Referral Resources

Referral Resources

A July 2010 discussion on SoloSez, the email listserv for general practice, solo and small firm lawyers

Like everyone else, I have some bad habits, such as eating, and liking a roof over my head. So, I continuously look for this thing called 'income'.

Lately, I've been doing what I call the 'maximum allowed' tour - the number of times I can visit with a group before they force me to join. I've had some promising meetings, and given away plenty o' cards, and even got a consultation. But I need to keep plugging away, and I'm considering joining a group. I'm looking for your experiences - did you find any better than others, all were useless, or...???

What I've looked at thus far (comments/suggestions welcome on any in the Los Angeles area): Chambers of Commerce, Rotary, TEAM groups and BNI.

I'm wondering about Kiwanis, Lions...and ???

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BNI worked very, very well for me, but  I think it depends on your practice areas. The reason I use the past tense was I left the chapter I was in because it was getting a little stale after two years.

I am not sure of the ethics rules re: BNI in CA, but before everyone jumps on their respective keyboards, BNI is perfectly fine for NY lawyers.

Jeena Belil, New York

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The EP attorney I contracted with is very involved with the local Kiwanis chapter.  It has worked out well for him. He recommended I join BNI.  After I discussed some of my ethical concerns about joining such a group, I feel a bit  better.  Like you...I have an income issue.  I need to do all those initial meetings first, and then decide if it is worth it to pay the money to join.  I have checked out several of the local groups here and unless  there are a lot more members than are listed on the website, I am not  sure that, for me, it is the most worthwhile investment.   But there are several other groups I am interested in, other than BNI, which may be better options for me.

I have recently begun thinking about what ways I do better, from a networking standpoint.  I am much better with the one-on-one.  When I know people, no one would think I have a shy bone in my body. But I am not very comfortable in large groups where I don't know anyone.  So, I have been thinking about whether I would be better served just reaching out to people, one on one, for networking. 

I don't know.

Good luck, and keep us posted how you ultimately decide!

Dana K. West, North Carolina

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In what areas of law do you practice?  Personally, for my business practice, I find that one-on-one networking works best.  The problem with BNI andrelated groups is that while you meet a lot of people many of them have nothing to offer to you and you wind up wasting a lot of time on individualswho are not qualified prospects or likely to lead to qualified prospects. I've spent a good part of the summer trying to set up lunches and coffees with existing clients and telling them that my goal is to land one solid "anchor client" by the end of the summer, i.e. a client that will need work on a month to month basis and that will generate a monthly fee over a set amount.  As a result, I've been introduced to their contacts and their contacts' contacts and I've been able to really focus my efforts on qualified prospects.

Anyway, that's what works for me.   

Trippe S. Fried, District of Columbia

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The question really becomes what type of clients are you looking for or more importantly who do you want as your referral partners...I know that is the million dollar question...this will dictate what type of networking groups you will either want to join or try to attend regularly. Depending on what type of law you are going to do...and I think you are a tax attorney from previous posts...will also guide you to what group you should join.

In other words, it doesn't make a ton of sense for a criminal/DUI attorney to stake out the local Chambers of Commerce.  Now, that could be a great place to network to at least get your name out there but, and not to disparage anyone with a DUI or criminal record, Chamber members tend not to have a ton of that type of work to pass out or pass your name along to their network.  Now, if you are doing tax work for small business I'd say the Chamber is a great place to start and branch your network from there.  But, I would also focus on local CPA groups that met regularly in the area. You might also look at local estate planning groups - though they'll be a a focus on estate planning - there generally a wide group of professionals in the group including attorneys, CPAs, financial planners, etc. I would also suggest trying to wrangle your way into big financial firms seminars and talks because they'll be a great place to network.

BNI, as long as your bar doesn't restrict you from joining which Virginia does, it could be a decent resource.  I've gone to a couple of them after being invited by friends to fill their "quota." Most have a number of different professionals in the group along with trades, small businesses, etc.  My biggest issue with BNI is the somewhat Amwayish aspect of the BNI groups with everyone clapping about some referral they had to someone else. It feels like I would join what amounts to a professional level Fraternity and just like a fraternity I'm paying money to someone to be my friend.  Not that there is anything wrong with it, it just feels forced.  The other issue, outside of the ethical ones, I have is weekly attendance requirements which as a busy lawyer I never know where I'm going to be and it another possibility, if there are no groups in the area that have your background is to start one. I've found the people that take an active roll in groups tend to get the most business or at least are on the top of people's mind when referring work out.

Chris Guest, District of Columbia

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I personally had good luck with my county bar association when I lived in Georgia.  The Atlanta Bar Ass'n wasn't as good for my networking purposes, as it was bigger and had a more formal vibe.  But the county bar ass'n was more laid back and people were more conversational.  Also, there was a women's bar association in Georgia that was good for meeting people. Obviously that doesn't directly apply to you, but I would ask around and find out what sections of the local bar association in your area seem to have active participants.  My goal was to get out there and meet other attorneys who practice in different areas and may be in a position to send me business. As an estate planner, I tended to focus on family law attorneys, since they were positioned to send me a lot of business. The local bar associations were great places to meet other attorneys.  Also, I used my connections from law school to meet other attorneys.

As far as non-attorneys, I did try Powercore (which is the equivalent of BNI) for a couple of months and dropped out.  It didn't work out mostly because of time commitments and the fact that many of the individuals in that particular group were not really in a position to send me business on any kind of regular basis.  Also, my personality type is squarely opposite of the joiner mentality, so all that cheery (as someone earlier described it, "Amway-ish") groupthink really got on my nerves.  I know a few lawyers who did well with it though.

I tend to meet non-lawyer referral sources more through one-on-one networking.  A lot of lawyers who I knew introduced me to CPAs and financial planners, and I took them to lunch or coffee.  Had a lot of success that way.  All it really is about is making friends with people.  If they like you, they'll usually try to send you business. Good luck!

Mary Kaplan, Florida

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Some of this also depends on your personality.  I, me, myself, am not that great of a "Joiner": I did join the C of C initially but got little business from it; a lot of people wanted to buttonhole me for a quick question and some free advice but few of them actually to take the advice; typically they'd come to me about a business partnership and I'd do the pitch about written agreements, etc. their eyes would glaze over, and they wouldn't get back to me. 

People refer clients to professionals that they feel comfortable with; I get a lot of referrals from past and current clients. Because they're comfortable with me. I get a certain amount of referrals from other professionals; because they'e comfortable with me. I even know I get some from our clerks of the court; even though they're not supposed to do that; I've had too many people tell me the clerks sent them to me to think otherwise. On the other hand, the usual 'organization' type of referral; church, Lions club, stuff like that; I'm not saying you're never going to pick up business there, but I suspect it's going to be haphazard.  If you enjoy the organization, that's fine; but to join an organization for the sake of drumming up business takes a certain degree of sincerity, or at least skill in faking it.  Maybe it's me: I find it tough to show enthusiasm for something purely based on my trying to generate business from them.

Some people are great at this: I'm not (joining and getting referrals from organizations).  By all means join them and see what happens but it's like any other type of marketing; see what works; if it doesn't work after a certain point, then maybe you need to consider putting your time in other types of marketing. 

Ronald Jones, Florida

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Kiwanis can be very good - but it's not an "instant-reward" sort of thing.  The rules may have changed (and tend to vary from club to club) but when I was a member of Kiwanis we weren't allowed to pass out business cards at meetings.  Of course everybody in the club knows what you do for a living, you're not required to keep that a secret, and doing business with other Kiwanians was at least tacitly encouraged.  I found that being an active member, working on service projects, getting involved, you'd develop relationships that inevitably DID lead to quite a bit of business.  But it takes a little time.

BNI is quite good for us - the possible ethical issues of it for lawyers have been discussed on this list at some length before.

Chambers of Commerce can be quite hit or miss.  I've been to some chambers that were GREAT and vibrant.  And some chambers that were small and cliquish - felt like I was attending somebody else's prom.  

A couple of lessons I've learned from networking:

1. When you're at the event/meeting - try not to spend TOO much time with any one person, even if they seem like a great prospect.  Exchange information and then follow-up and try to get together for coffee or lunch or something as a one-on-one later.  Networking is, to some extent, a numbers game.  If you got to an event with 100 people in attendance but only give out two business cards because you spent the whole time in the corner talking to one person...it probably wasn't as successful an event as it should have been.  I like to come out of an event having met as many people as possible, and hopefully with half a dozen opportunities for one-on-ones with people in the coming weeks. 

I've made this mistake plenty of times myself - it's the biggest thing I have to work on personally.

2. Don't assume that just because somebody doesn't seem like a good prospect that they're not worth talking to.  You never know who his brother-in-law is.  I've met folks that I assumed would never use our services, and I was right...but to my surprise they later referred good business to us.  There is a certain amount of opportunity cost (see #1 above) but I still try to be polite, friendly and professional with everybody.  Even somebody who will never be a client can be a good source of referrals.

3. ALWAYS have business cards with you.  Stick a couple extra in your wallet, put a handful in the glovebox of your car, keep some in your briefcase...I've met folks in the most unexpected places and can't count the number of times I've reached for a card only to realize I didn't have any on me.

Classic Disclaimer: On the weekdays I am not an attorney. On the weekends I am also not an attorney, but I am not an attorney in a somewhat more leisurely manner.

Ben M. Schorr, Hawaii

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For you (us), I'd recommend trying the chamber of commerce.  I did get one client that paid for my membership and that was my gateway networking event to all the rest that have served me well.  When you go, ask the people there what other events are worth your time.  Even better, ask other CPAs or lawyers what events they like.

I tried a BNI group and didn't like the atmosphere.  I found that the members of at least this group were mostly people who I wouldn't expect to find anywhere other than clinging to a wall at an event.  In other words, they joined the group because they expected to get referrals from other members without making any effort outside the group.  You not only want people who are motivated to get referrals for you in the group, but who are also out networking other places.  I think the time and financial commitment required by BNI and LeTip (just LeTip, haha) discourage many people from seeking other networking opportunities outside those groups.

I've heard good things about rotary but they're expensive.  Networking isn't the number one reason for the meetings, so make sure you are there sincerely for the organization's purpose and the leads will come.

I managed to find a group called CEO CFO.  Everyone in the room has my same target client so it's like a little slice of heaven.  It's been my biggest revenue generator in the two years I've been open and continues to offer more opportunities.

If I had it to do over, here's what I'd do:

1.  Join the chamber of commerce.  If you have more than one to choose from, pick the smaller one (but not too small).  Ask people at those events what other events they attend.  See if anyone compiles a list of the groups in the area.  Chances are, she'll be the crazy lady dressed in technicolor running around the room like she just downed six Red Bulls.

2.  When you get to an event, even if your inclination is to cling to the wall, like mine is (believe it or not), make it a point to introduce yourself to at least five people.  Don't run around the room trying to collect cards.  Meet five people, exchange cards, and ask them the types of referrals THEY'RE looking to meet.  Networking is always more effective when you're bringing the value instead of expecting to receive the value.

3.  When the person returns the favor, ask to meet business coaches, accountants, CPAs, online incorporation businesses, bankers, and financial planners.  These people are always my best source of referrals.

4.  Once you weed out some of the wackjobs in those referral source groups,dig deeper to solidify those relationships.  It's about depth, not breadth.

5.  When you return to the office with your stack of business cards, enter them into your database and send everyone an e-mail that says something like this: "Hi, I'm Greg Eye-Chart Zbylut.  Zebra baker yellow lincoln union thomas.  I am handsome and cool.  We had the pleasure of meeting at a networking event over the last few weeks and I wanted to learn more about your business.  I also put together a monthly newsletter that my clients find informative. If you'd like to meet for coffee and/or be added to my mailing list, please reply or visit my website.  I look forward to getting to know you better."

6.  Then put together a newsletter. One issue of mine is here: http://bit.ly/d5QsEg   I've found that several people a month simply hit "Reply" to the newsletter and ask me to handle something for them.  Most of the time these are people I haven't spoken to in months.  The people I have regular contact with think of me anyway.  The newsletter keeps me in the minds of the 400 or so people with whom I don't have regular contact.

7.  Make sure your website kicks ass.  

8.  Be selective about the events you attend.  If you get to a meeting and 90% of the people there are direct sales, MLM type companies, give up.  I've tried digging deeper in those groups but those companies will never need me (us) and aren't likely to come into contact with people who do.  

9.  Never stop networking.  It gets exhausting, but you have to constantly fill that funnel.  I've found that my practice slows down during tax season, the summer, and the holidays.  So step it up right before those times (except for tax season because you're a triple threat and we all know that).

10.  Try to find some opportunities to speak to these groups.  It's always more effective to stand in the front of the room and get the attention of 20 people than to try to speak to each person individually.  

Go get 'em!

Gina Madsen, Nevada

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