Friday, September 29, 2006

How to Find Business Referrals

I get calls from my attorneys asking a similar: "How do I find people to start building a referral network with?" The question can come from an associate or new partner just beginning to build their book of business, or a seasoned partner who has been heads down for a couple of years and let their network go stale. Finding people to will help you build your client list is a scary, seemingly impossible task; and most of us have never been trained to do this sort of thing. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
  • Ask your contacts at existing clients about the other professional services people they work with. Who is their banker, accountant, consultants, etc.? Then call those people and set up a meeting to see if you share common types of clients. If it's a match offer to start sharing leads and referrals.
  • Talk to your existing clients and tell them you're looking for new business. They often know their peers at other companies, and you will find, are very happy to help make the introduction.
  • Join an industry or client-centric association and get on a committee. Most committees have other service providers as members. Setup meetings with them to discuss yours and their business development activities.
  • Get on panels at seminars that your ideal prospective client would attend. Fellow panelists are almost always productive if you follow-up with them after the seminar.

There are other paths to meeting people through people; What is above is just the beginning. In every instance above you're not making a single cold-call, which I would never recommend. You already know a huge list of people that would love to help you put your network together.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

How to Find the Right Referral Network

One of the attorneys at my firm emailed me asking about the wisdom in joining a particular networking group. The group had invited this attorney to join a new chapter. "Would this be a good group to join?" was the attorneys query. It got me thinking about the different kinds of organizations that are out there and their value as a relationship development opportunity for an (business) attorney. Here is my take (speaking from the prospective of law firm opportunity):
  • Community Centric – associations that focus on unifying all businesses within a geographic area. Examples include Chambers of Commerce, regional chapters of leads/referral groups, and Toastmasters. The active members cover the whole spectrum of business types and professional levels in a community. In a smaller town setting a Chamber (for example) could be just the place to grow a network. But in larger towns and metropolis areas the diversity of companies and players become so great that the prospecting and relationship development opportunities are significantly diluted. For every true prospective relationship that can be found, 100 are passed up.
  • Industry Centric – associations focused on unifying all businesses within a geographic area that are in a specific industry. Examples include software councils, manufacturing associations, and the Mortgage Bankers Association. These organizations are important for enhancing the perceived eminence of a firm but have a lesser value for developing new business for a specific attorney. Typically new business development happens when attorneys evolve individual relationships to levels mentioned below.
  • Profession Centric – associations focused on unifying all professionals of a certain skill or job description within a geographic area. Examples include CalCPA, local Bar associations, and CEO Roundtables. In these settings an attorney has the ability to focus on true decision-makers in the area of law they practice. In most cases the service providers and buyers are well matched for productive referral relationships.
  • Target Centric – associations of varied professionals focused on a defined buyer profile. Examples are not public knowledge... and yet they are. In my marketplace I know of at least a dozen groups I'd like to be a part of but cannot. And I run several of these groups that others wish they could join. Target centric groups are created by individuals focused on a specific buyer and are willing to share their contacts and leads with others that will not compete with them. Everyone in the group (usually 8-12) is willing to open their rolodex to help others and expects the same in return.
Each of the groups above have real marketing value. But in the context of growing a pipeline, right now, the last is the sure money. My advise to the attorney that emailed me was to look at the last several transactions he/she had been involved in, write down the names of the players involved, and form a target centric networking group with those players.

We all want to be known more broadly, but that is the purpose of building a firm brand. If we wish to develop a relationship network that builds our pipeline... the smaller the group, the greater the reward.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Tips on Modern Etiquette

New times, new business environments, new tools... it all leads to trying to figure out what is polite and what is not. My father was raised in an upper-middle class family on Staten Island, New York, and his mother was very much an Emily Post woman. Every situation had rules of conduct and no broken rule went unnoticed. My father brought a lot of that into raising my siblings and I. It was bothersome and often infuriating when I was young. Later it meant more... Now it seems a blessing. Things like cell phones, email, and social networking go far beyond anything Emily Post addressed in her writings, but the common sense she preached to polite society circles can be carried forward to new times. So, in her spirit, here are some new rules based on current observation:
  • Cell phone conversations in bathrooms is rude! The noises and activities of a bathroom should not be a background to a phone conversation.
  • Cell phones in elevators; DUH! Subjecting trapped passengers to your loud voice is not nice. Plus, your activities make the people around you feel like they can't converse so as not to disturb you. What a whammy! Their politeness doubles your rudeness.
  • Cell phones left on "ring" in an open office environment.
  • Talking on a cell phone in the office. Weird as it is we talk louder into a cell phone. Ask your caller to dial back on your land line or ask to call them back.
  • Emails that do not follow regular letter writing etiquette. No caps, no greeting, no salutation, smileys, etc. This seems so simple. If you wouldn't do it, or would do it in a letter, follow the same rules in email.
  • Pings and dings to notify you when new email arrives. A friend reports that the office next to hers sounds like a video game ALL DAY LONG! Just stop it!
  • Multitasking is passé. Reading, talking, and writing all at once is like trying to stuff your face full of everything on your plate, all at once. Gross!
  • Blogging publically about things that should be handled privately is certainly in bad taste.
  • Laughing, grunting, or expressing any emotion about something you receive in a text message in a group setting is inconsiderate.
  • Paying more attention to email flowing onto your PDA/Treo/Blackberry than the person/people you are dining with... Need I say more.
  • Stopping a meal/meeting/whatever to take a call or return a message. Why not just shout out loud, "You're not as important as everything else in my life!" There are some situations that call for this type of behavior but ONLY if you've forewarned everyone you're with.
  • Wondering around your public office spaces while talking on a cordless headset. Just as bad as talking on a cell phone in an elevator. IT'S NOT NICE!
Most of all things rude is about not thinking that other people matter less than you. What I learned early is everyone else DOES matter. That is what "being polite" is all about. Respect begins by doing things that help me not look like an ass. I encourage you to consider what you might do to avoid this as well.
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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The New New Blogger

OK... so I haven't pulled the trigger on switching to Blogger Beta. Kinda scary you know. The way it works is that once I say "yes", all of my blogs make the switch; not just one at a time. I'd love to put up a test site just to check before it all goes live. WoW! I feel like a partner facing a new marketing campaign unlike what I'm used to. Little lessons... never enough time to adjust.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Relationship Development is Just So Important

The single request I hear the most from attorneys is, "help me find new business." Here are the rules for attorneys that wish this thing to happen:
  • You must be ready to be active. That means going to events and conferences consistently. Not just when your schedule agrees but when you've had to rearrange priorities to make the next networking event.
  • You have to share. Introductions to new prospects will not come because you've asked. They come because you've shared.
  • You take care of what you receive. Not every referral will be the perfect client but it is up to you to keep them happy. If you are not the right attorney for them then find the right attorney. Once a referral has been made it is your responsibility to complete the deal.
  • Play like you mean it. If you want as much as someone else has to offer (like their client list) then you need to be ready to step up with equal zeal.
  • Play nice. Everyone comes to the table wanting something. They're not your enemy and you do not need to set up a defensive perimeter. They, just like you, are aggressively seeking a path to success. It's just that simple.
I have been the new sales representative trying to make his bones. It's tough, sometimes humbling, always not easy. If you are the attorney looking for new business please remember that there is no magic tree with low-hanging fruit. It takes work and commitment; stick with it and your reward is at hand.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

History Helps a Law Firm

This year is the 100th anniversary of the year that our founding partner started practicing law in Orange County (CA). The occasion has made its way into our branding program through advertising, editorial, internal initiatives, etc. This month, September, as close as we can tell, is THE month he hung out his shingle.

Over the course of the last 12 months I've been immersed in uncovering every shred of historical information that exists about our founder and the evolution of his practice and the firm. Along the way I've shared a lot of it with everyone at the firm; stories, pictures, and anecdotes.

What the firm has received in return is a workforce, attorneys and staff alike, with a rich and deep feeling of being part of something so much bigger than just the time that, "I've been here." For some it means cherished memories and for others it reveals tradition. For all it has inspired some degree of esprit de corps. For me the journey is incredible. I've only been with the firm for 14 months but I know it like I'd been there most of the way. It feels good.

If you are looking for a way to bring your firm closer together I encourage you to look back in time and reveal what is found. History seems to offer people higher purpose and a greater sense of being part of something.

MC Blog Switching to Blogger Beta

I can't help myself -- I am a sucker for new tech in any form and Google has pushed that button. The Marketing Catalyst blog is hosted by Blogger and they have been rolling out the newest version of Blogger, "Blogger Beta". Today I learned MC Blog is now eligible to make the switch. Among the many upgrades they've included "categories" as an option. YES!

From this side of the switchover I have no idea how the layout of MC Blog will change, or if it needs to change. But I am going to dive right in. See you on the other side....

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Are Your Competitors Marketing Your Firm?

I ran into an old friend in the recruiting business (while waiting for an old friend in the recruiting business... weird) before lunch today and our conversation turned toward how the local market perceived his firm. In my circles at least (as I reported to him) his firm had once been a constant name heard in business conversations. These days the few times I'm hearing the name is when people ask, "So whatever happened to ___? Are they still around?

Years ago his firm had a high profile and was perceived as a guerilla to compete against. Then they went through a leadership shift and hunkered down at the back end of the 2001 tech bust. By focusing on quality and customer service the firm did an admirable job to weather such change and is really quite successful. But, now that the economy is considerably more robust and stable; they've chosen to... stay hunkered down.

My friend mentioned that he too has heard people wonder, and his competitors are fueling the fire lamenting the struggles of a once great firm. "Such nonsense!" he commented. "No one is going to listen to them." I sensed that he would like for things to be a little different and I simply offered, "If the marketplace is only hearing one side of the story (as told by your competitors) how can they spot the nonsense?"

I've said it before; In the absence of information people will listen to anything that fills the void.

Marketing a firm (professional services, legal, or otherwise) does not always have to be a complete, all-out, all the parts thing. Sometimes a marketing program only needs to be enough to fill the void. In the case of my friends firm: he does not need to return the big-dollar, high-profile days of old. He just needs to be seen (or heard from) again. A consistent PR and press release program and first person attendance of him or his people at a few strategically selected business events would go a long way.

Are you marketing your firm, or have you left your messaging in the hands of your competitors?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Changing Nature of Business Events

Business events are changing. They're still called the same things; award dinners, seminars, receptions, annual gala's, etc., but they don't happen the way they used to. Mostly, the change is in the way that attendees conduct themselves.

When I first started going to business events (too many years ago) everyone stuck to agenda's and schedules. When it was time to sit, everyone sat. When it was time to listen, everyone listened. Events were more formal and people were more reserved in their actions. These days events feel more like a free-for-all networking activity with an event struggling to happen in the background. I've witnessed time and time again speakers from podiums fruitlessly pleading with the audience to find their seats. The chatter usually drowns out the PA system.

Now I don't believe that this change of attitude is a bad or good thing. It's just a thing that event organizers need to recognize so they can adapt to what's happening. Here are my recommendations, and what I am doing with events I organize:
  • Plan more time for socializing. That means cutting back on content, but people will appreciate a more relaxed schedule. Give them enough time and they may talk themselves out and pay attention just to take a break. Careful though, give them too much time and they will drift away.
  • Make entertainment the number one priority. Not education or ceremony. Of course both of the latter need to be present but, an entertained audience is a rapt listener. Pick your speakers, panelists and presenters based on their ability to connect to an audience.
  • Stop letting sponsors near a microphone. Period.
  • Change the order of activities. Do the official stuff first, then the reception. Call random people out of the audience to read the award presentation and give them an official "honorary presenter" pin before they sit down. Do a table change. Give everyone two table numbers. Sit at the first for dinner, sit at the second for dessert. Anything that will make their experience different from the last kazillion events they attended.
  • When the audience won't sit get away from the podium with a wireless mic and talk from the middle of the room.
  • Challenge your panelists using slides to limit the content on each slide to one word. Yup, that's what I wrote. One word. Presenters reading bullet points to an audience is the most horrific thing indeed! If you want to see how good this works come see my presentation on building a brand at the '07 LMA conference (if I am accepted to speak of course... I have applied).
  • Instead of a panel moderator, ask the panelists to end every answer or statement with a question for another panelist.
  • Have event ambassadors whose duty is to wander among attendees and facilitate introductions. "Is there anyone here you'd like to meet ?"
At least for the time being events have become much more social. Recognize this and plan for it and you will be far down the road to creating events that people will line up for.
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Graphic Artists are Crazy

I might know. I am one. But, not like, "Wooo Hooooo, la la la la la, put me in a rubber room!!" Go online and look at any portfo...