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Preview of ‘The Attorney’s Networking Handbook’

Foreword by Neil Dishman

We lawyers have a disease. Steve Fretzin is the cure.

Our lawyers’ disease is a severe, irrational aversion to doing business development well, or even doing it at all.

This disease has an incubation period of three years — the three years we spend in law school. There we learn little or nothing about where clients come from or how law firms make money. We are trained to think, speak, write, and act like academics, not like businesspeople. We are made to feel as if we belong to a scholarly caste that should be above common things like “sales” and “marketing.”

Shortly after law school, the symptoms appear. Once in private practice, many of us avoid even trying to develop business, due to ignorance, fear, or even outright disdain of the process. And those of us who do put forth some effort are often ineffective and inefficient — which should be no surprise, given that we’ve had no training in it.

When it comes to networking in particular, we often waste the precious time of both ourselves and the people we’re meeting.

This is because we fail to be thoughtful and purposeful about selecting the people we’re meeting, defining what we want accomplish with them, and agreeing on a plan to make it happen. We compound these problems by lacking discipline in our follow-up efforts.

Steve Fretzin’s philosophy and techniques are a powerful antidote.

I know this because I’ve had a heavy dose of it. I’ve practiced for ten years at Jackson Lewis P.C., where our business is helping employers prevent and resolve disputes with their employees. (Incidentally, it was Steve who taught me to express what I do in plain English like this, rather than saying something like “I practice management-side labor and employment law.”) In 2012, just after I was elevated to become an income shareholder at my firm, I engaged Steve for a six-month course on all aspects of business development.

I had already enjoyed some success at business development up to that point and built a respectable book of business for someone at my level. But I felt that my early, modest success had been a function of sheer force of effort, not skill. I put hundreds and hundreds of hours every year into business development, and some of that effort paid off — but this model was not sustainable.

I engaged Steve hoping that his intensive training and coaching would help me accelerate the growth of my book with less time and effort. I wanted to develop business because I’d become good at it, not just because I tried hard.

My expectations were exceeded. I learned a tremendous amount from working with Steve, from grand philosophical insights to subtle, simple tactical moves. In the three years since my time with Steve, I’ve roughly tripled my book of business. I was elevated to become an equity shareholder in my firm. And I’ve been asked to lead the firm’s program for training our upcoming associates in how to develop business. It is no exaggeration to say that Steve Fretzin changed my life.

One of my most treasured networking and referral relationships is with a brilliant business consultant named Dan. He’s in his late fifties and has built an impressive network over his many years in business. Dan said to me once: “Neil, I have probably one hundred lawyers in my virtual ‘Rolodex,’ and you are one of about three of them who are worth a damn. I think the rest of them are just sitting in their offices, churning out billable hours, and hoping for the phone to ring.” I was quite flattered by the compliment, but I also found it a sad commentary on the profession that I belong to and love.

So, dear reader: do you want to be one of the three out of one hundred lawyers who are “worth a damn” at networking? If you do, read on. Steve Fretzin’s highly practical advice in this book is what you need to apply to get there.

Neil H. Dishman

Shareholder, Jackson Lewis P.C.

Chicago

Chapter 4

Creating the Perfect Infomercial

Before heading out to conquer the networking world, it’s important to have an effective infomercial or elevator pitch. An infomercial is your 30 – 60 second self-description, designed to help contacts understand your value.

Everyone should have something prepared to say to a group or individual when meeting for the first time. As in many areas of career development, “winging it” is not the best plan. Be ready to prepare a few different versions of your infomercial, as some situations may call for a longer, shorter, or altered version.

Four Steps to Creating a Memorable and Effective Infomercial

1. Include a statement of who you are and what you do.

The key here is to keep it simple; for example, “I’m an attorney focusing my practice on intellectual property, and I help people protect their trade names and patents.” Or keep it vague; for example, “I’m an intellectual property attorney helping people to protect their valuable ideas.”

2. Describe your prospect’s pain points.

Instead of listing a bunch of features and benefits of your services, think of the pains that people may have that your services can alleviate. This is really important for a number of reasons. First, it allows you to stop bragging about yourself or your firm. Second, it’s different than the typical “pitch” we’ve all heard before. Third, the concept of cutting straight to the negative or discussing problems people are having in their business gets people’s attention. Try to use emotional words that capture the essence of the problem, issue, or frustration that people may have that you’re able to help ease.

Think about the commercials for the cold remedy NyQuil, which is pitched as “the nighttime, sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching head, fever,so-you-can-rest medicine.” Can’t you just visualize the on-screen patient in his pajamas, holding his head? Painting a vivid picture of the problem creates an effective and enduring image.

An example of a pain statement for an IP attorney is, “We typically help people who are unaware that their business name is at risk. What if you had to rebuild your respected brand all over again?” If you’re speaking to someone to whom that scenario applies, they just might be interested in speaking with you further.

I try to throw out two or three pain statements relevant to my audience. You need to be flexible to tweak the message, depending on the recipient. The best practice is to identify the top two or three potential pain points and work with those. If you have a pretty good idea that at least one of these points will strike a chord with your target, then you’ve hit the mark. Most people either have legal issues themselves, or they know someone else who does. When leading with pain statements in your infomercial, people are more likely to accept that you have a solution for the issues simply because you’ve keenly identified them. Of course, be sure that you do actually have a solution to avoid an embarrassing situation.

3. Share your differentiator.

Create a “differentiator” for yourself or your practice. With the bombardment of media messages lobbed at us on a daily basis, it’s more important than ever before to stand out from the crowd. Establishing and emphasizing an explanation as to how you or your firm is unique will help you attract the attention of potential clients and strategic partners. Ask yourself two questions to test whether your differentiator is effective. The first question is whether your message is different from any others you’ve heard, and the second question is whether this message is compelling enough to make someone really care about it.

Use your differentiator to separate yourself from the crowd of competition. For example, if you have a law firm policy that any incoming call that lasts under 15 minutes will not be billed, this is a potential differentiator from other attorneys. One word of caution, though: providing great service or a terrific quality product does not qualify as a differentiator. These factors do not make you unique, even if true. If others are saying the same thing, it doesn’t pass the litmus test described above. If you’re unsure how to identify a good differentiator, try asking former clients who’ve expressed a positive opinion of working with you. They may be able to shed some light on what makes you unique in the marketplace.

4. Make it easy for the group or individual to take the next step.

Be prepared with a statement that will help your target take the next step, such as, “If you’re interested in hearing more about intellectual property practice and how my firm helps to protect our clients’ interests, please see me after the meeting or visit my website at www.thecoolestIPguy.com.” If you’re speaking to an individual at an event, you might take more initiative and suggest a next step yourself by proposing a coffee meeting in the next couple of weeks to discuss a potential collaboration. Such a call to action is most natural at the end of a conversation.

These four steps virtually guarantee you have an effective message about the ways in which you help people and what makes you unique in the marketplace. You’ll also become more memorable because you’re forgoing the typical lawyer “feature and benefit” message, which is lazy, not to mention boring. Discussing the features and benefits of your practice can be viewed as boasting about yourself or your law firm and is an outdated approach to selling oneself. Remember to memorize your infomercial and practice delivering it with feeling and passion to make sure the message is confidently communicated.

The experience of an intellectual property attorney I helped a few years ago provides an example of the process of creating an infomercial. Those words that should be emphasized when delivering the message are italicized.

Step 1: I’m Dan Henry and I head up the intellectual property law group at Johnson & Adams. I’ve specialized in patents and trademark law for over 20 years.

Step 2: People usually come to me when a competitor accuses them of patent or trademark infringement, which can handcuff their business and cost them thousands or sometimes millions of dollars. Or they come to me when they learn that a competitor has knocked off their well- known product or name and is confusing their customers in the marketplace. This can cause irreparable damage to a business, resulting in lost sales and wiping out their reputation and goodwill that’s taken decades to build.

Step 3: My clients love my proactive approach to protecting their intellectual property by asking the really tough questions. They tell me that no other practitioner has asked such in-depth questions to protect them.

Step 4: If you think your intellectual property, business name, or product could be at risk, please give me a business card before you leave today and I’ll follow up with you. Thank you. Again, my name is Dan Henry with Johnson & Adams.

Another client infomercial is:

I’m Kevin Smith and I’m a partner in the litigation group at Thompson and Beck. Clients typically come to me when they havebusiness-related headaches and are unsure how to address them. For instance, I frequently counsel my banking clients when they’re concerned about aggressive debtors threatening to tie them up in litigation, or when they’ve realized they have errors in their loan documents that could cost them thousands. I’ve seen clients go crazy trying to sort these problems out, throwing good money after bad.

I make sure my clients know that they can reach out to me day or night. In addition to sharing my cell phone number with all my clients, I make sure they also have my home number for emergencies. If you’re ever in a position where you’re concerned about a potential or actual dispute, please contact me, and maybe I can be of assistance. I’m always willing to take a call and serve as a “sounding board.” Thank you for your time. My name is Kevin Smith with Thompson and Beck.

Be sure to keep your infomercial between 15 and 45 seconds, depending on the context of the conversation in which you’re using it. Rarely will an individual want to listen to you ramble on for minutes at a time about yourself. This is an immediate turn off, as you probably know from the experience of listening to others. Write out your infomercial, practice it a dozen times, and then try it out without a script. Watch the listener’s face for feedback. Make changes to ensure you’re hitting the right buttons. Avoid memorizing verbatim, other than those words you’ve carefully selected to emphasize an idea, so you don’t sound “canned.”

A few years ago I had an estate planning client who attended one of my networking events. When it was his turn to speak, he used these four steps in addressing the group. He referenced the “tragedy and pain” that children endure when both partners of a couple die without an estate plan, facing the prospect of the court deciding their fate, for better or worse. At the end of the meeting, my client had three people lined up to take his business card to set up a meeting about their estates. It’s amazing how people react to a well- written and executed infomercial.

CHAPTER FOUR TAKEAWAYS

While there are literally thousands of models for a good infomercial, I’ve found that the one I’ve shared with you has a little of everything that people want to hear because

it prompts you to convey your message without verbally overwhelming the listener;

it provides specific examples of legal issues or “pains” your audience can relate to and visualize;

it shares what’s different about you that others can’t or don’t say; and

it implies a next step to move someone forward to a future meeting with you.

Networking Note

“When networking in a group setting, listen first and add value to the conversation by asking open-ended questions. This will ensure your commentary will add to, not subtract from, the conversation.”

Amit Mehta, Paul Hastings

Chapter 8

Being a “True Giver” when Networking

Over the past 10 – 15 years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people actively focusing on networking. Increasing competition, along with more widespread attention on building a strong network, is encouraging businesspeople to flock to networking functions in droves. This is as true for the legal profession as for any other. However, it can be an especially difficult challenge for an attorney to simultaneously balance a clogged office inbox with a devotion to developing a book of business.

As we’ve established, simply “getting out there” isn’t enough in the contemporary networking scene. It’s more critical now than ever before to employ a thoughtful approach to networking in order to find success. Many attorneys I work with express discomfort at the notion of networking due to fruitless past attempts, which makes the whole endeavor seem a waste of valuable time. However, applying an efficient and effective process to networking will ensure you get optimal results from your time investment.

I’ve categorized business networkers into three groups. In addition to identifying which group you might belong to, it’s important to quickly identify which group others fit into as well. Identifying which group the person you’re speaking with falls into can make or break your results.

Networker Type 1: The Taker

A “Taker” is an individual who attends numerous events and racks up an imposing collection of names and business cards as a way to push appointments and close sales. Unfortunately, these sometimes-aggressive creatures can burn enough people that word “gets around” and ultimately helps to dissolve their reputations. You may even start to observe people physically positioning themselves away from a Taker at consecutive events. Although avoidance seems an appropriate strategy, the Taker should not be dismissed outright. For some people, simply obtaining new sales (however generated) is and always will be their focus.

Perhaps a compassionate view toward seemingly aggressive Takers is the best way to view them. After all, many entrepreneurs require sales quotas of their employees to retain their jobs as a strategy to keep the business viable. Some Takers simply haven’t been taught the art of networking, or are confused on how best to to utilize networking in order to achieve long-term results.

That being said, if you can detect a Taker early on at an event, try to avoid the next step: the one-on-one meeting. This important meeting is where you schedule a time to meet for coffee or lunch after the initial networking event where you met with a potential business connection. If you find yourself inadvertently ensnared in a meeting with a Taker, this meeting can make for a rough few hours consisting of a sales pitch for the Taker’s product or service, whether you have a need for it or not. It could also turn into a “name grab” by the new acquaintance for the names of your contacts so that he or she can make a sales pitch to them.

Whatever the case, identifying and avoiding a Taker at an event or by phone before committing to a coffee meeting can save you time and emotional energy. Feel free to thank the person for his or her time and express appreciation for the invitation, but tell the “wannabe” contact directly that you’re not available and/or not interested in his or her product or service. It’s perfectly acceptable to say you’re happy with your current vendor. The most important thing to remember when dealing with a Taker is to use whichever response best fits your situation, get it said, and move on as quickly as possible. Your ability to identify a Taker and then to remove yourself and focus on more promising prospects is a critical component of effective networking.

Networker Type 2: The Apparent Giver

The Apparent Giver is the most common networker type. Apparent Givers are those people who, sometime during their careers, have heard and taken very much to heart the concept that “givers gain” or “give to get” as a mantra relating to networking. They believe they understand how to network and think of themselves as major players in the networking game, but often they miss the boat on the important component of follow-through.

Where Apparent Givers stumble is in failing to execute the promises they’ve made to new contacts in an effort to gain their trust. While an Apparent Giver may actually have altruistic intentions in the beginning, promises are worthless if the networker doesn’t follow up and carry out the pledge made to the new contact. Some Apparent Givers become too distracted by other commitments and simply forget to act on their earlier promises. Some with less philanthropic motives may drop the ball when they realize the new contact may not be able to immediately reciprocate. For most people in this age of information overload, if something isn’t scheduled and written down, it probably won’t happen.

The most obvious downside to turning into an Apparent Giver is that failure to follow through will tarnish your reputation if you come to be viewed as someone who doesn’t act on a pledge to a new contact. On the receiving end of the networking exchange, Apparent Givers present a distraction from your ultimate goal of disqualifying this contact type as a potential strategic partner due to empty promises.

When I meet an Apparent Giver, I always perform a small test. I ask this potential Apparent Giver to make an introduction for me to a third party to observe the person’s follow-through. If the Apparent Giver seems to stumble on the action portion of the equation, I may step in and try to help the person out with a reminder e-mail or phone call to discuss progress on the referral that was offered. After that, if my prompts don’t bear fruit, I begin to seriously question my new contact’s ability to become a referral source for me. This low-commitment testing process provides me with an opportunity to gauge the new contact’s mettle in terms of living up to promises before spending time on someone who’s unable to be an active part of my network due to inertia. The same approach can work for you.

Networker Type 3: The True Giver

The ultimate networking aspiration is to become a True Giver and to seek to interact with others of this type. True Givers understand the “big picture” when it comes to networking. This networker’s mantra is “I’ll give selflessly, regardless of what’s in it for me personally.”

As a True Giver, I can tell you that giving selflessly to everyone you meet is a fulfilling way of life in and of itself. The amount of good karma I’ve stockpiled over the years of true giving is impressive, if I do say so myself. I’ve built a mega network 15,000 people deep with a stellar reputation as a dependable person.

The downside of being a True Giver comes down to a math problem. When I started networking many years ago, I attended three or four networking events each week. Depending on the type of event, I’d meet from 3 to 20 new people at each event. Early on, I filled up my calendar with anyone, including C-classified contacts (see Chapter 5), who’d meet with me. There were days I’d go to five coffee meetings back-to-back.

As a newbie True Giver, I felt that in order to succeed at networking on a high level, I had to help each and every person I met for a cup of joe. However, even if I met for only 3 coffees each day, in a month of 20 working days that would have amounted to 60 individuals that I was trying to assist with referrals — and I was making as many as 3 connections for each person I met for coffee. When I make a referral, it’s typically a call on the contact’s behalf for optimal results, which could take three minutes, minimum. All this adds up to 540 minutes of referral time, give or take, each month. That’s 9 hours each month just making phone calls, in addition to the time spent meeting with the contacts in the first place — which is untenable, even for the most committed True Giver.

As a busy attorney, you’re probably reading this and shaking your head in disbelief due to not just the sheer number of meetings, but the astonishing amount of time I’d spend introducing contacts to each other. Even if you had only five short coffee meetings in a month, it might be problematic to then make one quality introduction for each. That’s why being a True Giver has to be balanced with a deliberate process.

First and foremost, remember that you don’t have to meet with everyone you encounter at a networking event, as we’ve already established. By using the system outlined in Chapter 5 to qualify the best people for you to endeavor to meet and possibly refer to another connection, you’ll focus in on quality connections.

Second, don’t feel obligated to promise referrals for every person you meet. Not everyone is worthy of your “endorsement” by way of an introduction to another one of the contacts you’ve nurtured. It’s fairly easy to disqualify Takers and industry non-experts as people not to make pledges to or introduce to others.

Finally, while of course the Golden Rule tells us we should be nice to everyone, you should focus your networking energy on helping those people you identify as True Givers and those who appear to have the ability to be a strategic partner over the long haul.

One major key to successful networking is to qualify people as you go. This is critical because, from a temporal standpoint, you should be following up as close in time to the networking event as possible. Because all networkers are not created equal, you should make sure they’re tested and then tested again. You’ll learn more about your new contact with each interaction. For example, after meeting someone for coffee and rating her as an A, I may try to make one or two introductions for her. Along the way, I watch her reaction and reciprocation. While I don’t necessarily expect “tit for tat,” if there isn’t some level of reciprocity, I know I’ve met someone who’s probably not a True Giver, which informs my interactions surrounding this person going forward.

While other networking resources might suggest that being a True Giver requires never asking the “return on investment” question, I posit that effective networking requires informed, judicious giving of your time and connections to the right people for the right reasons. After all, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to run around doing good deeds for every person who crosses our paths.

On another note, I may meet a contact I rate as a C and try to make one small connection for him or her or provide some sound advice if asked. I don’t necessarily expect much from a C in return, but this is where the “networking karma” kicks in. My father always said, “If you can’t make a sale, make a friend.” This is a surefire way to build up a following of people who like you and might think about referring you down the road.

CHAPTER EIGHT TAKEAWAYS

Being a True Giver is ideal, but it isn’t natural for many people. The key is to the connect with the right people for the right reasons.

It’s okay to walk away from Takers and Apparent Givers. The return on investment with these two groups will rarely be fruitful.

We all have the ability to be a True Giver. If you can unleash it with intelligence, it could be the most rewarding business activity in which you engage.

For most people, becoming a True Giver is a learned skill. Like any other skill, it needs to be used, practiced, and improved on for real results to occur.

Networking Note

“Effective rainmakers consistently provide their most trusted relationships with what they need, whether it be legal services, key introductions, ideas, industry information, or referrals. Networking and building a following allows you to provide more value in the relationships that you are developing. It enables you to give far more than quality legal services, which are a given.”

Jeffrey Stahl, Stahl Cowen Crowley Addis LLC

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