities arise from totally unexpected sources, so there is a danger in closing down options!
Plan – get some structure
- Exhibitions and networking events often take place at regular intervals throughout the year. For example, your Chamber of Commerce probably meets once a month. Often the dates for these can be provided in advance, and this can help you to create a content calendar to help systemise your networking diary.
- Plan a networking event ahead of time to ensure the important ones are not forgotten, that you aren’t overstretching and have a plan of action that fits for the event.
- Ask for delegate lists and updates – well in advance for starters. Many organisers won’t provide them until you ask for them. You want an update the day before if possible.
- Research potential delegates and their business on LinkedIn and Twitter if you know who they are in advance and share that knowledge with anyone else attending. It makes a world of difference! And keep that information for future reference.
- Allocate certain events to specific members within your team to match the likely legal interests and needs of potential prospects attending – based on the content and/or context of the event.
- Although it might seem somewhat obvious, make sure you are attending the right events. Prior to booking your place research the event, its objectives, and the audience it is targeting- it may also be worth asking the event organiser for a list of delegates to be sure that this is an event you should attend. It is a simple saying but there is a lot of truth in ‘quality over quantity’.
- Always ask for a programme timetable; many trade and professional exhibitions span over a number of days so making sure you target the specific one that is of most value to you and your business ensures you get the most gains from your efforts away from the office. Do this for every event that you decide is important for your business and make sure that you attend at events fully prepared.
Follow up is where most lawyers fail most often
What can be done after any network meeting to ensure the business cards you have collected don’t just gather dust on your desk?
- It is vital to systemise the business cards you been given, connect with people via LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media channels.
- A few days after the event it may also be worth sending potential prospective clients and new business connections a follow up email, reintroducing yourself, the work you do, and ending with a short message regarding possible ventures they may be considering and how you and your business could help.
- If appropriate, arrange an informal follow up meeting with them where you can discuss possible opportunities.
These new contacts can then be added into your company’s CRM system if you have one. Here you can effectively systemise your entire network from one single solution. Systemising your networking can improve consistency amongst your client relationships, potential clients and business leads.
- It is worth investing time in recording interactions you have and the outcome of them, where appropriate. This need not be complex and could involve a simple spreadsheet linked to a database which is shared throughout the company via the cloud. Again, this lends itself to consistency amongst customers, and also ensures you are able to maintain a healthy business relationship.
- While networking events may predominantly serve to open the door to potential new referrers, it can also be a useful tool when looking to expand your client base. Keeping business leads and client leads separate is good practice to ensure any future communications you have with them are relevant to them – target specific.
- Get all departments within your business to operate from a single client/customer record. Investing in a system which allows for real time updates and amendments enables you to get an accurate account of a particular business relationship at any time. Single files ensure that contact is consistent and delivered at appropriate times throughout the customer cycle. Marketing teams for example, would not deliver prospective sales marketing collateral to prospects that are already about to embark on your services.
While these are just a small number of simple steps and practices you can take to ensure your networking is systemised and methodical, much more can be done.
By implementing and using CRM in your business, you can effectively track, update and record your business relationships and ensure that every time you meet a potential client, you aren’t constantly going over old ground with them.
Remember though, while CRM provides you with the technology to engage with your client base, it unfortunately does not give you the message you should convey; and so ensuring that this is cohesive and suitable for the target audience is key to best practice, and getting the most out of both networking and your CRM solution.
To discuss how your practice can adopt more of what is recommended here or in other ways to generate more business and make it more profitable, call Nathan Smith or Allan Carton on 0161 919 8355 or contact us here. Happy to talk for 30 minutes for free if it can help.