Networking, Marketing, and Everything in Between
The Bencher—January/February 2017
By Ada K. Wong, Esquire
Networking and talking to people have always been fairly easy for me. As early as I can remember, my family and I moved frequently. My father’s job took him to new cities on a regular basis and we often moved within county or city lines so my younger sister and I could attend better schools (I attended at least a dozen different elementary schools, two middle schools, and four high schools). The longest I stayed in one city was just over two years, when I was in college.
I realize that not everyone is good at—or enjoys—networking or meeting new people. But I believe that you can change that if you try. It’s important to be not only networking but also marketing.
I did not understand that distinction at first. When I met new people and attended social events, I wanted them to think of me as a qualified lawyer candidate to work at their company or firm—in other words, networking. The idea of finding new clients or having to one day generate clients—marketing—was not on my mind.
Further, I thought I would have at least four or five years to figure out how to generate my own clients if I became a partner at a law firm.
When I started my second job after graduation, the emphasis of being a partner at the small firm started to seep in. Pretty quickly, I started to think and act differently, this time with a focus on marketing. At age 24, I felt too inexperienced and young to promote myself and my work effectively, but I could tell people how great my firm was, its resources, its knowledgeable partners, and how well the firm could take care of them.
Soon I realized that I should be selling not only my firm, but myself as well. There is no guarantee the same partners, firm reputation, or resources will be there years later, but I will always be me, and my reputation will always follow.
I joined the William L. Dwyer American Inn of Court during my 3L year while attending the University of Washington School of Law. The Inn is by far one of my greatest networking experiences. The members are diverse in term of practice areas and they are all willing to help a bright-eyed, eager soon-to-be lawyer like myself. A few years later, wanting to become more involved in the Inn, I ran for a positon on the executive board. Although I did not win, I was not disheartened; the loss served as a reminder to meet more people and try again the following year. Currently, I am serving my second term as the Public Relations Chair of the Inn.
To get to a similar comfort level with networking and marketing, try these tips.
Be patient and follow up.
Nothing grows overnight. As early as during our first year of law school, we were told to plant seeds everywhere, even though some may not grow for five or 10 years. Be patient and persistent. Keep yourself on people’s minds by following up.
After meeting someone, set a “tickler” in your calendar to follow up via e-mail a week later. Have a procedure in place: Connect via LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter. Follow up again two to three months later with an invitation for coffee, lunch, or happy hour. In another three to five months, follow up again, if not in person then at least with a thoughtful e-mail referring to something of interest to your contact. Did you see something in the news that reminded you of the person? Share that story. Maybe the last time you spoke, you discovered a shared interest in running a half marathon. If you finally got around to completing yours, why not drop a quick e-mail with the update and see what the other person is up to?
On the same note, I make it a habit to always thank people for their time. Did you call an attorney in your practice area or a partner at another law firm for thoughts about your case? Send a thank-you note—handwritten. While you are at it, why not add a line reminding them what practice areas you focus on, especially if they do not handle such cases? That takes one extra minute.
It is never too early to start.
To be honest, I did not understand the importance of marketing during my early years of practice. I understood the importance of networking after it was drilled into my head throughout law school—and networking was how I landed my first two jobs out of law school. But marketing was a completely different beast. I always thought if I worked hard and produced top-notch work product, clients would find me. Although this is true to a certain degree, working hard and producing quality work is not enough today, especially with the boom of social media and firms with unbeatable marketing budgets.
There are many approaches to marketing but I believe that to be an effective marketer, you must market yourself, not your firm, not your practice area, not the huge verdicts your firm obtained, not the endless resources your firm has, and not the prestigious partners at your firm—but YOU. When people think about a lawyer, the first name that should pop into their head is yours—not your firm (unless you are a solo, then maybe). Many attorneys change firms and practice areas. You want people to think about you and hire you, no matter where you are. You want to be the first choice for anyone needing an attorney or legal advice. If you are unable to help, send them to a trustworthy colleague and make sure they are well taken care of. By developing these relationships, prospective clients will come to you each time they have a legal question or need representation—and refer their friends and family to you.
Know the message you want to convey.
This one is a hard one, at least for me. It took me a long time to think about what kind of message I wanted to convey when I met someone or when people looked at my website or social media platforms.
Think of what you want your message to be early on and make sure everything conveys that, explicitly or implicitly. This message should be specific and tailored to you and your practice, not a general or generic message.
I want to make sure that people know if I cannot help them, I will find them someone who can—and I make sure to do that. This includes non-legal problems, and is where networking with people outside of your practice areas (and law in general) becomes useful. Maybe a past client needs a financial advisor: If I can get that person to pick up the phone and call me early on during the search, I feel that I have successfully conveyed my message—I want to solve your problems, not just your legal problems, but all your problems. I want my name in their minds whenever they have a life issue—legal or not.
Beware of social media pitfalls.
One thing I learned the hard way is to make sure you have a good disclaimer on all of your social media pages, or at least on your website and any other pages where a person can contact you.
Find out which sites work for you and focus on those. I have been advised to sign up for Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, etc. There is no way I can possibly keep up with all of those myself, and I did not want to outsource it. You can play around and try to figure out which sites work for you and stick with those. Something that works great for an attorney in a particular practice area may not work as well for you.
Also, run regular Internet searches on yourself, your firm, and any aliases you may have. Sign up for Google Alerts for your name and firm. For sites that pull your name and contact information and place it on their own search engines, make sure the information is accurate and updated. Even if you did not publish that information, if you are aware of it, you have a duty to make sure it is accurate.
Never eat alone.
OK, well maybe not never, but marketing is a contact sport. This means getting out of the office and meeting people. Be active in the community. If you are shy, do this with a friend. Have your friend introduce you to another friend; repeat and reciprocate. Join local organizations or service clubs. Try to join the board of a non-profit or an organization with few or no attorneys so you can be their go-to legal advisor.
Meet up with people for lunch, coffee, or happy hour. Take people out for drinks or sporting events. This includes past clients, your realtor, accountant, or banker, etc. Go for the purpose of meeting new people and building long-lasting relationships. If your purpose is to get new clients, people will see through that. Go out there and have fun.
Track your sources.
Have a system in place to track where your potential clients are coming from. Based on that, try to figure out how your “better quality” clients are finding you, so when you need to reassess—and I suggest every four to six months—it will make your job easier. I always ask callers how they found our firm’s phone number, and my assistants are instructed to obtain this info within the first two minutes from new callers.
Have a plan—and follow through.
Ideally, you have a written marketing plan. It does not matter if you deviate from it, but you want to see where you are spending your money and if that is cost-effective. Decide how much money you are going to spend in the next six, 12, and 24 months, and see where the best places to spend that money are. It may be time-consuming, but it is an important—and necessary—investment in yourself.
Be as detailed as you can in your plan: who are you going to call, where will you meet your target audience, why are they your target audience, what kind of outcome are you expecting from this? How many hours a week or month will you spend on networking and marketing? This includes meeting people, blogging, updating your social media, maintaining your website, and so forth. Once you put pen to paper, it turns into a to-do list; you are more likely to follow through. If you are too busy to sit down and write out a marketing plan, try spending Sunday nights jotting down three marketing activities that you will complete the following week—and follow through.
Talk to people and hand out your card.
Make it your goal to hand out one business card per day to start. Then two a day, then three a day, etc. Hand them out to everyone you come into contact with (while complying with the RPC). Take out those headphones at the gym or on your way to work. Talk to people.
I constantly hand out my cards to existing clients every time they come in or when I see them outside of the office. I do not care if I have already given them three business cards in the past few months—chances are, they either lost them or threw them away. If not, then they have an extra one for a friend or co-worker.
Ask for referrals.
Many times people do not put two and two together. I find that unless you specifically tell people to send referrals your way, they won’t. Bottom line is to ask—tactfully. Do not leave it to the person to jump to that conclusion.
Create a positive name brand for yourself.
What do you want to be known for? If your reputation precedes you, what do you want that reputation to be? Are you known for cutting corners? Having questionable ethics? Or maybe you’re the hard worker that is relentless in fighting for what’s right. Are you meticulous in your strategy and game plan? Whatever your name brand is, make it a positive one.
Ada K. Wong, Esquire is a civil litigation attorney and owner of AKW Law. She is a member of the William L. Dwyer AIC in Seattle, Washington and is also a member of the editorial board for The Bencher.
© 2017 ADA K. WONG, ESQ. This article was originally published in the January/February 2017 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the express written consent of the American Inns of Court.