Leveraging Your Online Relationships: Turning “Likes” Into Clients

Vol. 3, No. 6

Peggy Gruenke is the Director of Practice Operations for Curo Legal, a firm focused on increasing the efficiency and profitability of law firms nationwide. With over 10 years’ experience in the legal environment, five years as a business owner and 10 years in information technology, Peggy has combined her experiences to bring results and a competitive advantage to law firms assisting solo and small firm attorneys in building their businesses by providing management, operational, and business development services. Peggy is also a certified Clio Consultant and is a frequent speaker at ABA and local bar association events.

 

You recently posted an article on LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter and received your first “like,” “share,” or “retweet.” How do you turn this into a client or a new referral source?

Ten years ago, this question was never even on your mind. The advent of social media has dramatically changed the way lawyers can acquire new clients and referral sources. This year LinkedIn turned 10, Facebook, 9, and Twitter 7. Throw in the evolution of mobile tools, such as iPhones, smartphones, and tablets, which allow people to access online content and stay connected 24/7, and you can understand how the rise of social media has changed the way we communicate. These technologies have brought a whole new meaning and focus to networking and relationships—the cornerstone of the legal profession.

When was the last time you took a long car ride without checking your email or Facebook on your mobile device? Can you even remember life without these resources for interacting and staying in touch? For the first half of 2013, the Average Daily Facebook Likes = 4.5 Billion. If you think this is just a fad, then this is not the article for you. People are no longer looking you up in the Yellow Pages. If you do not have an online presence, you’re leaving money on the table for someone else to collect.

The good news is that it’s not too late to start building your social network. The ease of use, low cost, and interactive nature of social media allow lawyers to start building online connections that can eventually translate into offline friendships and business. In today’s world of the Internet and online relationships, the personal contact piece―taking the step to move your online relationships to offline, personal interactions―can be what sets you apart from your competitors. This article provides steps you can take to supplement your social networking with old-fashioned, in-person networking.

From my personal experience, it’s quite powerful seeing your online connections become in-person connections. Two years ago, I attended my first ABA TechShow. (I have no idea why I had not been attending this wonderful event, but I’m glad I finally did.) I had so much fun meeting people I have been following on Twitter and LinkedIn. Introducing myself and putting a face to a name was invaluable. These relationships have now turned into friends and colleagues with whom I can comfortably pick up the phone (or tweet) and ask for advice. With some of them I am even building referral relationships. Without the use of social media, these relationships would not be where they are today, enhancing my business and increasing my knowledge. You can do this too.

                                                                                                                       

Taking It to the Next Level

Assuming you have somewhat mastered the ever-changing world of social media, created your social network, and built up a level of engagement, how do you complement your social networking with personal networking to get new referral sources and clients?

 

Building Strategically

Let’s talk a minute about building strategically. To make both your online and offline networking efforts more effective, you need to identify your best referral partners and ideal clients. Within each of these groups, it helps your efforts to find a center of influence (COI)—the one person who has a lot of connections, shares a lot of articles, engages in discussions, and is a leader in their industry within your community. Social media makes all this much easier by offering a ton of resources. From my experience, LinkedIn is probably the best platform for accomplishing this goal. For lawyers, your referral partners list probably includes:

  • Financial advisors
  • Accountants
  • Insurance brokers
  • Small business bankers
  • Business coaches
  • Commercial real estate developers

 

Within these groups, how do you find a COI? What do you look for and pay attention to when cruising LinkedIn? Here are a few suggestions:

 

1. Create the Opportunity for a First-Time Conversation

  • Follow companies on LinkedIn to see what is happening in their businesses and engage online. For example, you want to meet the CEO at ABC, a civil engineering/urban development company because your practice focuses on real estate development. Mr. (or Ms.) CEO would be a good referral source for you. You start following the ABC Company on LinkedIn. You notice a status update about their 45th anniversary. You comment with a note of congratulations. While you are on this company page, you see who works there and how you are connected to them. Who in your network can facilitate an introduction? You start setting the stage for a virtual introduction to the CEO.

 

2. You Join a Local LinkedIn Group Focused on Real Estate

  • Who is posting the discussions that are creating the most engagement from group members?
  • This may be the person you need to meet.
  • What events is this group hosting? Where can you show up and meet these people?

 

3. You Are an Employment Law Attorney and You Are Looking for Your COI in the Community

  • Using LinkedIn’s advance search feature, you search for people involved in HR associations.
  • Start following discussions led by some of these people.
  • Post comments and engage in the online discussions. Find a way to add value to the discussion.
  • If you are contributing relevant content, eventually people will “like” your comment and now you have an invitation to connect online and have your 1st social networking contact with this person.
  • This person, if not your COI, can introduce you to people who may be.

 

While implementing some of these strategies, you will need to show care and finesse in not going overboard. Your contribution to the conversation has to have validity and not just be a sales pitch. It’s a subtle art you need to learn.

Now, you move offline by taking the knowledge you gathered online and showing up where these people are likely to hang out. You join local associations, attend business meetings sponsored by your local newspaper, attend fundraising events, or get involved in your local chamber of commerce. You show up and you show up and you show up―again and again. Use your social media knowledge as an ice-breaker at these in-person events. It makes the introduction much more personal and memorable. Your goal is to build a few very solid relationships with these COIs to enhance your business development.

 

Adding Value by Facilitating Introductions

One of the most valuable things you can do is be a center of influence. Become someone people seek out when they want to meet other people. Build a large online community, gain knowledge about your connections, build some trust and a level of expertise among your connections, and solidify relationships with in-person activities. Now you have learned how to leverage your online network to create offline relationships.

You can now do something really amazing. You can make an introduction or referral for one of your connections. Focusing on the fact that people do business with people they know, like, and trust, what a great way to solidify all three of these traits with a prospect. Remember, it’s always better to give first and receive later. As Zig Ziglar famously said, “You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.” Ask yourself, “Who do I know that could help my client/friend/neighbor?” Then make the introduction.

It also gives you a reason to pick up the phone and call your connection. You can ask about their level of interest in meeting the person you have in mind.

 

Beyond the Four Walls

To develop a book of business, you need a large network that you can continually leverage. You need enough contacts to create a steady stream of referrals and clients. Social media has made the task of building and cultivating this network so much easier, less time consuming, and more focused.

Only engaging with connections online is not going to do much to advance your goal of creating more referral sources and clients. Think of your online approach as your 20 yard line. To get the ball over the goal line, you must take the initiative to meet in person. The face-to-face connection will solidify these relationships.

If you are checking your social media on a regular basis, you will begin to get a feel for which conferences, professional business meetings, and networking events to attend. Facebook is a great place for keeping informed about events. Because LinkedIn did away with its event feature, Facebook has become the place for organizations and businesses to post upcoming events. Start “liking” Facebook pages of organizations and businesses (there are 50 million Facebook pages), and you will know when events are happening. The objective is to look for activities and events in which you have a genuine interest and where you know the people attending will be ones you would like to meet.

When attending events, it pays to be prepared. Your time is limited, so in order to make the most of your event, here are a few networking tips:

  1. Arrive early (as difficult as this may sound, it does have a few advantages). Browse the name tags and see who will be there and who you want to make sure you meet. This will help you keep a focus on the purpose of attending the event. Arriving early also gives you an opportunity to meet the organizers of the event and maybe even the speakers in a less hurried and busy setting.
  2. Ask insightful questions. Before attending networking events, get the names of the people you think may attend (Facebook lets you see this list) and search social media sites like LinkedIn to figure out which topics are of interest to them. For people who are already in your network, don’t assume you know everything they’re doing. Find out about their current projects. This attention to detail can go a long way.
  3. If in-person networking is not one of your strengths, then pair up with someone who can facilitate introductions. It’s okay not to be great at this. Over time, it’s a skill that can be learned. Practice, practice, practice.

 

Moving From Your First Virtual Engagement to an In-Person Meeting

You posted an article and got your first “like.” You shared an article or status update from one of your connections, or you commented on a status update. All of these interactions have opened the door to move the online relationship offline. After a like or a share, reach out to the person and ask about getting together.

Here are a few suggestions for making this in-person meeting a memorable experience for the prospect client or referral source.

  1. Where will you meet? Be creative. Attorney Ruth Carter recently posted a blog about making networking fun. It’s worth the read. She suggests local ice cream shops; support a local business instead of the mass corporate franchises when having a cup of coffee; maybe sitting outside in a local park area; or maybe even walking through a local art gallery. The point is you can be freakishly different and memorable.
  2. Maybe you just finished reading a great book. Bring a copy of the book with you and, if the time is right, mention you just finished reading this great book that they may enjoy as well. This also sets up an automatic next meeting to return the book. Clever, right?
  3. Along this same line, maybe you recently saw an article in a local paper or magazine that may be of interest to them. Bring a copy to the meeting. They will be impressed that you knew enough about them to think they would enjoy the article. Think about keeping a folder, or use the free Evernote app (my favorite tool for collecting articles) and always have a reservoir of interesting articles to share.

 

The Power of a Handwritten Note

Invest in nice quality note cards that have your contact information listed. Always keep a stack at your home, at your office, and in your car.

In today’s world of electronic communication, a handwritten note is a pretty memorable moment. There are unlimited opportunities to send notes. Thank you notes can serve as a quick follow-up to your in-person meeting or as an introduction at a networking event. You can use them to express appreciation for a referral or send to a prior client just to touch base. Check your local business journal for people in your network who may have been promoted or won an award. Maybe you have a seminar coming up. Sending a note with a copy of the invite is a great way to stay in touch and provide something of value.

My goal for 2013 is to write a note to someone in my network every day. I leave a stack of notecards on the kitchen table, so every morning, before I get caught up in my day, I write a note to one of my LinkedIn connections. You may think that’s a crazy idea, but it has turned out to be a very powerful activity for solidifying my online relationships. By the way, I just export my contacts to a spreadsheet and then check off the ones to whom I have sent notes. I choose randomly. Try it and let me know how it works for you.

 

Conclusion

In my personal experience working with attorneys, social networking paired with in-person networking activities are powerful tools for growing your practice. Here’s a real-life example:

Attorney David has a blog. He posted weekly articles that he shared on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. He started noticing people liking and sharing what he wrote. He sent notes of thanks for the like or share that happened. After a few months, as his social network grew and more people shared his articles, he saw the value of doing a seminar. So he planned a seminar, relevant to his article topics. He promoted his seminar to his social network. Clients, referral sources, and prospects came to the seminar. His social networking transformed to in-person networking. And in the end, he landed a few new clients and several new referral sources.

What will you do differently to move your online relationships offline so they become personal interactions?

 

Enhancing Your Current Client Experience

Your clients represent more than just the billing on their current matter. They are the foundation for building your practice through referrals and repeat business. So once you have your new client, even a virtual client, how do you enhance the experience to create the opportunity for a referral or repeat business?

A great client experience involves multiple levels of satisfaction.

 

1. Transactional: Expectations Are Met

  • Communicate regularly. Be a good listener and address problems directly. A lack of communication is the most common complaint from an unsatisfied client. When communication is direct and transparent, trust forms and creates a foundation for long-lasting relationships. Don’t hide behind email as the only vehicle for communicating with a client. Pick up the phone and call. A phone conversation opens the door for listening for other potential problems.
  • Be competent with the subject matter and with technology, especially when working with a virtual client.
  • Provide accurate documents and timely service.
  • Make sure your bills are easy to read, delivered monthly, and contain no surprises—back to that communication piece.

 

2. Personal: Trust and Loyalty Are Established

  • Have you taken a personal interest in your client’s legal needs and are you investing in the relationship? Connect with your client on LinkedIn, share your firm’s Facebook page, or add them to your enewsletter list. Share relevant articles through your blog or enewsletter, send notes, or pick up the phone.
  • Are you delivering personalized client service at all levels in you firm? How are your clients greeted? Do you have client welcome packets?
  • Be aware of what is happening in your client’s business or family. If the company was nominated for a local award, attend the awards event. If a family has a child getting married or heading to college, pass along information that may be of value.

 

3. Future Growth: Beyond the Current Engagement

  • Be proactive and identify opportunities to help your client in more ways than the matter at hand.
  • Use your online network to facilitate introductions.

We all love to get referrals and sometimes it seems they just happen. You can make them happen more often by making sure you exceed expectations in all three areas.

 

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