How to start a conversation with a brick wall

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You meet someone new, at a networking function or casually, in person or online. You don’t know what to say to kick things off or to keep the conversation going after the initial hello.

What do you say?

You don’t. You ask questions and let them do most of the talking.

Some folks need a little prompting and asking questions usually does the job.

If you’re at an event, you could ask how they like the program or the last speaker, or if they recommend the chicken or the fish. You could ask something about the schedule. But while these questions may break the ice, they won’t get you very far.

If you want to know something about the other person (and you do), if you want to establish rapport and make a good impression, you should FORM them.

FORM stands for:

  • Family
  • Occupation
  • Recreation
  • Motivation

These are the areas to ask about.

In a professional setting, you’ll probably start with Occupation, and that might be all you need to have a fruitful conversation. Ask what they do and at some point they’ll ask what you do. (See my ebook re how to answer that question and what to say after that.)

Family and Recreation are fairly standard areas of conversation. What about Motivation?

Motivation is usually talked about later in a conversation, after you’ve exchanged pleasantries and covered the basics. Motivation is a catch-all for why they do what they do. What are their goals or dreams? What big projects are they working on? What’s in their future?

Sometimes the acronym is FORD—the D is for dreams instead of motivation, but it means the same thing. Here’s a short video that does a great job of explaining how to use FORM (FORD) in conversation.

The next time you meet someone and don’t know what to say, FORM them. Encourage them to tell you all about themselves.

They’ll enjoy meeting you and look forward to your next conversation. You’ll know what they do and what motivates them, and what to ask about the next time you speak or email.

How to sell your legal services in 15 Seconds or LESS

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How to remove the starch from your writing

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A newsletter is not the place for formal writing. Even if your readers are academics or others steeped in formality, they’re people before they are lawyers or professors and unless you have a good reason not to, write to them the way you would speak to them—informally.

Are you picking up what I’m laying down?

“Oh, I could never write like that,” says many a lawyer. They don’t want to appear un-lawyerlike.

You don’t have to go as far as I go sometimes. You don’t have to write completely informally to write less formally. (But you have to admit, it might be fun. Guess what? It’s fun for your readers, too.)

What you have to do is make clarity and simplicity your top priority.

When you do, not only will your readers be able to quickly understand your message, they will appreciate you for lightening their cognitive load.

(Sorry, some old starch found its way onto my keyboard.)

The simplest way to keep things simple, as I mentioned in a recent post, is to write an email, not an article.

If you need a little help to do that, follow the advice of writer Laura Belgray, who uses what she calls the Email From a Bestie (EFAB) technique:

“I write each email as if I am writing to a good friend, one who happens to have the needs of my target audience.”

Try it. Write a salutation. Write to your bestie (and leave out the starch). Close.

Then, remove or modify the salutation and close to suit.

When you do this, your readers feel there is a real person behind your words, and you’re speaking just to them.

That’s when they connect to you. That’s when they feel you’re the one.

When you’re done with your first draft, you may feel a little naked and self-conscious and want to add back some of the starch.

A little starch is okay. Because lawyer. Just don’t overdo it.

Ya feel me?

If you want to know how to do it right, with lots of examples, templates, and sample language, get my Email Marketing for Attorneys course

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Build your network with email follow-ups

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You meet someone new, in person or online. You get their email address (because if you don’t, why bother meeting anyone?) You’re all set to follow up with your new professional contact or prospective client.

What’s next?

You need to decide that, in advance.

What will you do? When? What will you say, what will you send them, what will you ask them?

Put on your thinking cap, figure that out, and write it down.

What you do will depend on many factors, including where you meet them, your practice areas and services, what they do, what you’re looking for, and more.

But you can sketch out a few typical scenarios to start and modify them as you go along.

For example, here’s a 5-step follow-up sequence you might adapt and use when you meet a new professional contact:

  1. Email No. 1—sent immediately: Nice to talk to you, (mention something I liked/thought was interesting); “here’s the (information/report/link) I promised to send you.”
  2. Email No. 2—sent X days after No. 1: Did you get it? Have any questions?
  3. Email No. 3—sent X days after No. 2: BTW—here’s something else you (your clients) might find useful.
  4. Email No. 4—sent X days after No 3: “I saw your website/read your article and liked X”, and/or ask them to tell you more about what they do
  5. Email No. 5—sent X days after No 4: Invite them to coffee/talk on phone (to see how we might work together)

You might also keep a list of optional or additional questions or comments to use in different situations. For example, what will you say or do if you didn’t promise to send them something?

The point is, follow-up is the key to building a new relationship and playing it by ear is not a good plan.

Get ready. You’re going to meet someone soon.

Are you ready to take a quantum leap in your practice?

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Networking math

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We tend to think of networking as arithmetic. The more people we know, the more likely it is that someone will need our services or know someone they can refer.

But it’s not arithmetic. It’s multiplication.

It’s not just about the people you know, it’s about the people they know.

A new contact may never need your services themselves, they might never send you referrals, but might know people who know people who will.

When you meet someone new, therefore, don’t look “at” them, look “through” them. Who do they know? Who could they lead you to?

If you meet your new contact in a networking-type setting where giving referrals and introductions is expected, tell your new contact what you do, describe your ideal client, and also describe your ideal referral source.

If they know someone who might be a good fit, ask them to introduce you.

If you meet them under different circumstances, it’s a longer process, but unlike a formal networking group, there’s no competition and you might make some great new connections.

One new contact might lead you to dozens of new clients; if that contact is well-connected, if they are a center of influence in your target market or your community, they might lead you to enough business to put you in another tax bracket.

Yes, it can be a lot of work. The good news is that you don’t need hundreds of new contacts to make your networking efforts worthwhile, you only need one.

Because one can lead you to many more.

How to get more referrals from lawyers and other professionals

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Use a trigger list to identify people you don’t know you know

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One of the first things you do when starting a new business or professional practice is to make a list of people you know. If it’s been awhile for you, this might be a good exercise to go through again.

Going through your high school, college or law school yearbook, for example, might help you remember people you used to know but haven’t spoken to in years.

Looking at a map might prompt you to recall your days living in another city and remember some people you knew.

Searching online lists of occupations or businesses might prompt you to remember people you know or used to know in those occupations or businesses.

As you remember names, add them to a list to contact in the future. If you remember faces but not the names, put them on a list to track down.

Is this worth the effort? You tell me.

Some people you connect with might have work for you. They might know people who need your help.

Someone might ask you to speak at their event. Someone might want to read your book or see your presentation.

And some might share the link to your website in their newsletter or on their blog, exposing your name and website to thousands of people in your target market.

Saying hello to someone you used to know could lead to dozens or hundreds of new clients for you.

Would that be worth it?

On the other hand, you might get nothing more than the opportunity to talk to some old friends and recall some old times.

Would that be worth it?

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Not all clients are created equal

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Some clients are worth more to you than others. I’m not just talking about billing or cases or revenue, or even the value of the referrals they send you—or could.

I’m talking about the people they know and could introduce you to. The doors they could open for you for networking, speaking, and publishing content. The information they have about their industry or market or local market, information that can lead you to opportunities you didn’t even know existed.

I’m also talking about the value these clients represent to you by allowing you to be seen with them. When important people in your niche see you interviewing other important people in your niche, for your blog or channel, the value of your “stock” tends to go up.

Because we are known by the company we keep.

Hold on. If you primarily represent consumers, if your clients don’t have the status and connections we’re talking about, you’re not out of luck. Your professional contacts can also provide this value.

Your homework: identify 5 or 10 of your top clients and/or professional contacts and go to school on them.

Study them and their business or industry. Find out more about what they do, how they do it, and who they know. Figure out what they can do for you (or your clients), and. . . what you can do for them.

What do they need? What do they want? What are their problems and goals?

If you can, interview them. Spend more time with them. Tell them you want to get to know better. Ask questions and take notes.

The things you learn will help you take your relationship to the next level.

Your research will help you do a better job for them as their lawyer, and for your other clients in that niche or practice area, and help you assist your inner circle in ways that go beyond your core services.

Good for them. Good for your other clients and contacts. And good for you.

There you have it. Off you go. You’ve got people to talk to and notes to take.

Make sure you have a copy of this in your backpack

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I’d like to interview you for my newsletter

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That’s you speaking to a fellow lawyer, a business contact, a client or friend. Someone you know who might have something to say your readers might like to know.

Another lawyer sharing a few tips about their practice area. An accountant or financial planner speaking about taxes, investing, debt or credit. A real estate broker speaking about your local market. Or one of your business clients talking about how they got started and sharing some advice for someone who wants to start their own business.

You tell them you’d like to interview them for about 20 minutes, over the phone, or you can email them some questions. They get exposure for their business or practice, your readers get to learn something new, and you get the day off.

Well, almost. You still need to edit the interview and post it but the hard work is done by the interviewee.

You supply the questions, they supply the answers.

If you say “pretty please,” they’ll also supply you with some of the questions. Questions they’ve been asked in other interviews or things they think your readers would find interesting.

They’ll also tell you what they’d like you to say about them. If not, grab their bio from their website.

Interviews are incredibly easy to do. They’re also a great marketing tool for you.

How so?

For one thing, some of your interviewees will ask to interview you for their newsletter or podcast. Or invite you to speak at their event or write a guest post for their blog.

You get more traffic, more subscribers, and more clients. One interview per month can bring you a lot of business.

In addition, doing interviews gives you the perfect excuse to reach out to influential people you don’t know but would like to. You’ll make some new contacts, some of whom might provide referrals and introductions to other influential people.

Are your wheels spinning? Good. Go tell someone you’d like to interview them.

Get my ebook on how to interview experts and professionals here

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2 lists that can help you build your practice

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Whether or not you do any formal networking, in the course of a day you speak to people who can help you build your practice. They know people you would like to know, they know things you would like to know, and they can do things for you you can’t do for yourself.

And they’ll help you. All you have to do is ask.

To make that more likely, I suggest you prepare 2 lists and refer to them before you speak or write to anyone.

List number 1 is a list of favors you can ask for. Little things and big things they can do to help you. Call it your, “Can you do me a favor” list.

What kinds of favors? Well, what do you want?

  • Referrals and introductions (to clients, professionals, centers of influence in your niche)
  • Information (about a market, how to do something, where to find something)
  • Advice (marketing, business strategy, management, best practices)
  • Testimonials, endorsements, reviews (for your book, your services, your capabilities)
  • Feedback/opinion (about your idea, your article, your case, your presentation, your problem)
  • Permission (to quote them, to mention their name, to use their testimonial)
  • Recommendations (which app, which method, which group)
  • To do a favor for your client or friend

People like to help. If they can give you the name of someone to talk to about your current project, give their opinion about something you can use in your next blog post, or start thinking about people they know who might need your services, most people will.

Which leads to list number 2.

List number 2 is similar to list number 1, but instead of a list of things you can ask of others, it’s a list of things you can do for others.

Ways you can help them or their clients or contacts.

When you speak to someone, prompt them to tell you what they’re working on or how things are going. When you hear something that’s on your list, offer to help.

Here’s the thing.

The more you use list number 2, the more likely you’ll get help with list number 1.

More ways to grow your practice

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Leave your baggage in the trunk

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If you’ve done a lot of networking, you may have heard the expression. It means “don’t bring your problems into the meeting”.

If you had a bad day, nobody wants to hear about it. They don’t want to see your grumpy face or listen to your complaints.

Your clients and prospects and professional contacts may know, like and trust you, but they have problems of their own and don’t want to hear about yours, any more than you want to hear about theirs. Unless it’s a legal problem and they brought their checkbook, of course.

The same goes for your partners and employees. Nobody wants to work with a Debbie or Dennis Downer.

Leave your baggage in the trunk. If you’re meeting online, put on your happy face before you turn on the camera.

This doesn’t mean you can never display emotions. You don’t have to be like Mr. Spock. Your emotions are part of who you are and you would be wooden and unlikeable without them.

But if you’re in a dark place, filled with anger or sadness or feeling sorry for yourself, don’t ask anyone to join your pity party. Reschedule the meeting or send someone in your place.

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How to instantly connect with anyone

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I was speaking to a senior adjuster for the first time, taking a moment to get to know him before we talked about the case. He happened to mention the name of a defense attorney who had handled some of his big cases. “I knew Mike,” I said, and we started swapping stories about him.

Before we knew it, forty minutes had gone by.

Granted, we were getting along fine before that, but having something in common helped us connect on a deeper level. I’m sure it also helped me settle the case.

Whenever you speak to someone new, one of the best ways to “make a new friend” is to find something you have in common.

Ask questions and get them to tell you their story. Find out who they know, where they went to school, or what they do for fun.

When you find you have something in common, it changes the dynamics of the conversation and you can bond over that commonality.

You were a stranger a moment ago; suddenly, you’re friends.

Many people bond over sports. “Did you see the game last night?” is a great conversation starter for many people. Others bond over their shared experiences of raising kids.

Listen for clues. If the other person has an accent you recognize, you might ask where they’re from. If they talk about the mess their dog left for them last night, you might ask them the breed.

Anything can help you instantly connect with someone, and start you down the path to a new relationship. It might even help you settle your case.

Marketing is easy when you know The Formula

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