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Making Your Net Work

Posted in Business Development

When we hear business development-oriented lawyers talk about all the wondrous things evolving social media technology can do to their (or their firm’s) market visibility and reach, we’re reminded of the story of the backwoods recluse who wins a new automatic dishwasher in a contest. When a neighbor runs into him in town and asks how he likes this life-changing bit of modern technology, the rustic shakes his head and scoffs, “well, it ain’t worth a tinker’s damn.  I’ve had it for two weeks now, and so far it hasn’t even cleared the table.”

Skilled social media navigators frequently brag about all the people they are “networked in” with –  scores, hundreds or even thousands of LinkedIn connections, Twitter followers or FaceBook friends. And you have to admit that the multiplier-effect potential of today’s digital technology is pretty astonishing. Social media certainly does seem to bring the entire world within reach.

But once you get it in reach, what happens then?

For many introverted, autonomous lawyers, the answer is…absolutely nothing. We cultivate these lovely long lists of contacts, and we think and act as if having a bunch of electronic synapses means that the nerves are firing and meaningful message content is actually being communicated among all the cells.  Not true. 

Those who gauge networking success by the sheer number of contacts they can cultivate digitally need to get this through their heads: You are not “networked” unless you make your net work, which is to say, unless you work your net.

A Relationship Game, Not a Numbers Game

Particularly when you are using networking for business development, your networking efforts must extend beyond simply reaching out and touching someone (or a lot of someones). All networkers – whether zealous or reluctant – must remember this: Contact Does Not Mean Impact. 

A robo-caller may succeed in contacting me when I pick up my phone, but has no chance whatever of impacting me before I hang up. Or I may say yes to your LinkedIn request (and I usually do; what harm can saying yes do?), but that contact does not mean we have forged a functioning relationship.

It is far more important to know how to trigger an interpersonal impact, and in successful networking, impact – positive, actionable impact — comes from one activity in particular: following up on initial contact.

Okay, I See You.  Now What?

Yeah, yeah, we know you’re going to tell us that powerful, positive impact also comes from visibility. All those articles you write, blogs you post, your Super Lawyer award (six years in a row), your year as Chairman of the Bar Association. Yeah, they count.  They do help bolster your brand, your image, your rep, your cred.  But truth to tell, they generally do not translate directly into business — into new client relationships, into client trust and rapport – into mutually interdependent interactions. Those things come most and best from the impact that results from face-to-face interactions, from relationships that have a nuanced personal dimension.

FU Means…Follow Up

Word of mouth may open the door but it does not close the sale. You must follow up! Personally. Frequently. Repeatedly. Appropriately. Effectively.  This is the part where lawyers’ self-marketing efforts most often crater, because all this following up stuff is, by and large, a huge time suck that drives socially standoffish lawyers nuts.  Lawyers hate all that follow-up stuff: the calls (and repeated calls), the banal lunches lubricated with humdrum pleasantries, the articles, the speeches, participation on conference panels, rubber chicken dinners and attendance at various events. All those things that take them away from practicing law, billing hours and showcasing their substantive legal expertise.

Making Networking Work

Online technology is not going to rescue you from life in the networking trenches. Just as social media freaks fall in love with their contact numbers, mindless networkers buy into the old salesman’s numbers myth: if I get one sale for every 10 rejections, I should go out and try to get as many rejections as I can, right? Okay, laugh, but when you only have a limited amount of time for self-marketing, there’s no possible way to follow up with all the names in your LinkedIn list, Facebook page and Twitter account (and a lot of them, frankly, are junk anyway).

Therefore, when leveraging your networking efforts – your follow up activity — setting efficient priorities becomes Job One. At the outset, you have to distinguish Tier One impacts from Tier Two contacts. That is, unless/until you have a lot of time available for mining low-probability leads, take the time to identify the people with whom you can hope to cultivate high-leverage, high-traction impact. Who are the people with high impact potential?

People you have justifiable reason to believe (because you have done thorough research) may be

  • Potential Clients because their needs and priorities fall in your legal sweet spot.
  • Referral Resources: People who respect you enough to be willing to open doors for you, as well as knowing others’ needs and what it takes to address them
  • Centers of Influence: Well-connected, high-torque people who can make things happen
  • Connectors: Those social extroverts who delight in bringing like-minded people together

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

Unless you are into affiliation for affiliation’s sake, you have to keep reminding yourself that social media, like the rustic’s automatic dishwasher, is a tool that requires human intervention in order to produce results. And to keep your networking interactions from devolving into a dull, daunting and ultimately disappointing numbers game, we suggest that you remember the fundamental characteristics of Christopher Columbus’ successful voyages: 1) They had purpose. 2) They had direction. 3) They maintained momentum. 4) They rewarded perseverance. Put another way, effective networking is a human activity, not an electronic passivity.

© 2014, Pam Woldow, Doug Richardson & Legal Leadership, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be copied or reproduced without prior written approval.