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Networking: Keeping Your Circles Alive

published September 17, 2007

Paramjit Mahli
( 22 votes, average: 4.8 out of 5)
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Even the "Seek first to understand and then be understood," states Steven Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In essence, that is precisely what good networkers do: they make themselves indispensable by becoming resources that you can't do without. Think of concierges at hotels; they know everything that guests might need during their stays. Good networkers are lobbyists—yes, those pesky public relations professionals, fundraisers, and restaurateurs. Bottom line: they know people.

When distilled to essentials, networking is all about building relationships with your target markets. Think about how long it took you to make friends, court, and get married. Networking is similar. Once there is trust and confidence, networking can reap dividends.

For lawyers, solo practitioners, associates, and managing partners, this is an indispensable part of their business, even though they think it ranks at the bottom of their priority list. Building your book of business requires grassroots networking, regardless of whether you think marketing is overrated hype and fluff. Regardless of gender, geography, and ethnicity, people do business with people they know and trust. Yet with all the demands on our time, not only is it tempting to place networking at the bottom of the priority list, but it is also easy to ignore. Like personal relationships, networking takes time, effort, and solid commitment from you.

Where do you start? Have a clear focus, think strategically, and think long term. Make a good first impression by becoming a good listener. Become a trusted resource. David Maister's book The Trusted Advisor is indispensable to anyone in the professional services.

Bar associations, committees, other attorneys, alumni of law firms, college alumni, and target industry groups are good places to start.

Expert and author of Million Dollar Networking Andrea Nirenberg says, "We should be connecting with people, whether it's email or in person, every day; networking should be part of daily activities." Most of us overlook attending professional development events/conferences and meeting people for coffee/tea, all of which are part of networking, and often view networking events as only where business cards are exchanged, added Nirenberg.

When done effectively, networking accomplishes several tasks, including but not limited to finding a job, finding new clients, turning prospects into clients, professional development, forming strategic alliances, and finding good referral sources for your business, to list a few.

To maintain your network, you need to keep lines of communication open with individuals in your circle. This is where most people drop the ball. They meet, have some sort of connection, and then fail to follow up.

Two immediate strategies to apply are as follows:
  • Immediately after the event, preferably the next day, send a handwritten note or card reiterating something of interest to both of you from the conversation and expressing your interest in keeping in touch. Include your business card. Handwritten notes are a lot more effective than emails. Don't wait longer than 48 hours.

  • After a fortnight has passed, contact the person and arrange to meet for tea or coffee.
The key to maintaining your network is becoming an invaluable resource. Initially, when building relationships, you can do this by using some of the following tactics:
  • Find something to add value to the relationship quickly, such as a link to an article or changes in the law that impact the other person.

  • Introduce the person to a referral source that may be of value to him or her. This could be an executive, a professional group, or a reporter.

  • Invite the person to a company event or another networking event. Or if you come across an event that is not of interest to you, forward it to someone in your networking circle. This simple task requires nothing more than typing "FYI" and hitting the forward button.

  • Send the person extra tickets that you may have to a sporting event, spa, or concert. Don't let your company tickets go to waste. It's a very good method of "keep-in-touch marketing."

  • Don't forget birthday cards, anniversary cards, and thank-you notes. People remember them, and they go a long way.

  • Send a note congratulating the person on a promotion.
All of this involves time, commitment, and consistency. You want to stay in touch rather than get in touch with others when you are desperate. As your relationships strengthen, you will find other ways of becoming a resource. In turn, other people will introduce you to their networks. Finally, keeping score will not result in building good networks.

About the Author

Paramjit Mahli of Sun Communications Group is a former journalist who has worked with international news organizations, including CNN Business News, and who now helps small to mid-sized law firms get in front of their target markets effectively, efficiently, and expeditiously. Her job is to let lawyers do what they do best—practice law—while she takes care of their communications and marketing programs.

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