Word of mouth marketing is one of the most effective ways to grow your law practice. There are two ways to increase word-of-mouth marketing: first, you must provide remarkable service (something worth talking about), and second, you must accelerate awareness of who you are and the value you provide.
To accelerate people’s understanding of who you are and the value you provide, building relationships with other professionals and referral sources is essential. One strategy for building relationships is through networking.
Unfortunately, when people hear the word “networking” they don’t respond with excitement and enthusiasm. Images of forced conversations, wasted time, falsehoods, collecting business cards, and attending functions you don’t want to attend come to mind.
In truth, the essence of networking is none of the above. The true meaning of networking involves building relationships by giving back to others and helping them succeed.
To be successful in building professional relationships, it is critical to focus on cultivating mutually beneficial, give-and-take, “win-win” relationships. The focus is on helping the other person achieve their goals. The mistake many “networkers” make is to focus on their own success and how the other person can help them achieve their goals.
Networking is absolutely essential to building a strong legal practice, as a large percentage of referrals are the result of established relationships. Think about your main referral sources. In most cases, the main referrals come from a relationship you have created by meeting someone. Other things being equal, people will more often refer to professionals they know, like, and trust.
Here are seven steps you can take to increase the success of your network:
1. Get involved with organizations, committees, or projects in which you have a strong interest or ability.
2. At any networking event, show genuine interest in the person or people you’re talking to. Once awareness moves away from you and your goals toward them and their goals, a connection with the other person is established and trust begins to develop.
3. Ask questions. When you have an encounter with other people, you have two options: make a statement or ask questions. By choosing to ask questions, you can gain valuable information about others and help them open up.
4. Listen actively. The best way to understand and meet the needs of the people you’re talking to is through genuine, deep attention to what others are saying. This means keeping an open mind even if you don’t agree with what the person is saying. It also means keeping your focus on the other person’s words, without mentally formulating what your response to their comments will be.
5. Make a contribution. Volunteer for a committee, host a meeting, give a presentation, provide leadership. Confidence is built when others have the opportunity to experience your abilities and strengths. By making a contribution, you provide a low-risk way for people to assess your skill, talent, and value.
6. Follow up slowly. After meeting with a potential referral source for a networking activity, make follow-up calls, schedule lunch meetings, and email the article you discussed. If you’re on a committee, do what you say you’re going to do in the time frame you’ve committed to.
7. Be selective about your networking activities. Your time is limited and you cannot be everything to everyone. Select the networking activities that interest you the most and that give you access to people who have the characteristics of your main sources of referral. For example, if you don’t get many referrals from the general business population, it might not be a good idea to attend the monthly Rotary club meeting. You would get more out of your time by participating in a local training meeting or practice group.
It is not enough to read articles and tips. A great network requires action:
1. Get involved in your professional community. Serve on a committee, join a practice group, or offer to chair a major project.
2. Make a list of key networking opportunities and schedule them on your calendar. Make it a priority to attend.
3. Make a contribution to others: send more referrals, offer to provide information that will help others, mentor new collaborative professionals.
Networking is a fabulous tool to open up your sphere of influence and connect with more people. Your ability to really focus on people is critical to building strong professional relationships. Go out and talk to others, take an active interest in them, listen, feel and sense what is going on around you. Get involved, join meetings, make a contribution to specific groups. By doing these things, you will be creating the foundation for the growth of a successful law practice.