Networking has always been a key component of a personal business development plan. It helps you to get closer to the people you know and enables you to grow your professional network by introducing you to new people; both tactics play a crucial role in protecting and building your practice.
Despite the easing of restrictions, it’s likely to be some time before face-to-face events as we once knew them return. In the meantime we will have to struggle on a little longer without canapes, name badges and cloakroom tickets!
But what does this mean for networking? And how should you adapt your approach in the absence of traditional events?
The good news is that you can still network effectively. In fact you can even get better results by networking virtually than you did from attending traditional events.
Here are 3 practical suggestions to help you adapt the networking part of your BD plan for the next quarter:
1. Virtual coffee meetings
Your first priority should still be to get closer to your existing contacts. The difference is that as we can’t meet in person yet, you’ll need to substitute coffee/beer/lunch with video calls.
To get started analyse the source of the cases you’ve worked on, the files you opened and the events you were invited to over the last 12 months. Identify who provided the introductions, referrals and opportunities that actually led to new work.
Once you your list of names, commit to 3 things:
(i) Make contact with each of the names on your list outside of an open client file, case, project or matter.
(ii) Find a way to add value when you do make contact so your approach more likely to be received positively. For example you could make an introduction, share a bit of market insight, offer to collaborate on something of shared interest or invite your contact to an event (virtual of course!).
(iii) Getting in touch every quarter (and ring-fence the time to do so) so you’re actually strengthening your relationships and progressing your conversations.
The final step is to do it! Invite your contact to the video call but instead of just sending a woolly email suggesting a catch up, anchor your approach to something specific. You could:
Highlight some new legislation that might impact on your contact’s business or personal circumstances.
Share relevant insight from dealing with a similar client.
Or follow up on a previous conversation by adding something new.
And don’t forget to go international. One of the positives to come out of working from home is we are all much more comfortable with technology so think about which of your clients, referrers and other professional contacts operate overseas and add them to your list.
2. Virtual roundtables
A good way to position yourself as an expert and get your message out to a wider network in a more targeted way is to participate in virtual roundtable discussions.
The great thing about roundtables is that you have the opportunity to share your knowledge and network at the same time. Better still all of the main video platforms – Zoom, Teams, GoToMeeting, Webex etc. – make it really easy and pretty much free.
There are 3 ways to approach virtual roundtables:
(i) Set up your own
This is as simple as picking a subject that will attract your target audience and partnering with other advisors in related fields. For example, if you are a private client solicitor you might choose a tax accountant, an IFA and a banker or if you are a patent attorney you might choose an investor, someone who specialises in R&D tax credits and an in-house attorney.
If you are a solicitor, accountant, patent attorney or architect in a smaller practice, you could find a bigger firm with an established programme of virtual events and offer yourself as a guest panelist. You will instantly add credibility to their event by bringing another perspective and another set of professional expertise.
(iii) Trade associations
Find out which trade bodies, alliances and networks your clients belong to then see what they’re running for their members so that you can again volunteer yourself as a guest panelist.
3. Walk and talk
If ever there was a time to think more laterally about how to do BD, it’s now. One initiative I’ve come across that appeals to me as a lover of the great outdoors is the ‘walk and talk’.
People are now arranging to meet outside with a flask of coffee and maybe a pastry or two in a socially distant and responsible way. As things become more relaxed, I really think that this could be the future of 1on1 networking for some time to come.
You could also meet to jog or cycle but obviously this makes meaningful conversation just that little bit harder ….!
We have a number of alternative suggestions we could share so if you’d like to discuss how to refresh your firm or chambers’ networking strategy please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can find a time to chat.