Many professional service firms try to ensure that they are represented at as many local business networking events as possible, which inevitably means occasionally substituting Partner attendees with more junior staff. This is generally good practice – it ensures the firm maintains visibility in the local market place and gives more junior staff a chance to practice their networking skills and enhance their personal development.
At a legal firm I used to work at we would regularly send Associates or Solicitors to local networking events. However, having now become a regular visitor at such events myself (I was even called a “networking tart” recently!) I have observed it from the other side and have been pretty disappointed by what I have witnessed:
- At a recent monthly business lunch in Exeter I sat next to a solicitor who had brought only four business cards with her, not even enough to pass around the table! She had to handwrite her details on scraps of paper.
- At another business networking lunch I attended the following week in Exeter I was sitting next to a different solicitor (not sure why I manage to attract solicitors!). She told me that she used to regularly attend the monthly lunches but hadn’t been for about six years. Her reason for attending that day was that the Senior Partner had been quizzing everyone about their marketing activities so she felt compelled to do some networking. Despite the fact her main reason for attending was to ‘market’ she did not at any point during the lunch attempt to ascertain whether I might have any legal requirements or ensure I was familiar with the firm and the services they offered.
Not only do these experiences create a negative impression of the firm but have cost the firm financially, both in terms of the cost of the event and the unbillable hours spent by the fee earner at the event.
My 10 suggestions to ensure your junior networkers know what is expected of them are as follows:
- Provide a networking training session for all junior fee earners to include networking tips and don’ts.
- Provide a networking practice session – at a law firm I worked at we hooked up with a local accountancy practice and a local bank and invited junior staff from each business to network with their counterparts in an informal setting. Feedback was provided after the session.
- Provide fee earners with a short crib sheet on the firm – key facts and figures – so they know a little bit about all areas of the firm.
- Provide fee earners with a 1 minute ‘elevator speech’ on the firm and make it accessible to all on the firm’s intranet site.
- Consider whether it is appropriate to send a junior fee earner. At some events the gravitas of a Partner is required.
- Ensure fee earners are fully briefed about the event they are attending so they know what to expect. If the delegate list is available in advance ensure they have a copy.
- Make sure the number of representatives from the firm is proportional to the total number of attendees (yesterday there were four people, two on my table, from the aforementioned law firm out of a total of 35 attendees).
- Equip your fee earners with sufficient, good quality business cards and remind them to take them!
- Ensure a follow up sheet is completed by the fee earner after the event – what did they think of the event, who did they speak to, what follow up activity is required? Check in with them a few days later to make sure all follow up actions have been completed.
- Internally communicate networking successes (introductions made, referrals secured) and praise the relevant fee earners. This reinforces the message and engenders a bit of healthy competition.
Of course age and experience doesn’t necessarily make for a good networker (I have also witnessed some pretty shocking behaviour by Partners at networking events) but if you educate and support your junior fee earners from the start then there is a much better chance that they will represent your firm well and eventually bring financial return.
Do you have any thoughts on this? Tips to add? I am really interested to hear the views/experiences of others.