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Sticker_HELLOI have a confession to make.  I was a bad networker.

When I started my solo practice, I didn’t have a network.  Two years out of the work force, many of my relationships were stale.  It was also pretty apparent that most of those connections were geared to an in-house practice I no longer had.

This meant I had to build a new network from scratch, a daunting task for someone who had NEVER networked before.  Working in-house left me with zero networking skills.

I didn’t know what I was doing, so I made a few mistakes and learned a few lessons along the way.

Here are 3 of my biggest lessons learned.

1.  Find Thy Client.

My first big mistake was attending the wrong events.

A friend mentioned a local networking group.  Several attorneys attended the meetings, and they were getting clients.  So I went.  I had a lovely time talking to the other attendees, but nothing happened.  No clients, no referrals.

What went wrong?

The group consisted of very nice women who ran local small businesses (think real estate agents, dog groomers, Mary Kay consultants).  However, they had no use for an intellectual property lawyer.

Lesson #1:  You need to find the networking events that your ideal clients attend.

Now, I attend start-up and technology focused events.  And guess what?  The opportunities are so much better.

Don’t know where to find great networking events that are right for you?  Check out www.meetup.com, which lists thousands of free events across the country in any category.

EventBrite is another great website to find local events, but they can cost more.

2.  Stick Out your Hand and Say “Hello”.

Once I found the right groups, my second mistake was acting like the wallflower at a high school dance.

When I started to attend technology-focused events, I felt out of my element.  The room was filled with young, smart people talking about technology and their start-ups.  I was an outsider.  I felt pushy, like I was asking them a favor just to speak with me.

But I had to get over that, and so do you.  They need your services and you need clients.

Lesson #2:  You need to talk to the right people.

How did I get over it?

I look for the captive audience.  I introduce myself to the person next to me in the drink line or sitting by themselves waiting for the speaker to start.  Then, I ask them about what they do, and let them talk.

When they eventually ask me what I do, I respond:

  • “I teach start-ups how to understand their intellectual property.”
  • “I help companies put their patents to work.”
  • “I help companies use their best assets to build better businesses.”

I never start the conversation by saying “Hi! I’m Kelli.  I’m an intellectual property attorney.”  In my experience, defenses go up when I introduce myself as an attorney, and it shuts down any meaningful conversation thereafter.

If you are networking with your ideal clients (and non-attorneys), start the conversation with what you do, not what you are. When people hear you’re an attorney, they assume they know what you do, and they are more apt to walk away thinking I don’t need her services.

Another way to start a conversation is to research those on the guest list before you attend.  Both Meetup.com and EventBrite.com will let you see the list of attendees. It helps when I can say that I saw that article featuring their company or I’m looking forward to hearing them speak or pitch.  There’s nothing worse than talking to someone, ask them what brought them to the event, just to find out they’re the guest speaker.

3.  Follow-up.

My last big mistake was not following up with the new contacts I had met.

Networking doesn’t stop after the event.

I would come home with a stack of business cards.  I would connect with them on LinkedIn, follow them on twitter, and file the card away.  Then I would wait for them to call me.  As you might guess, not much came of that strategy.

Lesson #3.  You need to stay in contact with the person after the event.

Be proactive.

  • Ask to get together over coffee.
  • Engage them through social media.
  • Ask them if they know of other events like the one you two met at.
  • Schedule a “get in touch email” for two months out.
  • Send articles that might be of interest to them.
  • Compliment them if you see them in the news.

And this is not a one-time event.  Research shows that it can take up to 7 “touches” before someone considers either buying what you’re selling or referring you to someone they know.  So the lesson here is to keep following-up!

For any solo attorney, networking is an invaluable skill to learn.  It’s how people know you exist.  People can’t refer clients to an attorney they haven’t met.

If you’re not networking well, I encourage you to get out there and learn your own lessons.  If you’re a great networker, let us know what your networking tips are in the comments below.