“Always have a card and a pen.” —My Dad
I had the good fortune of growing up in a family of networkers. The more I thought about this blog post, the more I realized how much I had learned from them:
Be strategic. Don’t just join an organization because they’ve asked you. Have an interest and have a reason. If you’re not excited about the organization’s mission, you’ll see it as work. It shouldn’t be. Think about what kind of clients you want to work with and where they might be. Individuals? Families? Businesses? Government agencies at the state, city/town or district level? Where are these people? At Chamber of Commerce meetings? Charity events? City council meetings? Get involved with the clients you are looking for.
Don’t overjoin. Always ask about the time commitment for any event or organization before you commit. Make sure you’re making time for your family and friends. It feels good to say yes, and there are so many truly worthy causes. But you won’t contribute your full potential anywhere if you’re spread too thin, and you’ll enjoy the work less (and enjoying the work is part of what keeps you going).
If you’re nervous about networking because you worry you won’t fit in, don’t be. Sometimes you have to hang in there a while to find people in your groove. Keep moving, and don’t be discouraged if it takes some time. If you think about it, you meet people all the time who are plenty nice, but who just don’t click with you for whatever reason. You’re going to be that person to someone else. Just be polite and move on. This comes with meeting lots of people, which is the point, because it’s a great way to…
Find people you get along with. Do business with people you like and respect whenever you can. Networking is fun if you think of it as looking for the people you’ll really enjoy doing business with. If you’re not finding them somewhere, then move on.
Be polite to people, you’ll see them again. The cardinal rule of networking. You’re going to see these people at more than one event if you’re out networking. That doesn’t mean you have to spend every event talking all night to someone who doesn’t interest you. But be polite and just generally nice if you can. Due to the nature of our business, there are times we have to work with people who are quick to escalate things in a bad way. That can’t stop you from being polite to them in public. I’m not saying you have to be friends with them, but don’t ever make a scene. People will talk about it.
Look like you are there to do business. Even if you’re not in court today, dress as if you were. People want to do business with professional people, so look professional.
If you have a spouse, talk to them about this. Networking will take some of your time away from them. Before I went to law school, I spoke with my boyfriend (now husband) about how part of my job practicing law would be after hours. Make sure they understand this is part of your career, and find a balance everyone can live with. Not everyone can spare the same amount of time for networking. Maybe it’s just one lunch a month, but that’s something.
Don’t work on non-work-related networking at work without the blessing of your employer. It may add to your value at your firm, but depending on what it is, the firm may or may not find it more valuable than the billing you would have done otherwise. So be careful about the demands that your community work can place on you during business hours. I try to avoid it, but there are times I have to handle a networking commitment during work hours and make up for it after hours.