25 Ways to Help Your Network (and Build Relationships)
by Betsy Munnell
Any rainmaker will tell you: Business development is all about people. And growing authentic, lifelong relationships is all about giving and helping, freely and for free—without expectation of a return on your efforts. The ideal way to build and deepen your rapport with your clients, prospects, colleagues, referral sources and other important contacts is to learn as much as you can about each person and identify what he or she needs to be successful and fulfilled. Once you’ve done that, things get very simple. You just need to help meet those needs.
“There should be a note on every lawyer’s desk that says ‘What have I done today to make the people I am dealing with more successful and more comfortable?’”
James A. Durham, The Essential Little Book of Great Lawyering
“If we create networks with the sole intention of getting something, we won’t succeed. We can’t pursue the benefits of networks; the benefits ensue from investments in meaningful activities and relationships.”
Adam M. Grant, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success
So, if your marketing plan consists mainly of “random acts of lunch” then you’ll want to make some changes. If you take a prospect to a baseball game, then never call her again because she doesn’t send you any work, you’ll want to push the reset button. Being an authentic “giver” (neither “taker” nor “matcher” be ... ) means not expecting a quid pro quo. What you can expect, however, is what one of my favorite clients once told me (when explaining why he refused to strike back at an especially sharp elbowed co-investor): What goes around does, truly, come around.
To Help You Help Your Network, I have put together a list of 25 simple ways in which my partners, coaching clients, colleagues, and I have, at various points in our careers, added measurable value to our networks.
To be clear, none of the personal efforts my partners and I made on behalf of others were coldly strategic. Far from it. Our approach to building business relationships yielded many lasting friendships, and our willingness to help, in times of crisis and otherwise, and whether or not asked, was—or became—second nature. (This is an enormously satisfying way to live. It just so happens that it is good business as well.)
In the process, we built and nurtured important professional relationships and established reputations as skilled lawyers, savvy business people, reliable advisors, and loyal and decent human beings. Our profitable law practices are tangible testimony to our commitment to this integrated approach to our careers.
But it is the intangibles that resonate most deeply for me, nine-plus years after leaving the practice of law. I loved my work and I cherish the friendships made over the years. I miss it and I miss them.
Who is on your list of critical, and soon to be critical, professional relationships? Ask yourself now how you can help the people you interact with in your work. Be creative and be real. And that means not watching the phone expecting to be reimbursed for your kindnesses.
I hope this article inspires you to reach out to those clients, colleagues, friends, and business contacts you do not see or speak with regularly. You might even experience the transformative, and entirely legal, effects of the “helper’s high” you can read about in David Maister’s brilliant work on the power of trust in client development. Have some fun.
25 EASY WAYS WE HELPED OUR NETWORKS
- Assisted various clients, prospects and other contacts by suggesting a dog walker, a contractor, a real estate broker, a chiropractor, and—true gold—a reasonably priced plumber.
- Introduced a prospective client’s wife, a musician now practicing law, to a conservatory director, to help identify board opportunities at area arts organizations.
- Met with a referral source’s college age child to answer her questions about law school and law practice and provide useful introductions. Recommended business school.
- Emailed a referral source to subscribe to his firm blog, followed the blog closely until he posted an especially topical, useful article, then shared it broadly on social media.
- Invited a contact to join the board of the alumni association in which both were active.
- Calendared the date (a year in advance) of the Bat Mitzvah of a client’s daughter. Sent a card and appropriate gift that week.
- Invited an influential female justice to be the keynote speaker at her firm’s women lawyer’s retreat.
- Introduced a potential client to a lawyer and an accountant who, together, could serve the client’s needs effectively for far less money.
- As an associate, monitored a senior partner’s new client and its CEO on Twitter and via Google Alerts, catching a breaking news story first and passing it along to the delighted partner.
- Wrote a thoughtful and articulate LinkedIn recommendation, on his own initiative, for an accountant who had ably assisted him on a transaction.
- Helped a distressed client sort out a pressing personal conflict at work, during a late night call she took at home.
- Located reasonably priced lawyers for a prospect’s teenage son arrested on a DUI charge, and for a friend’s client who was much in need of a divorce lawyer.
- Following the closing of a long and difficult transaction, sent a hand-written note thanking the client for the business, and including a gift prompted by one of the funnier developments in the deal.
- Wrote a letter of support for a contact’s child at the school his child attended.
- Sent a prospect a subscription to a nutrition newsletter, after discovering, to mutual amusement, common anxieties about pesticides and other food pollutants.
- Monitored the then new elder care law practice niche—after a referral source mentioned considering that growing new field. Located commentary, data and blogs, and passed along the relevant links.
- Introduced a client’s high school daughter to a niece, who offered to give her a personal tour of her college campus and invited the client’s kid to stay overnight at her dorm.
- Invited a prospect to be a speaker for a well-attended webinar her colleague moderated.
- Promoted a range of people on social media, via strategic posts, blog comments, and thoughtful commentary.
- Attended the National Cable Television Association trade conference in New Orleans—attended by clients, prospects, and industry friends, and rented a van to ferry the whole contingent to after dinner events ...
- Visited a client’s offices to meet new in-house staff and catch up on her company’s business, market, and industry, and the progress of her career.
- Alerted a referral source that tickets to Green Day’s American Idiot concert were going on sale the next day at 10:00 am. Same for Springsteen’s most recent tour.
- Convened an off-meter conference call with several banking clients to gather their comments and suggestions on the pure-business, and industry-specific, provisions of their credit documents.
- Stopped by the offices of a referral source (a political history buff) to drop off the third volume of Robert Caro’s biography of LBJ, on the day it hit the shelves.
- Introduced two banking contacts, one looking for a new loan officer and one freshly out of a job, with excellent results.
Now go forth and make some rain ... and some good friends along the way!
Betsy Munnell is a business development coach and consultant for lawyers and law firms. She is also the co-creator of a case study driven business skills training program for law firm associates. Before forming EHMunnell in 2009, she practiced law for 30 years, 24 as a partner at Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge (now Locke Lord LLP), where she was one of the founders of EAPD’s Boston office and its nationally recognized media and communications debt finance, private equity, and M&A industry practice group. Betsy is Chair of the ABA’s Career Center Board of Directors. She is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School.