Long-term clients, and lots of them, are what have resulted from these two attorneys’ different approaches to face-to-face networking.
As attorneys, one of the best ways to gather business is to go out and connect with the community. Numerous attorneys over the years have built their practice with networking.
In addition to generating a direct flow of clients, networking can deliver referral partners and other profitable relationships as business professionals not only use each other’s services, but also share their networks with each other.
However, networking is not an instant ticket to fame and fortune. Building a solid network for your business takes months and sometimes years to develop. Persistence and doing it right are key.
Below are two attorneys who have built their practices using the traditional form of networking (instead of the new version based on social media).
Christopher Matern represents businesses and individuals in the areas of bankruptcy, business formation, contract negotiation, estate planning, franchise negotiation, commercial and residential real estate including leases, and purchases and sales. His goal is to provide high quality legal services that are both cost effective and prompt.
Daci Jett counsels families and individuals on how to transfer their wealth and values to the next generation. She prepares comprehensive estate plans to accomplish each client’s goals. Daci’s clients want to be sure their loved ones are taken care of, and her estate plans give them that peace of mind.
1. What is the purpose of networking? What is your intended goal?
Matern: “Eventually to get more business. Although that is not necessarily the immediate goal. Attending a particular event, the goal is to develop a relationship.”
Jett: “I use it to develop business.”
2. Why did you decide to use networking over other forms of marketing?
Matern: “Because in the service business, particularly professional services, people work with professionals that they either know personally, or someone they trust knows them personally. As opposed to a billboard, a postcard, or some other piece of advertising.”
Jett: “It is not that I am using networking instead of other forms of marketing, I might be using it in addition to other forms of marketing. I use networking because I think it is effective, and a good way to develop relationships, and relationships are a great way to build your business.”
In addition to networking, Daci also uses other forms of marketing to strengthen her marketing efforts. “I am working on my websites and also sending out [regular]newsletters.”
Matern: “The greatest benefit is that you get long-term clients that you work with for many years. You often get referrals from those people that you work with, or businesses that you work with many times.”
In regards to the percentage of clients he receives through networking?
“Hard to say, but everybody has come to me through some sort of connection, either direct or indirect that were developed through networking. Not necessarily just attending a particular event, but meeting people and getting to know them. Building a relationship where they know you and feel comfortable with using your services.”
Jett: “Two things: One is getting new clients. Two, making relationships with other professionals that some of my clients might need.”
In Daci Jett’s case, 90% of her clients come from networking.
4. What is your greatest challenge in networking?
Matern: The greatest challenge is the time required to do it well. You have to put the time in.
A metaphor that I have often heard about networking is that you are planting an apple orchard. You put in a lot of seeds, but you will have to wait quite some time before the trees grow and you actually get any apples.
Jett: Turning relationships into referrals. Talking to people who I have relationships with and work with about how they can refer clients to me.
5. What would be the one thing you would tell attorneys starting networking?
Matern: “Keep your patience. That is difficult particularly when you do not have a lot of clients, and need to pay your bills. That is hard. You are looking for business quickly.”
Jett: “Join a BNI group. BNI has a systematic program of networking education, so you can really learn how to network.”
6. How do you prepare for networking events? How do you determine which networking events are best?
Matern: “I generally focus on one particular area. Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce, in my example, rather than going to too many different broad- based networking events or general business events. And not an all-lawyer event. Sometimes you might get business from other lawyers, but you are more likely to get business from non-lawyers, business owners, or individuals who have some business connection.
Then following up, you need to learn what they do, and what is of interest for their needs. Often, I will send them newspaper or magazine articles that relate to their business. Then say, ‘Hey! This might be of interest to you.’ Or sometimes send them something about an area that I practice in that might be of interest to them, based on the conversation. So, there is follow-up.”
Jett: “Depends on what I want to get out of [the networking event]. If I want to meet financial planners, then I am not going to meet financial planners at a Bar event. The format and the type of meeting, I will look at will determine what I want to get out of it.
If I am looking for people who can refer clients to me, then I would not want to go to some place that has a bunch of other estate planning attorneys, because there is too much competition.
If I am looking to expand my base of estate planning attorneys who I can refer out to, or I might want to co-counsel with then I might want to go to a place with a lot of estate planners.”
7. What was the best decision you made in networking?
Matern: My best decision in networking was, “being on the board of directors for the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce. Being involved in various committees that enabled me to get to know people much better than just casually meeting them during a more traditional networking event, where you only have a brief conversation. When you are working with someone for hours at a time, you get to know them, they get to know you. You build the trust that someone in a professional field needs to establish before a client thinks about retaining them.”
Jett: “Joining a BNI group.”
8. What was the worst decision you made in networking?
Matern: “Probably not spending enough time on a particular area. Looking for quick results.”
Jett: “Stuff that wasted my time. Somebody suggested I go to these meetings of the Illinois CPA society, and that was a colossal waste of time. There were a lot of CPAs there, but 95% of them were unemployed and looking for jobs. ”
Chris Matern is focusing on chambers who have a diverse network of businesses. However, being a part of the chamber committees gives him the ability to connect deeply with a smaller sub-section of the chamber to get more referrals.
Conversely, Daci Jett has found that being part of a BNI group where they keep her accountable for her networking is one of the greatest benefits to her business. Her business has boomed because she has been able to tap into a strong system of referrals.
Both of them have successful practices because they network on a regular basis and provide value to their network. They understand that networking is not a one shot deal. Instead, networking takes work and dedication to get right.
Editor’s note: If you are not familiar with BNI, here are a few press quotes about the networking organization:
The Milwaukee Business Journal
“BNI, a networking organization whose chief purpose is to produce sales referrals for its members…they are here to help you make money.”
Baltimore Business Journal
“Business owners dedicated to helping each other every week with generating sales referrals…The members are your sales force as well as your customers…Not just a coffee clatch…If you join a group like this, you are joining to generate business referrals.”
Boston Business Journal
“It’s the value of the seat that attracts people…BNI gives a structured format for referral passing.”
The Tampa Tribune
“This is a way for people to give referrals to each other…a 15 member BNI chapter generates 45 to 50 monthly business referrals for members…With 30 members the number triples.”