Rock 'n' roll networking
Solicitors should follow the example of Britain's musical icons if they want to be successful at networking, explains Douglas McPherson
On 4 June 1976 the Sex Pistols played at the Manchester Free Trade Hall. Aside from being the Pistol’s first foray into the North, the gig has gone down in history because, it is said, although fewer than 30 people were in attendance, about 18 went off to form bands of their own, and many, such as The Smiths, Joy Division, The Fall, and, err, Simply Red, became mainstays of the British music scene for decades to come.
That’s a nice story, I hear you say, but what has it got to do with a solicitor’s marketing and business development? A fair question.
It is an anecdote we use when talking to law firms about networking. Networking is maligned in some circles and eulogised in others. It is undoubtedly one of the most potent ways to meet new contacts and catch up with contacts you already have. However, it’s also one of the BD tools many solicitors criminally underuse so, all too often, it becomes a chore – or worse, a box-ticking exercise that never realises the return it should.
Why is this? Some of it can be put down to an uninspired (and uninspiring) choice of event. Some comes from a lack of follow up. Whichever it is, when you put those two factors together, it takes us back to the Sex Pistols at the Manchester Free Trade Hall.
First, let’s look at the networking events you go to. Are they ones you and your firm have always gone to? The pillars around which your local business community has been built? Do you see the same old faces? The same competitors? The people you already encounter on a daily basis during the regular course of your work?
Or, do you regularly come away enthused, having picked up a few new interesting business cards and having gleaned useful gossip that could lead to new opportunities? More importantly, can you actually retrace a few new matters back to people you’ve met at these events?
If the answer to any of the first set of questions is a ‘yes’ and the answer to any of the second set is a ‘no’, it may be time to rethink your choice of events.
There are always a number of events taking place under the radar, the ones those at the heart of an industry or a community know about and attend regularly. Quite often they are promoted by word of mouth or via the organising groups. They are rarely found on EventBrite.
These are the events you need to go to. They are the ones where you will meet the people and businesses you want as clients; where you’ll meet people who could introduce you to those you want as clients. There you’ll pick up on the issues and trends affecting your target market – insight you can use to market more effectively.
They also tend to be based around venues or activities that are more inspiring than the traditional house wine and airless rooms so beloved of the chamber and the IoD. This not only makes it more enjoyable but also more likely you’ll have something in common with the others there, which increases the likelihood you’ll click and come away with something tangible.
And they’re not hard to find. If you’re in regular contact with your clients, with the professionals that specialise in similar areas to you, and with the trade bodies who look after the areas you are targeting, just ask them where they go. Or take a look at their website, LinkedIn profiles, or Twitter feeds to see where they’re going. Local and trade press journalists are another good source if you – or your marketing department – has access to them.
The Pistols’ Manchester gig was promoted in the NME – the paper the proto-punk cognoscenti relied upon – via John Peel’s late night Radio 1 show, and by word of mouth. If Messrs Sumner, Morrissey, Smith, Hucknall et al hadn’t been willing to dig deeper and search out that night at the Free Trade Hall, we’d probably never have had the pleasure of their music.
The second point is follow up. If all those budding musicians had attended and then just gone for a pint of Boddingtons, nothing would have happened. But they didn’t. They followed up, put bands together, wrote songs, and pushed for deals.
As lawyers, your approach to networking should be the same. I lose track of how many times a week I say to solicitors that it isn’t the action that wins work, it’s the follow up.
Are you sending a LinkedIn invite afterwards? Forwarding the new contacts’ details to be added to your marketing lists? Arranging a coffee with the new contacts you think would be of most benefit to your practice? Making a note to follow up two months later if your first approach is rebuffed or ignored?
If not, networking won’t deliver the return you want it to. That is why we often use the Sex Pistols as an example of networking best practice.
Douglas McPherson is a director at Size 10 ½ Boots