I stopped in for lunch at a new Japanese take-out restaurant that opened nearby. While I was eating, I saw a man I thought was the owner sitting at one of the tables, looking at some documents. I looked at him and asked myself, “If I represented small businesses, what would I do right now? This is a great way to meet prospective clients (and referral sources), often ones you might otherwise not encounter. But how do you approach them? What do you say?
Here is your game plan:
- Say hello and congratulations on the opening of the business. Shake hands, smile and wish him luck. Don’t talk about yourself; talk about him and his business.
At first, you want to be seen not as a lawyer, but as a customer or prospective customer. Say something nice about their store or office. Ask a few simple, non-threatening questions about their business. Ask for their card or brochure or flyer or menu. Look for some kind of connection (commonality) between you, someone you know, some other business you patronize, and him, and mention that commonality.
Assuming he hasn’t asked you about yourself, at the “end” of the conversation, almost as an afterthought, say something like, “By the way, my name is Jennifer Brown and I’m a lawyer. I represent a lot of [businesses like theirs]. I’ve got a free newsletter I’d like to send you that has a lot of useful tips for saving money and protecting your business. Would you like me to send it here, to the store, or would you prefer to have me send it to your home?”
You should offer something they would find useful. A newsletter, report, recording, article reprint, or book is great, but it could also be a checklist, a form or set of forms, or a list of phone numbers or other resources. But NOT a brochure about your services. No selling, yet. If he’s interested in your services at this point, he’ll tell you. Right now, you simply want to initiate a dialogue, and get permission to send him something that is helpful to him and that demonstrates your expertise and dedication to his industry or business.
If you don’t already have it, ask for his card. When he gives it to you, you can then present yours. Don’t say anything at this point about him calling you or you calling him.
- Send the material you promised. In a cover letter, let him know you enjoyed speaking with him, again say something nice about his business, and say no more than a sentence or two about the benefits of the information you have sent. Don’t talk about yourself or about your services, only about the information. Tell him you hope he finds the information useful, and that if he has any questions about the information, to please call you.
If your practice areas are not listed on your letterhead or card, or in the material you have sent, it is okay to mention them in this letter. You do, after all, want him to know what you do. But do no more than mention them. Again, you are trying to initiate a dialog at this point, not convince him to hire you.
- A week later, call and ask him if he got the material you sent. Don’t ask if he read them or if he has questions. Your purpose for calling is to make sure that the materials arrived.
Then, offer to send him additional copies (for friends/colleagues.) If he accepts, send them along with a second cover letter. Take care to craft a second cover letter that is warm and personable and once again, not about you.
This second letter might follow up on something you or he said the last time you talked. It might mention another commonality (e. g, another store owner you know that he may know). Or it might offer a bit more information on the subject at hand: another phone number, an interesting statistic, a new example.
If he doesn’t ask for more copies, you might send him another one anyway, “in case you have a friend who might want one.” Or, send him something else – a newspaper clipping you saw about his store opening or about something in the news that might interest him, or another item, not necessarily legal-oriented but which is likely to be of interest to him.
After a month or so, send something else. Or call. Or, if you’re nearby, come into the store again and say hello.
Continue to mail items of interest to the prospect. He will see, via the things you send him, the kinds of things you do, that you understand his business and industry, and that you care about him.
From time to time, offer him something else: more information, a free consultation, or a free or discounted service. And let him know that if he has any questions about anything or if there is anything you can do to help him, to call you.
Stay in touch with him. Continue to mail. (A newsletter is ideal for this purpose.) Occasionally, call and say hello. Be there when he needs you. Eventually, he will hire you or send you referrals.
Your goals throughout this process are to:
(a) Find out what he needs and what he wants. What are his problems and desires? How can you help him? But here’s a key: don’t limit yourself to helping him with legal matters. What else can you do for him? Who can you introduce him to? What information can you help him obtain? Does he need an accountant? An insurance broker? A banker? In fact, you should initially assume you cannot help him with legal services, at least not now. Look for other ways you can help him and trust that the legal work will eventually come.
(b) Find out what he can do for you. Whom does he know? What organizations does he belong to? Is he a potential client? If not why not? Might this change? What resources does he have or have access to? Can he do anything for your clients? Can your clients do anything for him? To whom can he refer you or your clients or contacts?
(c) Let him know what legal services you offer and problems you solve.
(d) Stay in touch with him and look for ways to elevate the relationship to the next level, client and attorney, and to obtain his referrals, introductions, and other assistance.
It takes time to initiate and build relationships with strangers, but it is not difficult. There are only three things to remember: focus on the individual and his problems and desires, let him know what you can do to help, and stay in touch.