The zero-networking approach to business development

A solicitor's career hinges on their ability to win work. Douglas McPherson suggests five alternative options for those that don't like formal networking.
Network chalkboard

When business development is mentioned solicitors generally think that this means networking, and when solicitors think ‘networking’, they immediately think of formal networking events. The trouble is that most people (me included) don’t like formal networking events.

Unfortunately for those that don’t like and won’t do formal networking, a solicitor’s career does hinge on their ability to win work. This means you can’t just ignore business development; you need to find alternative ways to ensure you are making a positive and productive contribution to winning work for your firm.

To get you thinking about what those alternatives could be, here are five activities you could do instead.

1. Real CRM

When it comes to winning new work, law firms (generally speaking) think new client acquisition first, generating professional referrals second, and farming your current client base third.

I have no idea why. Surely it’s easier to win more work from the people who have already chosen you, bought from you and are used to working with you?

One of the first suggestions I usually make to clients is to flip that list and put current clients front and centre in their marketing plans.

First, identify your top clients. Pareto’s 80:20 rule (80 per cent of your fees are generated by 20 per cent of your clients) is usually a pretty accurate yardstick. Make a list of those top clients and develop a structured plan that’ll remind you when to see them and what to talk about when you do. Find out what they really consider to be added value and deliver that added value.

Introduce them to colleagues in other practice areas, as well as to potentially useful contacts within your wider personal network – in this way, you’ll win more work from them (for yourself and for your colleagues). And because you’re front of mind and are recognised as actively managing your relationships, your clients will generate more opportunities by introducing and referring you to their wider personal networks.

2. Write

It’s a well-worn marketing cliché but content really is king.

To be credible, and to generate a more productive SEO (search engine optimisation) presence, you need to produce a continual flow of articles, news and commentary on the area/s you specialise in. If they are to catch the eye and deliver value to your readers these pieces need to have the following characteristics.

Practical and relevant: Use points of reference your clients will understand and relate to, and tell them something they can use in their daily lives.

Readable: Don’t use jargon, legalese or complicated legal concepts. Always write in plain English.

Published: Articles also need to be published in something your clients read, whether that’s a legal publication or Computer Weekly. Find out what your clients read (online or print) and approach the editor with a good idea that’ll provide information that will benefit their readers.

Promoted: Once you have published a piece, tell people about it. Promote the link via social media, republish it using the post function on LinkedIn, send out the link on your firm’s newsletter, email the PDF to your contacts. 

Consider repurposing your articles - organisations are always on the look-out for quality content, so once your piece has been published in one place, offer it to other publications as well. Always secure permission from the original place it has been published first. 

3. Speak

Think about the average networking event. There may be 100 people there, but you’re likely to only speak to five or so. And of those, maybe only three are interesting. Imagine if you were the speaker… You would get immediate and direct access to all 100.

If you are someone who enjoys talking to an audience about what you know best – your daily work – then giving a presentation is one of the most productive business development tools there is.

The key things to remember when it comes to presentations are to never bamboozle your audience with technical brilliance or force them into ocular submission with an unending series of text-heavy slides. Again, make sure your content is relevant, practical and valuable. Always speak in plain English and give clear direction your audience can take away and use immediately.

4. Play on your interests

Networking is never as much of a chore if you are doing something you like with people you like. Instead of turning up at the same old local networking events, the Chamber or the Institute of Directors, set up your own group of likeminded individuals who share a common interest.

We’ve seen a raft of different events including:

A ‘Come Dine With Me’ group in Liverpool comprising of a tax accountant, a solicitor, a barrister and IFA

A 5-a-side team in Cheltenham of IP attorneys, accountants and solicitors just under partner level

The Sheffield Gin Club, 30 (yes, 30!) young professionals who were sick of being serviced tepid and distinctly average house wine at events decided to go gin tasting once every few months at an interesting local venue.

Suits & Vinyl. A group of vinyl anoraks decided to combine their love of music with the need to network and set up a monthly event for members bring one record and to play to the other members. This is now the busiest, most anticipated and most enjoyable network in Leeds, a city that is both over-solicitored and over-networked.

The reason doing something you actually enjoy works so well is that you will actually go rather than finding a last-minute reason not to. It is also tends to be more productive because the common interests you share will allow you to develop closer-knit relationships than you will at more general events, and the closer the relationship, the more likely it is to generate referrals and introductions.

5. Research

If the idea of networking, writing or presenting leaves you in a cold sweat, focus on research. This may not be an obvious marketing or business development option, but research is an essential function: where should your firm’s networkers network, writers write and speakers speak? Making a tangible contribution to business development doesn’t have to depend on leading from the front.

Monitor industry and local news feeds and distribute useful links to use on social media and suggest angles to use for future articles and e-shots.

Having someone on the team willing to take up the spade and do some digging not only frees up more time for your front line marketers to get on with it, but also provides better results by uncovering less obvious events / publications / groups that are less likely to be flooded by your competitors.

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