This week in Things I Wish I Knew, solo attorney Joleena Louis discovers she has wasted a lot of time with her solo attorney networking strategy and adjusts it to get the highest ROI on her investment of time.
The most important thing I learned during my first year in solo law practice was how to get clients.
I had never really had to be a rainmaker while employed at a firm, and for me, this was the most terrifying aspect about going solo.
The one upside of starting a solo law practice with no clients is that you’re not swamped with legal work, so you have endless amounts of time to figure it out (at least until your savings runs out)!
The advice I got from other lawyers was “get out there and network”, and that’s what I did. And it worked, for a while.
Now, all of my clients come from referrals and I meet most of my referral sources through networking. Although networking is a great tool, it is also incredibly time consuming. I found that as my practice got busier it was difficult to get in as much networking time, and it became impossible to build relationships with the people I met.
Looking back, I realize there were a big problem with my initial networking “plan”: basically, I didn’t have one.
I just went to any networking event (or joined groups) that I was invited to attend. I mingled, collected business cards and left.
This strategy worked well enough for my first year in practice, but I definitely wasted a lot of time, money and energy.
If I am going to meet my goal of doubling profits this year, I need to take my networking to the next level.
Going forward I decided that I will have to network more strategically. Here’s what I’m now doing.
Step 1. Get crystal clear about your ideal client for more frequent (and better quality) referrals.
When I started my practice, I assumed that anyone can know someone who needs a divorce lawyer. So in terms of developing referral sources, I judged everyone I met equally.
This was a big mistake.
While the approach led to referrals, they were not always good referrals. Plus, I wasted a lot of time meeting with networking contacts who ultimately produced no business, and for whom I would never reciprocate.
I also noticed it was hard to differentiate myself from other divorce lawyers. At many of the events I attended there were matrimonial lawyers who were much more “seasoned” than me. This put me at a disadvantage.
By narrowing my client focus – professional men involved in child custody disputes – I separated me from the competition. I became known as an expert in a niche.
It seems counter-intuitive, but by focusing on a narrow niche, the volume of referrals I got actually increased.
There were two reasons for this happening. First, the niche is memorable. When that particular situation comes up for people, they think of me and give me a call.
Second, it opened the door to getting referrals from an unlikely source: my competition.
Before I branded myself in this niche, other matrimonial lawyers simply viewed me as competition and were dismissive of me at networking events. By focusing on this practice niche, which is one that many matrimonial lawyers don’t want to handle (child custody cases), referrals from my competition increased dramatically.
Since I am frequently in front of other matrimonial lawyers, both in court and at Bar events, where I will be anyway this has been an easy and productive way for me to network. I do it as I go about my everyday business.
The end result: a higher ROI on my networking time.Focusing on a narrow niche in my solo law practice increased the volume of referrals Click To Tweet
Step 2. Only network with the most likely referral sources.
When I analyzed where my business had came from in 2014 I started to see some patterns. The people who referred the most business could basically be grouped into two or three categories.
By understanding where the majority of my business was coming from, I then had a better idea of who I should be networking with. Instead of attending every networking activity that I am invited to, I now narrow down the events and groups where those “likely” referrals sources will be, guaranteeing that the time I spend at these events will produce the highest ROI.
Step 3. Use the time recovered by networking more strategically to invest in better relationships with potential referral sources.
One of the networking groups I participated in last year was BNI. While it wasn’t productive from a business development perspective, it helped me improve my networking skills significantly.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from my time at BNI was that, no matter how much people like you, they won’t refer business to you if they don’t remember you.
Knowing where to go and who I need to meet will produce nothing if I don’t build relationships with the people I network with.
Relationship building is the hard part of networking. It’s time consuming and time is now the most precious commodity in my world.
If you don’t know your target client, and you are not meeting people who are most likely to send you referrals, the amount of time you waste networking will increase exponentially. But the opposite holds true. If you are strategic about your networking, you can see an exponential growth of new business, which I hope to achieve this year!
What about you? What’s the networking activity that you see the most ROI? Let’s chat about it in the comments below.
This is a great summary of the difficulties of finding your feet when flying solo. (Is that a new phrase for wing walking?) It’s timely advice for all small business owners – and particularly for me as I ended my relationship with one networking group just yesterday.
The key is surely to find a way to measure the success (return) on the time and money you’re investing. On the other hand, I’ve met many people at network events who turn up once or twice, decide it isn’t working and disappear forever. That’s not realistic either – once you’ve identified a potential network you have to invest the time to build relationships. But measuring the benefits all the time.
I know plenty of people who see the cost of their networking only in terms of membership and attendance fees. (Ironically the most effective meetings I go to tend to be free events). But that’s wrong. The next step is to see how much time you’re using. I was going to one meeting a week at the network I mention above, average time 4 hours – that’s 24 days a year!
If you have a day rate that figure alone will be pretty frightening, but we wouldn’t keep up any other marketing spend that only returned a pound (or dollar) of income for each one spent. What multiple would you expect? Double, triple or more? Now you have a really robust measure of worth.
Of course there are other reasons to network – don’t forget the pleasure you get from finding the chance to link two disparate contacts who have the potential to help each other. And that builds the strongest relationships of all.