The secret to successful networking: change your network, change your perspective

Posted in Legal marketing

Lawyers are forced to hang out with each other a lot. Is that because other people are not too interested in our company? Perhaps. But I’ve met some of my favorite people through bar association work, volunteering, and committee involvement. So, I maintain that we aren’t so bad!

Nonetheless, as a lawyer, it is difficult to snag an invitation to a conference outside our field. But people in other fields are potential customers and potential referrers. I don’t get invited to happy hour with the friendly Boston banker community. And I don’t (at least until recently!) snag invites to Boston-area events for women in business. We lawyers live in bubbles and are fairly content to stay there. But it isn’t working.

These days, a lot of emphasis is placed on social media, well-placed ads, and ranking in Google searches. Undoubtedly, in today’s media driven world, these things are extremely important. But I’ve always felt that retro handshakes and face-to-face meetings are the gold standard of networking. And I’d like to advocate for a new way of creating referral and client sources: butting in.

Change your network

Within the past few months, I joined a networking group that brings together successful professionals from varied fields. There are some fairly strict rules, which initially surprised me, but I now completely understand how useful these stipulations are and why members take them seriously. We meet once a month, and once a month we gather into small groups to do an activity of our choice. I’ve met lawyers whose practice areas are vastly different than mine. I’ve also met accountants, bankers, real estate agents, investment advisors, public relations executives, and marketing gurus. The stated goal is to expand our networks and refer each other business.

As a result of this, I’m trying to take it one step further. For example, one woman runs a successful educational series for investment advisors, and I’m going to go—for fun and to meet new people. As I previously alluded to, I recently attended a women’s conference put on by the business community, and it was excellent. I also got to see a new friend speak to a crowd of 1,000 people and absolutely kill it. Another woman who owns a PR firm puts on events, happy hours, and other social events, and I absolutely plan on butting in on those, too.

Lest you wonder if people appreciate whether or not I’m in attendance, I can assure you that I’ve seen concrete business referrals as a result of these activities. Many fellow attendees don’t personally know any lawyers. They don’t have someone to call for advice, to be pointed in the right direction, or to recommend another attorney. And I’ve been surprised at how warmly I’ve been welcomed into the fold. Right away I started receiving phone calls from people with potential cases or new contacts looking for a helping hand.

If you’re looking to get out of a networking rut and join a new crowd, look for an outside field that you still have a connection to. For example, I used to compete in triathlons and have been a runner for many years, so I recently attended the Boston Triathlon Team’s annual social. The evening was 99% about triathlons, but I was a new face, and a rarity as the only lawyer in the room.

Change your perspective

If most of what I’m suggesting just sounds like fun, you’re right: we all need to change our perspective on what networking really is. Part of doing so means accepting that having fun with other people is also the best networking.

Networking is basically making friends who know what you do for a living.

All our interactions serve to create new relationships, the best of which are based on shared interests and genuine mutual respect. The best way to form relationships isn’t through making business pitches and persistently handing out business cards. The best way is to find communities you enjoy and make sure your new connections know what you do for a living.

Somewhere along the way, the term networking really caught on. The unintended consequence, unfortunately, is that it accrued a negative connotation, and we lost the original idea behind it: making friends and finding people we like. I believe that networking is making friends as an adult. Most adults need something at some point, and the people they go to for referrals, help, advice, and guidance are their friends. If it weren’t complete heresy, I’d advocate throwing the word “networking” out and just advocate for making friends as an adult.

Working socializing into our very busy lives can be hard, especially if we have families at home. So we inject a business purpose into social events, which makes perfect sense, of course. We’re all trying to drive business. But living out social lives in business contexts has also resulted in us losing our mirth.

Butt in to some new groups, and bring some fun to new events. I can attest that it has resulted in more phone calls and potential business referrals. Moreover, it has brought some energy and fun into my “networking.”