Reprinted from the “Shelton Shares” Column in Attorney at Law Magazine
I’m a head hunter. My network is my career. So networking at the highest levels has been a skill I’ve honed over my 25 years in the business. Following are my 3 keys to networking – how to develop and more importantly, maintain a high value network.
1. It’s Better to Make One Good Connection Than Gather Fifty Cards
I’ve seen people come out of networking conference, bragging about having gotten a hundred business cards. To me, that’s the sign of an amateur.
The more savvy executive is the guy or gal who comes out with the cards of 3-10 people with whom they made a strong connection.
How is that done? First, don’t be the cliché who spends just enough time to get a card and then moves onto the next person. When I meet someone at an event, the first think I do is assess whether they’re a High Value Target. No offense to BMW salesmen and Multi-Level Marketing gurus but those are folks that I can easily meet just about anywhere.
Does that mean I’m rude or brush them off? No. Most of the time, they’ll hang out just long enough to get me card and move onto they’re next prospect. If not, I’ll engage for a few minutes and then tell them it was great to meet them and gracefully extricate myself.
When I do meet an attorney, executive or other professional who I’ve determined would be valuable or just plain fun to know, I’m not concerned with giving them my “elevator pitch” or engaging in self-promotion. Everyone does that. I stand out because I take a genuine interest in them.
Once I’ve learned a bit about them, I try to think of ways I can help them. By focusing on what I can give without agenda, I exude a very different feel than most of the people around me. It’s a huge edge.
Next, I try to find things we share in common such as tennis, golf, common interest in subject matter such as cybersecurity, blockchain etc. or a charity we both support. These are the reasons we will have to spend time together in the future and for me to keep in touch.
2. If You Don’t Follow Up, You Haven’t Networked at All
The single biggest mistake I see attorneys and other professionals make is to get a card and then not follow up. This is mostly because they have no idea what to do.
My strategy is simple. Connect with them on the appropriate social media platform (90% of the time, it’s LinkedIn as I’m in a B2B niche vertical). I’ll maintain contact there, like and share their posts when appropriate and so on.
I’ll also drop new connections a note within 48 hours of meeting them. It will include a brief reference to what we discussed and if possible, something personal, such as having thought of them because I was scheduling a tee time or reading a piece on GDPR and CCPA.
A good habit to develop, is figuring out a way I can help them. Is there someone in my network who they would benefit from knowing and vice versa? Is there an event I’ll be attending or speaking at, that they might enjoy?
From there, I’ll suggest meeting for lunch or drinks at an “Established Kingdom” (somewhere I know I’ll get VIP treatment) or even ask if they would like to join me for a round of golf at the club.
3. Maintenance is the Difference Between Amateurs and Pros
Later contacts will include emails or texts that include links to articles I’ve written or come across, that I think they might appreciate, as well as a personal anecdote. The Pareto Principle comes into play here. Roughly 80% or more of my content is business and 20% or less is personal. Some people remain valuable business contacts and never really develop into friendships. Others become genuine friends and the Pareto Principle is eliminated. An email or call can be completely personal, completely business or as is usually the case, a mix of both (my friends tend to have the same penchant for talking business as I do).
Some of my best friends are people I only see or talk to a few times a year because they travel so much for work, which is fine and something we all understand. Fortunately, texts, emails and calls keep the connection.
Other people hear the sound of my voice at least once a month. Not a text or email. A call. This creates a much stronger, personal/business relationship, than even the most personalized emails.
Of course I can’t keep in touch via phone with over a thousand people so I do spend time sending personalized emails and to those who are strictly business contacts, a monthly or quarterly e-newsletter.
The key is important to maintain contact on a regular basis. When this is done right, you can pick up the phone and call someone with expertise on or access to anything, and they’ll take your call. Because they know you will take theirs.
Frederick Shelton is the CEO of Shelton & Steele and provides Rainmaking & Legal-Specific AI Consulting to lawyers and law firms. He can be reached at email@example.com