Networking is the key to building up your book of business. Business development mandates that lawyers network whether they love it or hate it. If you resist networking because it seems shallow and self-serving, or because you want to stay in your comfort zone, you are severely hampering your chances of attracting new clients and probably damaging your career.
No one is born with a networking gene.
Keep in mind, the people who look as though they were born to network are not genetically endowed with business development skills. The lawyers you see who look comfortable meeting new people have learned techniques that help them move past their mental barriers. They put those techniques to work time and time again until the initial discomfort fades, and they find that walking into a room full of strangers is not something to dread.
Banish your dread of networking.
Here are a few techniques you can use to take the menace out of networking.
- Pump up your ego before you go by saying what you may not feel, i.e. “I can’t wait to get there! I’m fearless meeting new people. Everyone enjoys my company!” You may feel silly, but when you verbalize positive thoughts enthusiastically, your feelings turn positive and your adrenaline starts flowing.
- If possible, find out in advance who will be attending, so you can spot the name tags of people you want to meet.
- Push past feelings of discomfort about networking by picturing someone literally putting a hand on your back and giving you a final shove to enter the room!
- Practice your openers such as “Hi, I just wanted to come over here to meet you.” or “You all look as though you are having a good time. May I join you?”
- Be prepared for the inevitable question: “What do you do?” Practice your elevator speech. Rather than running through a list of your services, state your value proposition which should answer the question: “How does the law I practice benefit my clients?”
- Before you go, find out the latest developments or trends in the businesses or industries of your client prospects so you can add value to every conversation.
- Pick out some current event news that you can pull out to enliven discussions.
- Set a time limit on how long you will stay.
- Make a goal of meeting 3-5 new people before you leave.
- Go with a buddy, but don’t stick together for long.
- If you can, arrive early. You won’t have to navigate a crowd full of strangers.
- Eat when you first arrive, have a drink, and position yourself close to the bar where you will meet people who are coming for refills and are already warmed up!
- If you are confident enough to roam, move about the room choosing those you want to meet. Take control of your entries and exits instead of allowing yourself to be trapped in unproductive conversations. Use exit sentences like, “I don’t want to monopolize your time.” Or “I promised my friend so-and-so that I would meet her here. It’s been so nice meeting you. Please excuse me.”
- Act like a host, instead of a guest. If you assume that mental mindset, you will feel less awkward. Picture how you act when you head up a meeting or event.
- Pay in advance for the event ticket. You are less likely to skip networking if you have already paid money to go!
Practice will lessen the anxiety.
You can succeed at business development by committing networking techniques to memory and putting them into practice until the skills you have learned become second nature. Once you’ve attended several events, regardless of their outcome, you’ll have a strong sense of accomplishment and be ready to do it again.
Enable your own success. Make it your goal in the new year to build your book of business and use networking as a powerful business development tool.
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