One of the most important steps that you will take in opening your own practice is creating and maintaining your Safety Net-work. Your Safety Net-work is a way to mitigate the risk of hanging your own shingle. Connections you make have the ability to add to your book of business, advise you on best business practices, and even guide you in your own practice of law. There are many ways to build and maintain your network and our way is not necessarily the best, but it works for us. Below is how J.T. and I have built our own Safety Net-work:
One of the best opportunities I took advantage of in law school was attending a social function directed in part by the IU McKinney Office of Professional Development. The OPD enlisted the help of a professional connector, a person whose job it is to network and connect individuals across the professional spectrum. The event was open to all professionals spanning the professional spectrum; it was our task as law students to engage and network with as many of these professionals as possible. Prior to mingling and stuffing our faces with the hors d’oeuvre as any self-respecting law student does, the professional connector lent us some advice on how to properly and effectively “work” the crowd.
He said that we should group together prior to entering the network function and learn at least three facts about each other: (1) professional interests (really, what type of law are you interested in); (2) hobbies; and (3) a fun fact about yourself. Armed with at least the above three things about each person in your small group, you hit the network floor and introduce yourself to as many people as you can. Once you start talking with someone, guide the conversation by asking questions that may answer one or more of the topics you know about each of your group members. Ask questions like: What do you do professionally? Do you have any hobbies? Etc. The answers from the individuals you talk to will align at some point with one or more of your colleagues interests. It is then your job to introduce this person to your colleague for which there is a shared interest. If done successfully, you will have multiplied your coverage of the room by the amount of people in your group as each person is looking out for the best interests of each other. This method works great. In a room of probably 500+ people, I was able to meet more individuals with whom I shared an interest than I would have if I had done it on my own. I was also able to help my colleagues make valuable connections. Try it for yourself.
Managing Your Safety Net-work
Making connections is usually the fun and easy part of building a professional network. Alternatively, maintaining your existing network can be damn near exhausting depending on the size of the network you wish to maintain. J.T. and I have worked hard to connect with as many individuals as possible in order to widen our book of business, but a widening book of business requires structure and organization to effectively maintain. Through trial and error, combined with a little bit of research, we came across Judy Robinett‘s book How to Be a Power Connector: The 5+50+100 Rule for Turning Your Business Network into Profits that gave us some ideas on how to stay connected with our network. Robinett’s book essentially teaches you ways to organize your network to make your network work for you. By organizing your network in categories, you allow yourself to be more effective with your network.
Keep Your Eyes and Mind Open
Do not, do not, do not, do not, I repeat, DO NOT limit with whom you network. Networking is supposed to not only expand your connections within your industry, but is also to expand your connections globally. You never know who will be able to give you that invaluable lead or what business-changing advice you may receive from someone you least expected. With no technological knowhow and no thought of working in a technology field, I made a connection with a software designer who ended up giving me a wealth of business advice. You see, he was not just a software developer, but had started dozens of businesses of his own. Although there are many differences between the business structure of a software company and a law firm, the business ideas helped guide the planning of the firm. You never know where that lead or next big idea will come from, so keep your eyes and mind open to new opportunities.
We may supplement this blog post as we go forward, so check back for updates!