Business Law Articles
Linda Hazelton, Marketing and Management
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Networking—live and virtually—is essential to your professional success. People like to do business with people they know and like. Follow these common sense tips to maximize your results.
- Make the most out of your LinkedIn profile. Have a “title” that conveys a message, such as Trademark and Copyright Attorney, instead of Associate.
- Write a summary of your practice using the keywords someone would likely use to search for a professional like you. Your description should not be the same as your firm résumé—use first person (I am a…) rather than third person (Ms. Jones is a…) and write the way you would speak.
- LinkedIn can help you complete your profile by offering you prompts and suggestions. Most of them are worth following.
- Join groups, and post useful information. You are better off posting a link to an article you found helpful than you are posting something self serving.
- Connect with classmates and with former colleagues, as well as the attorneys you currently work with. When you send an invitation to connect, personalize it instead of using the canned invitation from LinkedIn. “It’s been a while since we met at the INTA conference, but I enjoyed our conversation and would like to connect on LinkedIn in order to stay in touch.” Build your network of contacts early in your career. Once your college fraternity brother is the GC of BigCo, it’s too late to rekindle your acquaintance. Do it before you need or want something!
- When accepting an invitation you should also write something, rather than simply clicking “accept.” “Thanks for the invitation to connect. I look forward to being in touch.”
- When one of your connections has a new job or a new title, type a quick note to congratulate them.
- Check with your firm’s ethics guru before posting recommendations others have written about you. If someone has impressed you, it’s a nice touch to recommend them, but you’ll need to be careful about recommending employees at a client’s business. The client might not appreciate your having written a glowing recommendation of someone they are about to fire.
- If you are researching a prospect, be aware that they will know you have looked at their profile. If you make yourself anonymous while you search, you won’t be able to see who has looked at your profile—the setting cuts both ways. You could, of course, make yourself anonymous, do your searching, and then make yourself “public” again thereafter.
On the Ground Networks
- The point of networking is to develop relationships organically over time. Many novice networkers think the payoff should be immediate. It usually isn’t. And the benefits should be mutual; think about how you can help others as well as how they can help you.
- You get the most out of the associations/groups/networks/boards you put the most into; choose wisely and treat your commitments the same as you treat your work assignments.
- Do what you say you’ll do and do it when you said you would do it. Your networking or association work will be seen as a proxy for your professional work. If you are a board member, yet show up late (if at all) for meetings, or if you are tardy with your deliverables, your fellow board members will assume that’s how you act in all arenas.
- Fire up or stay home. When it comes to a “social” networking event such as a cocktail reception, you should consider staying home if you are feeling blue, cranky, sullen, or snarky. Or seriously change your mindset before arriving!
- To be seen as friendly and approachable, think S*O*F*T*E*N. Smile, use open body language, lean very slightly forward, touch (acceptable touch, only, please), make eye contact, and nod.
- If attending with others from work, plan your strategy ahead of time. Look at the registration list. Who knows whom? Who can introduce whom? Who do you particularly want to meet?
- Arrive early and stand near the door or near the beverage station so that it’s easy to meet people. If you aren’t already engaged in a conversation, stand in the longer line for the bar—it gives you more time to talk with others in line.
- Wear your name tag on the upper right side of your torso. When shaking hands, the line of sight travels up the arm to the shoulder—and your name tag will be easily visible. Lavaliere style name badges should be adjusted so that they are higher rather than lower. Don’t make people lean over to stare at your belt buckle!
- Put your business cards in a spot where they are easily accessible. No one wants to stand around while you fish through your wallet or purse. If you are wearing a lavaliere name badge, you could place a few cards behind your name tag in the plastic holder. When you meet someone, ask for their business card—offering them your own is then a natural segue.
- Make notes on business cards. It’s especially important to note anything you promised to do. It’s better to make those notes in private rather than while in the company of the person in question. But do be sure to make them. When you are back in the office or at your computer, enter the contact information into whatever system you use. Transfer your notes as well. Invite new contacts to connect via LinkedIn or send a note or email while your memory is fresh.
- If you’ve forgotten someone’s name, there are a few acceptable approaches. You could say “please tell me your full name.” This implies you’ve only forgotten part of it. Or say something like, “forgive me, I enjoyed talking with you last year, but I’m blanking on your name—I’m so embarrassed.” If you are with a friend, you can say (to the person whose name you’ve forgotten), “have you met my friend Patty?” Most people will respond by saying their name. If they don’t, Patty can say, “I’m Patty Smith….and you are?”
- Networking can be fun, but you must still treat it seriously. Remember, it’s not NetDRINKING, NetFLIRTING, or NetEATING, it’s NetWORKING! If you choose to drink, stay one drink behind the crowd. Eat if you must, but it’s hard to shake hands while juggling a plate, and it’s hard to work the room while you are sitting down. Hold your drink in your left hand so your right hand is available, dry, and warm.
- If you arrive and see no one that you know and everyone else is already in conversation, walk to the window and look out, admiring the view while you wait for a lull in conversation or for others to arrive.
- If you are shy, seek out someone standing on their own and talk with them. Help them feel comfortable and you’ll feel better as well.
- Conversation starters:
- "Are you enjoying the conference?"
- "How do you know the host?"
- "Which sessions did you attend? Which was most valuable?"
- "What are you working on that particularly interests you these days?"
- "What’s the business climate like in your area?"
- "Which competitor is your toughest?"
- When mutual referrals are what you are hoping for, ask the other person to tell you about their ideal client or customer. “What type of client is your ideal target? In case I have an opportunity to refer someone, I want to be sure they are right for you.” You can also ask about a project they are working on right now. Once they’ve finished telling you, it’s only natural to follow up by telling them about something you are working on, to get across your particular skills or knowledge.
- As you describe your work or skill or strength, remember that there are always three questions—spoken or unspoken—in the mind of the “buyer” (the person you are talking with….).
- “So what?”
- “What’s in it for me (how do I benefit)?”
- “How can you prove that?”
- You can address those questions without their having been asked by saying, “You may wonder why this is important,” for example, and then explaining.
- “And what about you?” is the utility infielder of conversational phrases. Use it! And follow the 80/15/5 rule. Let the other person talk 80% (more or less) of the time; ask questions 15% of the time; answer questions 5% of the time. But always use common sense. Sometimes you need to give, to get. If the other person seems somewhat unwilling or incapable of keeping the conversation going, you may have to do more of the work. Try not to monopolize the conversation and try not to interrupt. Focus on being interested instead of focusing on being interesting. People appreciate a skilled listener. And by all means, avoid complaining about how busy you are.
- Aim, in general, to have conversations that last 7 or 8 minutes. The idea is to meet or catch up with several people. If you want to have a longer conversation, set up a time for coffee or a phone call. If you are feeling “trapped” in a conversation, it’s reasonable to extricate yourself. You can introduce the person to someone else (tag, you’re it), you can include them in your next conversation (“there’s Sam….let’s go talk with him"), or you can simply excuse yourself. “I’ve enjoyed talking with you and there are a few other people I need to touch base with. I hope to see you again soon.”
- If your legal specialty is one that leads people to ask for free advice in social settings, you can politely deflect those discussions. “Your question (or situation) is a serious one and deserves careful thought. I can’t do justice to it in this setting. We could set up a time to discuss this if you like.” Of course, if there is a quick and easy answer, feel free to give it.
- Remember, you are developing a relationship, and relationships develop over time. You don’t ask a blind date to marry you.
- Follow up with a note; send an article (“thought you might be interested in this”); or call to set up a coffee date.
- Add notes and contact information to your firm’s contact database or to Outlook. Preserve the details and your notes somewhere!
- Set up a Google alert to stay abreast of information regarding an individual and/or their organization.
- Invite your new acquaintance to connect with you on LinkedIn. Follow his or her company or organization on LinkedIn and Facebook.
- To turn social or networking conversations into business conversations, consider the following openers or other similar scenarios:
- “I’d like to understand the nanotechnology (or whatever) landscape better. Would you be willing to talk with me over coffee or lunch about your company and what you do?”
- “I’ve enjoyed talking with you at these Chamber of Commerce planning meetings. May I come to your office in the next week or so to explore ways we might work together (or refer business to one another….)?
- “I respect your opinion and would like to get your advice on how I can provide more value to clients and referral sources. Would you be willing to have coffee and discuss this with me?”
- “You mentioned that some of your managers are facing some challenges with the people they supervise. One of the partners at my firm is excellent at reviewing policy and procedure manuals and providing coaching for supervisors. May I introduce you to her?”
Perhaps the most salient advice about networking is "just do it." As Woody Allen said, 80 percent of success in life is just showing up. If you show up with an open heart and mind, intent on forming genuine, mutually beneficial relationships using common sense and agreeable manners, you'll succeed.