GPSOLO January/February 2009
Introductions: A Powerful Marketing Tool
If there was ever a time that I regretted being right about something, I have to say without a doubt that one of those times was anticipating the current economic downturn in my April/May 2008 GPSolo column “Recession 2008: Ten Steps Solos Should Take Right Now” ( www.abanet.org/genpractice/magazine/2008/apr-may/beingsolo.html).
A Tough Climate to Run Any Business
There is plenty of turmoil in New York City these days, with every week seeming to bring another major financial institution to its knees after months of assurances that it was in solid shape, and the stock market going through its daily record-breaking gyrations. Thousands of people are joining the ranks of the unemployed along with the millions nationwide, and now New York City and New York State have to deal with huge budget gaps owing to the loss of all of the tax revenue from the decimated investment banking industry. Journalists have piled on big-time, with the front page of each day’s paper featuring several national and local stories about our nation’s tanking economy.
So far my business and real estate law practice has not been significantly impacted by all of this bad news, and putting aside luck for the moment—which I am sure explains some of it—I think I know of one other important reason why my law practice is still humming along.
The Secret Sauce
Let’s go back to my very first Being Solo column in October 2002, where I stated that marketing your law practice is a numbers game. The more people you meet and the more people you can build into your network of contacts, the more likely it is that you will generate business.
It has always been in my nature to get out and mix with people, something that I love to do. The trouble is that there are only so many hours in the day, and as a solo lawyer you barely have time to do the work, bill for it, and then make sure that you get paid, never mind meeting and cultivating substantial relationships with hundreds of people who might refer you business. And life would be wonderful if that was all you had to deal with, but then there are all of the interruptions. Let’s face it: A visit from the fix-it guy to repair that leak in your roof can kill an entire afternoon of your home-based law practice.
But don’t despair. Permit me to share with you a technique that I use to multiply my face-to-face marketing time. What’s my secret sauce? For just about my entire professional career, I’ve made a point of bringing people together. Whether I could be directly helped by such an introduction was not important. What mattered was that the people I was introducing could benefit one another.
I’ve introduced lawyers who have become law partners, business people who have become close friends, and clients to my clients. Sometimes I get a call from someone to whom I had passed on a name a couple of years ago and find out that a great personal or business relationship had developed.
I don’t keep count. I don’t have to because keeping count isn’t the point. The point is that by introducing people to each other, I am leaving a very special calling card, one that will last a lot longer than that boring lawyer’s business card I typically hand out.
How does this multiply my marketing time? Well, consider when you meet someone socially whom you believe might be a potential client or source of clients. You hand out your business card and give your elevator speech. Then what? Maybe a follow-up e-mail or phone call, or even a get-together for lunch or drinks after work. If nothing develops in those few contacts, you probably both fade from each other’s memory.
But what if you think of someone who might be helpful to them? For example, if you meet someone who is a commercial printer and feel reasonably confident that his or her company does good work at a fair price, why not introduce this printer to a law firm that you know? Law firms are great clients for commercial printers, given their need for letterhead, business cards, and document duplication in litigation matters. And I’m sure that you know lots of law firms, whether they are solo practices or partnerships.
That printer will remember your efforts a lot more from an introduction than from your handing out your business card. If business develops from your introduction, then your printer friend will be reminded of you every time he or she does business with the law firm client.
Introductions are not only a good thing for people whom you have just met, but also for existing clients. Clients are often excellent sources for referrals, and useful introductions will make them better cheerleaders for you.
Tips on Matchmaking
For those early into your career, I’ll tell you that my hit rate for successful introductions has gone up tremendously as I’ve gotten more gray hairs, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t have any success with this marketing tool—you may just have to try harder with more introductions.
Be sincere in your desire to bring people together. It’s better that you do nothing at all than make a mechanical attempt to introduce people. They will know it right away, and it will hardly help with your trying to form more enduring relationships. On the other hand, the more you enjoy it, the better it will go.
A very important thing to remember is that you should only introduce people whom you personally know and feel confident are quality people. Otherwise, the introduction could backfire and you could risk alienating people when a person you bring into your circle turns out to be a dud or, worse, a bad person. I learned this earlier in my career when I relied on someone else’s vetting of a person whom I introduced to a major player in the Internet space, which resulted in a bad experience and caused me to lose that relationship.
Introductions can be made by your taking both parties out to lunch, by an e-mail introduction addressed to both parties, or by giving a phone number to one party to call the other party. How much time you put into the introduction will depend on the level of introduction and the nature of your relationship with each party.
Certainly, taking both parties out to lunch will have a much greater impact, but that doesn’t mean that you should be spending the time and money in each instance. That printer, for example, will be happy with a name and phone number of the appropriate contact at the law firm. All you will have to do first is check with your contact there to be sure that it’s okay for the printer to call.
Rewards (Not the Free Mileage Kind)
I find bringing people together tremendous fun. I once spent most of an afternoon locating a fill-in speaker for a friend after her usual guest lecturer dropped out at the last minute. I tapped one of my clients as the speaker, and the two of them hit it off well, leading to their working together again after the lecture. I put aside billable work to do this, but both the emotional and relationship rewards made it worth it.
So go out there and try making some introductions. Who knows, maybe in addition to creating some solid business relations you might one day get invited to a wedding.
David Leffler is a member of the New York City law firm Leffler Marcus & McCaffrey LLC, which represents clients in business matters and litigation. Prior to that he was a solo attorney for more than a dozen years. In his spare time he blogs at staringatstrangers.com. You may write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.