Networking is a necessary and essential part of building a strong referral network for any professional – but especially for attorneys, financial advisors, and accountants. Having a strong referral network is generally one of the top sources of new business for professionals. For this reason, we believe it is essential to understand the keys to successful networking with other professionals in a way that will build trust the fastest.
Focus on Who You Already Know
When you initially begin networking with other professionals, it is important that you take some steps to build your confidence by meeting with other professionals that you either already know, or who are introduced to you by someone you already know and trust. Because of this, we encourage you to focus on “easy win” networking meetings first.
Some examples of people you can network with first to help you build your confidence are:
- College friends
- Neighbors (who are professionals)
- Friends (from the gym, church, people with whom you share a hobby or interest)
- Younger staff at a firm that your partners or colleagues already have a relationship with
- Members of an Association or Organization (Chamber) that you are involved in
- Professionals you have been introduced to by a trusted friend or colleague (or by your marketing coach)
Once you have identified a person to invite out to a networking meeting, we suggest that the best place to go with that person is out for coffee. We have found that for an initial networking meeting, coffee provides the least amount of “pressure”. It allows you to both arrive at separate times without it being too awkward. It also allows you to leave quickly if for some reason the meeting isn’t going well. There is also no chance of the awkward question of who should pick up the check for lunch. We have found through experience that inviting someone you do not know out for a happy hour could put them in an awkward position if they either do not drink, or they are not able to take time away from their family or personal time after work. For all of these reasons, we suggest inviting your networking contact out for coffee first.
Networking over Coffee – Keep It Low Key
During your first networking meeting, we recommend you focus on just getting to know that person – without any expectations or pressure on either of you regarding referrals. It’s just too soon. We encourage our clients to be the first person to ask questions. We have found that this is the most successful way to control a meeting and also put the other individual at ease. Our suggestion is that you focus on asking 3-5 questions first. Here is a list of questions you can ask:
- How was your drive?
- Did you find the location okay?
- What do you do?
- Who do you help?
- Who is your ideal client?
- How can I help you?
The last question, “How can I help you?” is the most important question you can ask during any networking meeting. The goal of any networking meeting is to develop a strong relationship with the other person and the main way you can develop a strong relationship – and develop trust – is by helping others. Make it your main priority to ask the other person how you can help them.
In my next blog post, I will be focusing on the steps involved in making a professional introduction. Making professional introductions and then giving client referrals is the essential building block of a strong, productive referral network. Until then – happy networking!