Size doesn’t matter

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I’m talking about your list of professional contacts. It’s the quality of your contacts that count, not the quantity. A list of 10,000 people who might recognize your name (or might not) isn’t nearly as valuable as a list of 100 who will take your phone call, reply to your email, or smile when they see you. 

You know, people who know you.

Because if they know people who need your services, or know people who know people who do, you’ve got it made. Even if it’s not a big list.

 Because it’s not who you know. . . it’s who THEY know. (And will introduce you to).

Do you know a professional or business executive who is influential in your target market? Do you know them well enough to ask for a favor? 

Great! Ask them to introduce you. 

If you know the name of someone they know you’d like to meet, ask them by name. “You mentioned you know Jack Bigtime. I’ve heard good things about him and would love to meet him. Would you be silling to introduce us?”

If you don’t know anyone they know by name, ask by category: “Do you know anyone who (describe the kind of contact you’d like to meet).” If they say they do, ask for a detail or two to get them thinking about them, maybe ask how they know them, and then ask if they would introduce you.

If they ask why, tell them the truth—you want to expand your network. Just an introduction. Not marriage. One professional meeting another, the way it’s done every day. 

You may have to talk to a few people to find someone who knows someone who would be a good fit for you and will introduce you (or let you mention their name), but all you need is one. 

Because one will lead to two. And that can lead to dozens. 

Yes, you could play the “quantity-leads-to-quality” game most professionals play, work like crazy and eventually meet someone who’s a good contact for you. But the “quality-leads-to-quality” game is much more fun, and productive. 

Here’s how to do it

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Business development leapfrog 

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It’s all about networking. Meeting people who know people you’d like to know. High-level decision makers, General Counsels, CEOs, advisors, business owners, and other influential people in your target market. 

Your job is to identity people you’d like to meet and work backwards to identify people they know who can introduce you. Eventually, you identify someone you already know or can easily meet because they belong to a group you belong to or know people who do. 

Start with “categories”—types of advisors or professionals or decision makers in your target industry or market. When you know you’d like to meet a financial advisor, General Counsel or manager of medical groups (of a certain size or specialty), for example, it makes everything easier. 

Create a profile. Then, identify “candidates”—actual advisors or decision makers you’d like to meet. Then, talk to your clients and existing business contacts and ask if they know these people, or know someone who does. If they do, ask them if they would introduce you, or if it would be okay for you to mention their name when you talk to them. 

And yes, it is as simple as that. 

You don’t have to score a home run every time. A single or double here and there may be enough to get you face to face with someone who wants to know more about what you do and how you can help their company or their clients. 

If you “only” meet one or two of these top-level decision makers per year, it can lead to a lot of business. 

It’s all about networking. But you don’t have to attend a single networking event. 

Because the people you already know, know people you’d like to know, and you can leverage your relationship to meet them. 

Here’s what to do, step-by-step

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People lead you to people

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Some people can hire you. Some can’t. Or won’t. Some people can send you referrals. Some can’t. Or won’t. 

Here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter what someone can or can’t do. They know people you don’t know and can lead you to them.

Your new client might know no one who needs your services. But their boss, accountant, neighbor, or friend might. It’s not who you know, it’s who they know and can lead you to. 

You still need to be refer-able. You still need to get introduced or have your contact give them your card or a link to your website. But it gives you a path. A modus operandi. When you meet someone new—online or in person, through formal networking, speaking to a new client or prospect, or chatting with a stranger in line to get coffee, your job is to find out who they know. 

Emblazon it on your brain. “Who do they know?” (Or “Whom…” if you were an English major.)

If they mention they work at a certain company, find out what they do there and who they work with. Do they know any of the executives, directors, vendors, or shareholders? Do they know anyone who does?  

You might start by asking if the company has in-house counsel or works with an outside firm. It would be good to meet those lawyers. Even if they are your direct competitor, they might have a conflict or otherwise be unable to represent a client or take a case (e.g., too big, too small, wrong industry, etc.) and might refer them to you.

NB: get to know other lawyers.

What if your client or contact doesn’t know the in-house counsel or hesitates to introduce them? Pick up the phone, call that lawyer, tell them you have a mutual business contact (the employee at their client’s company) and want to introduce yourself and find out more about what they do. (Psst, and who they know). 

It works the same way with everyone. When you sign up a new client, find out the name of their insurance broker, accountant, financial planner, or attorney. 

More people you want to know.  

As a friend of mine used to put it, “Don’t look ‘at’ them, look ‘through’ them—because it’s not who you know, it’s who THEY know. 

My guide to Lawyer-to-lawyer referrals

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Networking Up

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You want to meet and network with the owner, the senior partner, the manager, or the top executive. You know, the decision maker. The one who can hire you or send you referrals. 

But that’s not always easy to do.  

One solution is to start at the “bottom” of the totem pole—junior staff or a lower-level employee—and work your way up. 

Ask them to introduce you to their boss or someone higher up the food chain and continue this process until you reach the head honcho. 

At least that’s what one networker says he does. He says it’s easier to learn about the company and the people who work there or own it, and easier to build trust with them.

Sounds like a plan. 

But there are other plans, like the one where you start with the person at the top. 

It will probably be more difficult to meet them, but if you do and you hit it off with them, welcome to shortcut city. 

On the other hand, the top people are constantly approached, assume you are a Klingon and have their shields up. Especially when they meet an attorney. 

If (when) that happens, don’t push it. Ask them who you should with at the company or in the group. If that person is at the same meeting, ask them to point them out to you. They will be probably introduce you.

If not, you’ve got the name of the person you should speak to and when you approach them and tell them, “Mr. Big suggested I speak with you” they’re going to pay attention because they don’t want to step on Mr. Big’s toes. 

Instead of “networking up,” you’re “networking down,” and they both work.

If you can meet the top dog at the company or group, go for it. If not, meet anyone and work your way up. Or sideways.

There’s more than one way to win friends and influence (the right) people. 

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It’s not who you know

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It’s who they know. Which means you don’t need a large network to build a successful practice. Just a well-connected one.

If you know just 10 people who are influential in your target market, they can lead you to a multitude of new clients and referral sources. 

Lessons? 

  1. Stop wasting time networking with the masses of people who aren’t influential in your market. Focus on the “precious few” who can send you a lot of business or introduce you to other influential people in your market. 
  2. Identify people you want to know by name, and work out a plan to meet them. 
  3. Start with people you already know. Go through your list(s) and identify 5 contacts who are influential in your target market and like and trust you. Spend more time with them. Find out who they know and ask them to introduce you. 
  4. Next, draw up a list of 25 or 30 people you don’t know but would like to. They might be high quality prospective clients or other centers of influence who appear to know the kinds of people you would like to meet. Ask the people you know if they know any of these people and, if so, ask them to introduce you. 
  5. Study the people you identify. What do they want or need? Who do they know? How can you get their attention? What can you do to help them and/or their clients or customers? 

And then get to work meeting these new people. 

You might have to go through quite a few people before you find the ones who are receptive to meeting you and eventually working with you. 

But you only need a few. 

This will help you do all of the above

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It’s like dating

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You meet a lot of people and eventually zero in on someone you’d like to know better. You go out on a date, things get serious, and if all goes well, you get married and live happily ever after.

The same way you get your next (good) client. 

No, it’s not the only way. In fact, most lawyers don’t do this. They don’t single out someone they’d like to “date,” but they could. 

Should they? Should you? 

Find a few prospective clients, people who have the things you want in a client, figure out a way to meet them, and eventually date them and sweep them off their feet. 

Sound like a plan?

You’d have no competition to speak of, other than the lawyer or firm they’re currently “married” to. If they “split up,” or decide they like you better, they may become your next client.

Or introduce you to their unmarried friend from work who needs your help. 

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If you don’t like networking, do this

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When I was fresh out of law school, I tried networking because I thought I should meet new people, acquire some new skills, and (I hoped) bring in some business. 

I hated it. 

Going out at night and talking to strangers, playing the “tell me about yourself” game, was (for me) unpleasant in the extreme. I did meet people and eventually signed up.a few clients (most of whom were broke), but it was a good experience, primarily because it forced me to find other ways to bring in business. 

If you’re brand new, do it and find out for yourself. If you’re not knew and you don’t like networking, or aren’t good at it, stop doing it. Why punish yourself?

There’s something easier (and more fruitful) you can do.  

Instead of trying to meet new people, simply re-connect with people you already know. Not your regular contacts—people who used to be regular contacts that you’ve lost touch with.

No doubt you know many people you haven’t spoken to in a while. Make a list. Clients, prospects, business contacts of all types. It’s probably a long list. These are people who once hired you, referred you, or introduced you to others, or were at least open to doing these things. 

They might be open to doing them now. 

They are certainly more likely to do that than strangers you meet at a networking event. Because they know you and remember you. You don’t have to play the “tell me about yourself” game. Just contact them, say hello, and see what they’re doing. 

Your so-called “weak” or “dormant” ties represent a big opportunity to bring in business and opportunities because you have “history”. When you connect with them, mention something you recall about them, their case, their business, or a mutual contact. Or thank them for how they helped you (or your clients) in the past and how you appreciate their help and friendship.  

And then, find out what you can do to help them. 

Traditional networking ends to be about “chasing” people and opportunities. Re-connecting with people from your past is about sharing that past with people from it.

It’s easier to re-kindle a fire that has died down than to start one with dry wood.

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It’s easy and well-worth doing

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We’re talking about “edification”—the art of making other people look good by saying nice things about them. 

When you introduce someone to a client or friend, or introduce a speaker to an audience, and edify them, the other person or the audience sees them as more valuable, worth listening to, knowing, or hiring. 

And when you edify someone, your kind words and the graciousness with which you deliver them also make you look good. 

It doesn’t have to be exhaustive. You can simply mention a few of the speaker’s or other person’s accomplishments. Tell them about their book, their business or practice. Tell them about an award they received or a notable victory they obtained, or quote what others have said about them, e.g., testimonials or reviews. 

What do they do that helps people? What is their mission? What is something about them you admire?

You don’t have to exaggerate. Just say something laudatory and true. 

If you don’t know them, you need to learn something about them you can use when you introduce them. Read their bio or their “about” page, or simply ask them what they would like you to mention when you introduce them. 

Of course, the best edification occurs when you’re able to relate your personal experience with that person, or what your clients, business contacts, or friends have told you about their experience with them. If you refer a client to another lawyer, for example, tell them what that lawyer has done for you or for your other clients. 

In short, tell other people why they should listen to the person, watch their training or presentation, sign up for their newsletter, buy their products, or hire them.  

One more thing. 

You should also equip your clients and contacts to edify you. 

Give them information they can use when they introduce you or refer people to you. Even better, give them the kind of experience as their lawyer or friend that makes them want to tell everyone about you. 

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Build family to build your practice

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Your clients and former clients, your professional contacts, everyone who knows your name and would take your call—that’s your family.

One of the simplest and best ways to grow your practice is to grow your family. 

That means (a) increasing their number, and (b) increasing the strength and depth of your relationships

And you do that by going out of your way to serve them and help them, not just with legal matters but with other areas of their business or personal life.

Make them feel good about themselves for hiring you or referring people to you

You also increase their number by looking for opportunities to meet the people they know—their employees, partners, friends and colleagues. People they can introduce to you and who can become a part of your ever-growing professional family. 

As your family grows, look for ways to get to know these people better and help them. Give them referrals, advice, and introductions. Give them helpful information and stay in touch with them.

In other words, by networking with the people you know and the people they know., your family will grow and so will your practice. 

What does it take to do this successfully? 

You need to be willing to talk to people who aren’t necessarily in need of an attorney, and be genuinely interested in them and not just what they can do for you. You need to be a good listener, because that’s how you show them you are interested in them and how you learn what they need or want so you can help them get it.  

And you only need to find a few.  

Yes, you need to talk to more than a few to find that few. But just long enough to learn what they do to see if they might be a good match for you.  

Find a few of the right people and they can lead you to more.  

To start, commit to getting to know your clients better than you do now. Call or email them off the clock, say hello and ask how they’re doing. Don’t be surprised when they’re glad you called and ask you about a new legal matter or tell you about someone they know who might need your help.  

If that happens, enjoy the win. But don’t contact them solely for that purpose. Contact them to say hello. 

Heres a step-by-step plan for growing your professional family

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Three networking rules (even if you hate networking)

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Everyone networks. Whether formally, by attending events, or informally as they go about their day. They meet new people, in person or online, representing opportunities to grow their network, build their business or practice, or advance their career. 

But not everyone gets what they would like out of these encounters. 

If you want meeting new people to be a rewarding experience, there are three rules you should follow: 

  1. Make a friend. That means making the initial contact a pleasant experience for both of you. You exchange pleasantries and contact information, acknowledge anything you have in common, and look for opportunities to follow-up. 
  2. Find out what they want. This is the essence of effective networking. You need to know how you can help them, and how they can help you (and/or your clients). This is likely to take more than one conversation (unless you meet through a formal networking group where this type of exchange is expected), but it is the essence of effective networking.
  3. Find out who they know (before they go). Most encounters with new people don’t bear fruit, for a variety of reasons. Expect it, and find out who they know who might need your services or have clients or contacts who do, or can help your clients get something they want or need. Someone who might be a better connection for you than the person you’ve just met. 

You might hate networking, but you are going to meet new people. Follow these three rules and you may find networking to be fruitful and help you multiply.

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