I was thinking a lot about networking today as I worked on a project for the lawyers at my firm who are participants in our pipeline business development program where we meet monthly and discuss lead generation and client retention, as well as branding strategies. It’s open to lawyers of all levels – from the most junior to the most senior – proving that you are never too young or old to start building your book of business.

I put together some thoughts for them and an exercise for them designed to help them build their professional network, and I thought I would also share it with you in case it was helpful in expanding your networks too.

I really believe that a major key to success can be summed up in one word – generosity.

Real networking is about finding ways to make other people more successful. It’s about working to give those in your network more than you get from them.

Your network functions because there’s recognition of a mutual need, and your job is to identify how you can help those in your network with their needs. Also be the person that others can count on in good times and bad – this is how you will also develop real strong, close relationships.

Also, when it comes to making a lasting impression, vanilla is boring. Be memorable. Differentiate yourself. Don’t be afraid to show some vulnerability. Oftentimes, you will be able to form a real, lasting relationship as a result of memorable exchanges.

Finally, a few conference best practices for you. Maximize your time at every conference – don’t sit in your hotel or have your head down on your phone or laptop. Scan the attendee list in advance if you can get access to it and strategically set up breakfasts, lunches and dinners during your time at a conference if it is off site.

You should never eat alone at any point during a conference!

Also, post a status update on LinkedIn whenever you attend a conference so that others in your network know that you’ll be there – this way you can plan to meet up in advance with individuals who will also be in attendance. Extra credit if you use the conference’s hashtag and post insights throughout the day as well as retweet other attendees’ posts to build your network.

In addition, try to meet the conference co-chairs and next year’s co-chairs to see if there are future leadership/speaking opportunities for you.

Now here’s the short assignment I’d like you to think about: Developing Your Network – Implementing the Rule of Five

  • Identify five people within your professional universe who you would like to get to know better – this is different from regular pipeline work because these are people who you do not really know well. Maybe you met them at a conference or an event or through the legal industry…
  • Within the next 12 months, commit to reaching out to each of these individuals at least once a month with something of value.
  • This could be an email with an article of interest, an invite to a networking lunch, a book they’d be interested in or an invite to a conference/event.
  • Track your progress in a Word document and hold yourself accountable to a buddy at your firm or within your industry.

Let me know how it goes!