As a legal recruiter, one of the main aspects of my job is to network with prospective hiring managers and candidates in the legal sector, however there appears to be a disillusion among some legal professionals that networking is an "extra" in their own job roles. In reality, not only are hiring managers putting "business development" in your job description, networking is vital to open up new opportunities for your firm and your career, whether you are an aspiring lawyer or at the top of your game.
Fear not - I guarantee you are already embarking upon some form of networking on a weekly, if not daily basis. Networking comes in multiple forms, from meeting people one-on-one, to attending industry events and awards ceremonies. The important thing to remember is that networking is nothing more than getting to know people. The tricky part is making the most of each encounter, to most effectively expand your network and develop your business aims. Hopefully the following points will enable you to do so.
Quality over quantity
Let's set the scene - there is an event taking place, with 500 delegates and plenty of business to be won. The least effective form of networking is when someone works their way through endless superficial conversations, each reaching an abrupt end when a business card is pushed into the other persons hand, in a bid to move on to the next potential contact. In this scenario, it is unlikely that you would have gained anything more than pockets full of business cards, instead of the quality connections that you initially hoped for.
Clearly, a handful of solid connections is going to be much more beneficial for you - and for them! Instead of trying to speak with everyone in the room, do your research prior to the event, taking into consideration the reasons for your attendance, and identify your key targets. By having a few in-depth conversations with relevant contacts, rather than 100 encounters with anyone and everyone, you will gain quality information and stand out for all the right reasons.
First impressions count
One of the most important parts of networking is the first impression you give a potential contact. This might be seen as your "initial pitch", in which you discuss your current role and business projects, however be careful not to over-rehearse, as an over-polished introduction can come across as too formal. Yes, you want to remain professional, but you also want to be authentic and memorable. I would hope networking is an enjoyable part of people's jobs, so potential connections don't want to feel interviewed about their role and how big a business prospect they could be for you. Would you want to work with someone who just sees you as a stepping stone to what they actually want? Probably not.
The best connections are ones that are built off common-ground and a genuine respect for one another. You will gain greater success if you aren't seen as a “networker”, but instead, you are someone that shows empathy and a genuine interest in getting to know people. Talking about sports, your families and where you are off on holiday isn't necessarily unprofessional - it allows for natural conversation. By creating these genuine connections, business will follow. You will be memorable to your connection, and you will be able to secure their time for a future business meeting, with the comfort that they are interested in hearing what you have to say.
What goes around comes around...
When approaching someone new, find a way to help them first. If you want your networking to be successful, you need to provide your connections with value. This can come in many forms including sharing your network, referring them work, promoting their business and supporting their events. Therefore, it is important to use your research and rapport building to find something that you can assist them with. After you have invested your time in them, you are much better placed to ask for a favour yourself. At this point, do not be afraid to ask for assistance if you need it, as although you should help your connections without expecting anything in return, all good working relationships should be based on give and take.
Furthermore, when your connection is looking for someone to instruct, invite to an important industry event, or discuss a new business venture with, they will look to the people they have had meaningful interactions with. Often the best return on investment is seen years down the line, when you have built a solid foundation and helped your contact time and time again. Don't worry - your efforts will pay off.
Mix it up
Whether you are intentionally networking or not, you are making new connections every day. It is not just the glamourous awards and industry wide events that you are networking at, as you never know what your day to day interactions with colleagues and current clients can offer you, by way of second connections. It is also important to expand your reach, and attend events that your clients are not only hosting, but also attending, to ensure you are recognised as an expert in your field.
It is also important to diversify the people you go to networking events with. It may be a colleague who is more junior to you, more senior, or even a connection from another industry that is looking to expand their network. Whoever you go with, starting conversations with strangers is always easier with a familiar face by your side. However, be mindful to not fall into the trap of just chatting to each other! It is important that you bounce off each other to broaden your connections with other attendees. It is also a good idea to attend an event with someone who you see as an impressive networker, to learn from them and gain confidence. By attending events with multiple colleagues and friends, you will then become a more competent and well-rounded networker when attending events alone.
Don't be a stranger
Follow up. It’s all well and good meeting people at an event, but if you don't follow up, then the connection is lost. If you have followed the above advice and built a genuine rapport, then the follow up is very easy because your contact will want to hear from you, and you can diarise your next meeting. However, no matter how good your initial relationship is, if you let your relationship collect dust, you will disappear off their radar and the initial bond you forged will diminish.
The worst thing you can do is be a one hit wonder with your new connection, and then only reappear when you need something from them again. Keep your relationship current and strong by reaching out regularly; whether that is grabbing a coffee despite there being no urgent business, sharing a blog post that you think they will find beneficial, or simply commenting on their social media updates. Moreover, you always want to follow up on your meetings to not only reaffirm your next steps, but also to thank them for their advice and business.
Not everyone is an experienced networker, but everyone can appreciate the value in broadening your network and making long lasting connections. More often than not, the thought of networking is a lot more daunting in theory than it is in reality. If you remain personable, build a strong rapport with a refined list of solid connections, know the value you can bring, and consistently follow up - you will be in a strong position to build your market presence and grow your reputation as an expert in your field.