GPSOLO October/November 2009
Getting the Most Out of Networking
As a solo attorney, you are the one person out there, captain of your ship, principal of your business, and everything flows through you. Like some mad character in a 1920s silent film vision of the future, you sit there pushing the buttons, turning the dials, and carrying on three telephone conversations at once while answering e-mail, networking on LinkedIn, and posting on Twitter every 15 minutes.
You are responsible for bringing the work in the door, and networking is a big part of what makes that happen. It certainly would help if you could gain some order and efficiency out of your networking efforts, rather than the haphazard approach of going to an event one week, sending out an e-mail blast the next week, and having lunch with a potential client the week after.
Well, I’ve conjured up a system for you to plan your networking efforts in a more orderly and efficient way. It is based on a classification system I’ve developed for the various types of networking activities. I analyze here some of the major forms of networking typically available to a solo attorney in the context of this system and present this analysis graphically as the Efficiency/Effectiveness Model in the chart on page 63.
The Efficiency/Effectiveness Model
There are different levels of efficiency and effectiveness for each form of networking. Typically, the level of its efficiency is inversely related to the level of its effectiveness. So the more efficient a form of networking is, the less effective it is, and the more effective a form of networking is, the less efficient it is.
For example, mass e-mailing a newsletter is very efficient, but it is far less effective than meeting face-to-face (F2F) with a potential client or professional who could refer you business. For a relatively small investment per person of your time and money, hundreds of people or more will receive your e-mail, but many of them will delete the e-mail without reading it, and others will only skim over it briefly.
The level of interaction between you and each of your e-mail recipients is pretty low. The hope is that by sending your e-mail out to a large group of people, a handful will be inspired to call and hire you. So if you send your e-mail marketing letter out to 1,000 people, you might generate a couple of business leads resulting in one new client, which is a very good result for an e-mail marketing campaign of that size. Your effort to obtain that client was not very time consuming, and certainly it wasn’t very expensive.
Meeting with someone F2F is far less efficient than contacting someone by e-mail. With e-mail, you can reach many people with very little time and money spent on each e-mail recipient. The amount of time involved with meeting one person in an F2F setting is at least an hour or more, and depending on whether you grab a cup of coffee or eat at an expensive restaurant, your costs for networking with just this one person can range from a few dollars to $100 plus.
So why conduct any one-on-one networking when e-mailing is far cheaper and quicker? Aha, here’s where we analyze the effectiveness of F2F. One of the characteristics of F2F meetings is the potential for a very high level of interaction (or “high bandwidth” in tech speak), which is a good thing in networking because a high level of interaction tends to build a relationship of trust, which tends to lead to business.
However, even within an F2F setting, this level of interaction can vary significantly. Eating a meal with someone at a restaurant will generate a much higher level of interaction than attending a lecture together, although both can be characterized as an F2F meeting. Inviting that dining companion with his or her spouse to your home for dinner with your spouse will generate an even higher level of interaction. So there can be a wide range of interactivity levels both between the types of activities and also within activity categories.
Blogging is a nice blend of efficiency and effectiveness. If we compare this to a quarterly e-mail newsletter, writing a blog entry every few days over a period of three months typically will take more time than drafting one newsletter every three months, but all of those blogging entries will add up to a more effective marketing tool because there are more frequent posts about your area of expertise, allowing for a more effective demonstration of your skills.
Comparing blogging to the mass e-mail campaign, efficiency goes down but effectiveness goes up, which conforms to the Efficiency/Effectiveness Model. A more granular analysis will reveal that variations on the number of recipients in the mass e-mail campaign and the number of readers of the blog will slide each method one way or the other on the Efficiency/Effectiveness curve, but for purposes of this column’s discussion I will stick to broader characterizations because this will be more useful.
You also might consider a mass mailing via snail mail. Even though the U.S. Postal Service is on track to lose $7 billion this year, its mail service is still an economical way to deliver a printed newsletter to your target market.
An Efficiency/Effectiveness analysis of snail mail reveals that it is more costly and less efficient than an e-mail mass mailing owing to the postage expense and the work involved in stuffing all of those envelopes, but it is more effective because it is a little harder to ignore a physical envelope than it is to ignore an e-mail in your in-box. Envelopes can be tossed, but an envelope from a lawyer is taken more seriously and will be opened and reviewed more often than an e-mail.
Putting It All Together
What this model allows you to do is to plan your networking in an intelligent and balanced way that will lead to more effective results. You do this by using what I call the “review, balance, and rate” process:
1. Review the types of networking you are doing. Consider expanding them if they are too narrow (e.g., if your networking is limited to having lunch once a week with your local banker and getting together with your poker buddies once a month). Employing a variety of networking methods will lead to better results because you will be reaching a wider field of contacts.
2. Balance your time between your various networking activities. You may blog, attend events, have lunch with people in the industry that you serve, and make phone calls, but if you find that most of your marketing time is being sucked up by this new blogging thing, it’s time to pull back a bit from that and allocate some of your time to your other marketing activities.
3. Rate the effectiveness of each category of marketing you use based on the number of clients that have resulted from each. This will let you know which methods have been the most effective and which have been the least effective. Then you can reevaluate the least effective methods and decide either to modify how you use this tool or drop it altogether because it just doesn’t work for you. Understanding what makes your most effective methods so successful will often lead to new marketing ideas.
A Path Through the Marketing Jungle
Marketing is a dynamic activity that you need to review and readjust from time to time. Here you have a guide to do this, but feel free to modify and adapt this guide to suit you and your law practice in any way you see fit. And consider not posting to Twitter every 15 minutes.
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.