Monday, January 21, 2013

How to handwrite a letter

Handwritten #1 by Jim Caryl
Handwritten #1, a photo by Jim Caryl on Flickr.

The Christmas period offers many opportunities to make new contacts. But beware the free bar if you want to be remembered for the right reasons, writes Nicky Richmond

There is an old joke that there's only one letter difference between networking and notworking.

And there will always be people who are sceptical about the importance of networking. You will generally find that they are the people who have a very small network. Even experienced professionals will often deride marketing events that they have never been to or which don't suit the way that they network. But all successful professionals have a large, fluid network and it doesn't happen by accident.

Also let's not confuse networking and marketing. They are close relatives, but they are not identical twins. Marketing is about selling and winning new business. Networking is about doing that, but in a different way - it is about meeting people who might be useful to you and your business either directly or indirectly, through referrals and for mutual benefit.

And at this time of the year, with a plethora of client drinks and Christmas parties, there is more opportunity than at any other time of the year to meet new people.

Yes, I am sorry to say, it does sometimes mean going into a room full of strangers and having to actually talk to them. For people starting out, that can be terrifying. And often, to ease the pain, there are free drinks. Often, people drink too many of them, especially at this time of year. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

Do be wary of getting completely bladdered at client events. You might be the life and soul and, indeed, you might be very entertaining in your Santa hat, but you won't necessarily be taken seriously thereafter. And don't put it on Facebook.

Conferences: more than just a jolly

What about conferences? Are they worthwhile, or are they just an excuse for a "jolly"? I go to MIPIM every year and I am beyond bored with the amount of times I have been told I don't need to go to the south of France to meet people I could meet at home. This is usually said to me by people who have never been.

If I had heeded those words and stayed at home I would never have met a rather colourful property developer at 5am, in the bar of the Martinez, whose first words to me were: "I f***ing hate my bank's lawyers."

I happened to act for the bank whose lawyers he hated. Following that meeting at MIPIM he told the bank to change lawyers from the hated firm to my own. He then proceeded to borrow from a number of banks and instructed each one to put my firm on his panel. That meeting wouldn't have happened in London.

The message from that little story is that successful networking sometimes happens when you are not expecting it and when it is unplanned, but unless you are out there and actually making some effort, it will not happen at all.

It's about making an effort. You have to accept that you are responsible for your own future, however dull that may sound. No-one is going to hand it to you on a plate. The sooner you get that, the better.

So how do you do it? Do you really have to stand in that room and work it? Is that the only way?

I work with people who can work a room like no one else and it is something to behold. But it is a skill, and if you don't have it, then don't concentrate on that particular aspect of networking. It will only be excruciating to you and if you don't manage to make connections with those strangers, you might feel like a failure. It's about the fear of rejection. We have all been there, trying to enter a group who are merrily chatting away and then stand there, hovering, while no-one speaks to you and no-one makes eye contact. Buttock-clenching.

It does get easier the more you do it, but you need a bit of a rhinoceros hide and not everyone has one. You may think that it is a good idea to go with a colleague to one of these events, but that just means you will hang around the edges, talk to each other and drink too much. Or leave after five minutes and go to the pub or go to do your Christmas shopping.

The truth is, you are probably networking all the time without even realising it. Every time you go out after a deal for a drink with your opposite number - that's networking.

Social media

Never mind real life, if the room full of strangers scenario brings you out in a cold sweat, you can create a virtual network online. Unless you are living on another planet, you will have noticed that LinkedIn is becoming more important - it's the grown-up big brother of Facebook. Likewise Twitter. Don't ignore it. Twitter is a great way of finding other people who share common interests.

People are very generous online, with both their time and the sharing of information. It cuts through the normal stratifications of professional life. I have had many an interesting conversation with law students and juniors wanting to understand more about a career in the law - they would never have been able to have that conversation with me by phoning up my firm, but through Twitter, if they have something to say, they can make contact in a different way.

I have recruited two lawyers and successfully introduced a transaction to an intermediary through Twitter, so it has actually made and saved money in real life.

You need to spend time on your social media profile, if you choose to have one. It's not something that you can dip in and out of. What you are really doing is creating your own personal brand and identity. That may make you cringe, but if you are going to network effectively you have to do it.

Getting results

Don't go to events not relevant to your industry - unless the canapes are brilliant. And don't expect instant results. It takes a while to work out which of your new relationships are going to be beneficial. It often takes years for contacts to come good. Some never do. That's business.

If you do go to a function, be it a networking event, or a client dinner, or a wine tasting, or just a few beers, make sure that if you meet anyone interesting you get their card. Remember it's quality not quantity. It's not a card-collecting competition.

Having got the magic card, have a system for dealing with it. The most basic thing that you can do is make sure you remember who gave you the business card. Next morning, put that new contact in your Outlook, with a background note and have a diary reminder to follow them up on a regular basis. If you don't do a follow-up e-mail the next day, you probably never will, and if you do it a week later, the person you met will have already forgotten about you.

We have all been to business events and not followed up. I am as guilty as the next person. There is no excuse.

Networking is not "one size fits all". You have to be clear about what you want to achieve before planning your networking strategy. So many people have no goal in networking; they just have a vague desire to "improve their business" or "meet new people". But most of us are time-poor and don't have the luxury of hours to waste on people and events that are not useful for us. So be focused. Think about why you are there (if not just for the drinks) and don't eat all the pies.

Nicky Richmond is managing partner at property law firm Brecher

networking Dos and don'ts

* Don't be scared about the roomful of strangers. If you don't meet anyone, it doesn't matter.

* Do remember to take your business cards and a pen that works - you'd be surprised at how many people fall at that first hurdle.

* Don't lose all self-control when faced with free drinks. Don't be the person who they talk about the next day.

* Do follow up the very next day - or don't bother.

* Don't fake it. If you don't gel with someone, best to move on.

* When someone is taling to you, don't look over your shoulder to see who else has come into the room - "Sorry, am I boring you?"

* Do take your work-self seriously. If you don't, no-one will.

Nicky Richmond

Source Citation (MLA 7th Edition)
"'Tis the season to be networking." Estates Gazette 1 Dec. 2012. General OneFile. Web. 21 Jan. 2013.
Document URL

Gale Document Number: GALE|A314935075

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