After a seemingly endless 2020, the world is gradually returning to some form of normalcy. But it’s yet to be seen how business development may change as a result of the pandemic.
For more than a year, lawyers have not been able to attend industry and bar events, two of the more common modes of networking and business development. As we transition back into the workplace, it’s important to consider new ways to build a network.
There is nothing like the prospect of disease and death to make us realize what is truly important in life: family, friends, health and work-life balance.
In one way or another, we have all reassessed how we live and work, and despite spending less time as road warriors, most of us don’t have time or patience for superficial interaction.
Instead of casting a wide networking net, many clients and referral sources are looking to establish deeper connections for business development.
The days of straightforward quid pro quo lead-swapping are being replaced by a more meaningful approach known as relationship marketing.
In light of what we have all been through in 2020 and beyond, the idea of passing on often meaningless leads and having a tower of business cards on your desk rings hollow for so many of us.
No one wants to be sold, but everyone could use some help, a shoulder to lean on, or a new friend. That’s where relationship marketing comes in.
Unlike traditional business networking, relationship marketing emphasizes the development of genuine friendships and relationships based on mutual respect and trust, and without a focus on reciprocity and expectation.
This approach encourages participants to place their faith in others’ abilities as true professionals. You may collect fewer business cards, but the relationships you forge will be of higher quality and longer lasting. When this happens, there are numerous commercial and personal advantages.
For lawyers looking to grow a sustainable practice, relationship marketing can help build a community of lifelong clients and referral sources that is grounded in meaningful interactions, rather than empty connections.
Even in the current virtual environment, relationships can be forged and nurtured by simply checking in with colleagues, clients and contacts to see how things are going.
As we transition back to business as usual, your networking should be anything but usual. Here are some tips to guide a new approach.
• Change your mindset. Relationship marketing works but only when you do it right. Far too many people try to show their most charming selves and believe they’ll get a roomful of referrals. When they don’t, they call foul.
Traditional networkers, check your ego at the door. Building relationships has to do with getting to know others and letting them get to know you.
Your reputation is on the line when you refer someone, so you need to know a person is not only good at what they do, but also acts with integrity, is high-minded and sincere. This takes time. So share the “backside of the business card,” the 411 on your family, education and interests. Commit yourself to this process instead of just throwing around business cards like you were playing poker, and watch the referrals roll in.
You have two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you talk and you’ll set yourself up to create connections that are genuine, mutual and beneficial.
Building lasting relationships is a job in itself, but it can be enjoyable and invaluable. Take the time to do it now and your future will thank you.
• Be selfless. Forget the quid pro quo and make an effort to give more than you get.
Throw out the reasoning that one good turn deserves another, and you will land in a much better place. Start doing good things for others because it’s what a good person would do, not because you derive some business benefit.
When looking to build relationships, helping others is a reward in itself, and the truth is when you’re a giver, you will naturally become a getter. Line up your actions with another’s best interests and you may not get a return favor or referral in the moment, but it will come back to you, from elsewhere.
So shift your perspective on the give and the get. When being a giver for the sake of giving becomes part of your general MO, karma becomes very generous.
• Think narrowly. You can’t be everything to everyone, so don’t try to catch more fish using a broader net. The opposite is actually true. By defining yourself narrowly, you differentiate yourself in a memorable way.
Relationship marketing revolves around developing authentic personal relationships with members of the communities you participate in. When it comes to relationship marketing, a narrowly-defined focus will help you define and deepen your connections.
Marketing a niche specialty can help you grow your business. Saying you’re a business lawyer or a commercial litigator is too broad and is not memorable. Are you a lawyer focused on complex M&A transactions or international law or small business employment law? Be clear and distinctive, so people know exactly who to connect you with.
When it comes to relationship networking, being focused will help you stand out and will help you establish yourself as a reliable resource in your specific area.
• Go virtual. Like it or not, the business world has become virtual, and some hybrid model is likely to persist for the foreseeable future.
While most of us may miss the human contact, there are some benefits to this new way of connecting. Being in your home and on videoconferencing offers many more ways for people to get to know you. The rules of engagement have loosened up. If the dog barks, invite him into the meeting and introduce him as your CEO. If your 3-year-old daughter comes strolling in, pick her up and let her say a few words. Introduce your spouse.
People are interested in what is behind the screen. It makes them smile and it shows something about your personality outside of work, which is key in making you more dimensional.
And yes, you can dress more casually. If you have a formal business meeting, maybe you pull out the power suit, but otherwise, it’s unnatural to be dressed up in your house. Don’t wear your ratty bathrobe, but by all means, you can dress down and be appropriate.
Every situation offers something valuable, and this one is no different. Allowing people to see your environment, how you live, and who you live with may humanize you faster than in-person meetings could ever do.
The main goal of relationship marketing is to engage with people in your communities to create deeper connections that lead to loyal, emotionally bonded relationships.
Engaged clients and referral sources will improve your reputation, increase your bottom line, and, in many instances, establish lifelong friendships that improve your personal and professional life for the long haul.
Joe Chatham, based in Wellesley, Massachusetts, is founder and managing partner of USA 500 Clubs, a platform for professionals — including attorneys and other professionals — to build relationships that result in commerce and camaraderie.