Networking: For Lawyers, Making “The Ask” is the Hardest Part
Without any question, the best way to develop new business is by leveraging your existing relationships with friends, colleagues, and most importantly clients. When given the choice to attend a networking event or have a meeting with an existing client to chat about possible introductions, I’d always choose the latter. The concern many attorneys have with this type of meeting is the underlying fear of how they’ll be perceived. No one wants to come across salesy, pushy, or needy. Additionally, there’s always the risk of asking for something and not getting it. Having been in business development for over 20 years, I understand how worrisome asking for business can appear to most people, particularly attorneys.
Years ago, Neale Donald Walsch explained that “FEAR is an acronym . . . for ‘False Evidence Appearing Real.’ ” What this means is that most of the fear you may be feeling is really unwarranted to some degree. Are you swimming with sharks or walking a thousand feet up on a tightrope? The things that we should be truly afraid of don’t exist as a part of our everyday lives, so we’ve created other fears that fit better into our world. Years ago I used to have a fear of public speaking. Just the idea of getting in front of a group of people made me break out in a cold sweat. However, like most things that we’re afraid of, simply being prepared and doing it changed everything for me. I realized there was little to fear as long as I knew my material.
Asking for introductions or business from friends, colleagues, and clients is not that different. You must be prepared, follow a process, and use language that makes the exchange more comfortable for both parties, as noted in Chapter 10. But here are a couple of pointers specifically related to obtaining business from friends, colleagues, and clients.
Tip #1: Plan ahead.
Be sure to set up the idea of a quality introduction prior to the face-to-face meeting. No one likes surprises, so be sure to call ahead. By asking for permission to discuss possible introductions at the meeting, you’re essentially adding one extra element to the agenda.
There are three solid approaches for this depending on your level of comfort with the individual and the process: “quid pro quo”; “you’re happy . . . should someone else be happy?”; and “I’m not comfortable asking, but . . . .” Here’s how to lay the groundwork for possible quality introductions in each:
Quid pro quo.
“I know you’re wired in and have lots of powerful connections. I believe I have some good ones too. Would you be open to discussing some possible introductions we could make for one another as a part of our meeting next week?”
You’re happy . . . should someone else be happy?
“I know you’ve been really happy with the work and positive results we’ve had together over the past few years. I was hoping we might take a few minutes near the end of our meeting next week to consider a few of your strongest connections, as they might be able to benefit from working with me as well. Is that something you’d be open to discussing briefly when we meet?”
I’m not comfortable asking, but . . . .
“There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you, but I’m really uncomfortable with it. I’m looking to continue growing my practice and would really appreciate your help with some introductions to people you know with whom I could work. Is that something you’d be open to helping me with?”
These approaches are all permission based and logical in the way they’re used. In the first option, you’re offering to connect your friend, colleague, or client with people in your network, so you’re not simply being a Taker. In the second option, you’re repeating what your friend, colleague, or client has already told you about the great work you’ve done. It only makes sense that you help his or her friends, vendors, and clients with their legal needs; after all, if you knew a great doctor and your loved one was sick, wouldn’t you want this doctor involved? The third option is great for the attorney who’s afraid of using one of the other two techniques. In it, you’re being honest in admitting that you’re uncomfortable with asking, but are pushing yourself. By expressing your true feelings to your friend, colleague, or client, he or she will want to help you. That’s what good people do for others.
Whichever option you choose, be sure to do this on the phone ahead of the meeting. There’s a good chance your client will actually think up a few names before meeting with you. How nice would that be?
Tip #2: Be curious and ask for advice.
When meeting with a friend or relative, there are two important elements to focus on. The first is to be very curious. For example, if you’re meeting with someone with whom you’ve not discussed much business, you could say, “I saw your profile on LinkedIn and am very interested in learning more about what you do. Really fascinating stuff.” This sets up the opportunity to ask lots of questions, which can lead to openings for you to uncover business or legal problems. People love to talk about themselves, and asking questions helps you learn more about their professional needs.
The second element is asking for advice. Just as people love talking about themselves, they also love to give advice and opinions. You could say, “You’re the best salesperson I’ve ever met. I’m looking to continue growing my practice, and I’d love to get your advice on the subject. Would you be open to discussing this when we meet on Thursday?”
Whichever direction you choose, little can be lost by asking questions or for advice. Typically, both of these approaches will lead to developing the relationship further and learning more about the opportunity in front of you.
As long as asking friends, colleagues, and clients for quality introductions is done in a nonaggressive manner, you’ll be happy with the results. If this still seems hard for you, ask yourself these two questions: First, is obtaining an introduction from a friend or client easier or more difficult than from a stranger whom you’ve just met at a networking event? Second, what do you really have to lose? If the friend or client isn’t open to making an introduction, then so be it. At least now you know where you stand with that individual, which is a good thing to know.