Interview with Allison C. Shields of Legal Ease Consulting
Allison C. Shields, Esq., is President of Legal Ease Consulting, Inc., she provides leadership, management and practice development services for successful law firms.
Josh: How do you define Business Networking and why do you feel it is important?
Allison C. Shields: Business Networking is about building relationships. Although there can certainly be relationships between businesses, at their core, all relationships are about people. So business networking is about connecting with people.
There seems to be a misconception out there that networking is about just meeting or making contact with as many people as possible. But real connections and solid business relationships are formed over time, once people have gotten to know and trust one another; once they’ve developed a bond or a feeling of kinship.
With all of the activity on the internet, some networking can be done virtually, and this kind of ‘virtual networking’ can be very effective. Emails, participation in internet groups, websites, forums and especially blogs, are virtual networks that are built upon every day. They can help you establish your credibility.
But more importantly, the more information that’s disseminated about you, the more information you give away, the more that people hear or read what you have to say, the better they know you. Speaking and writing articles offline can also increase your networking effectiveness.
The best way to make those all-important connections is to be yourself, and to be true to your own beliefs and business aspirations. Often, the best networking opportunities come when you’re not thinking about ‘networking,’ per se, but when you’re doing what you love doing, what you’re passionate about, or when you’re using your unique gifts and talents to help others.
The best connections are made when you’re fully engaged with those around you. Regardless of what business you’re in, you’ll make better, more authentic connections by participating in activities or groups that you genuinely care about. Usually when you’re involved in something you care about, you’re naturally at your best, your enthusiasm shows, and the shared sense of purpose increases the bond.
Making connections with others is the foundation of good business and of providing a great client experience. Without a connection, clients are less likely to be loyal, and others will be less likely to refer business to you. People stay with and recommend people with whom they’ve developed a connection and had a good experience. If there’s no connection, there’s nothing to keep people with you.
Josh: Can you share a few ideas that someone could put into practice that would help them to improve their business networking skills?
Allison C. Shields: A good way to improve your business networking skills is to place your focus on the external, rather than the internal. In other words, focus on the other person, rather than focusing on yourself. Many people put unnecessary pressure on themselves when they’re ‘networking,’ worrying about the ‘right’ things to say and focusing on trying to get business.
But placing the focus on the other person, asking questions and being genuinely curious is bound to create a better connection. Not only will you learn more concrete information about the other person which will potentially allow you to help that person, but that person is more likely to begin to trust you. And since everyone likes to talk about themselves, you’ll look like a great conversationalist when you ask questions and genuinely listen to the answers. Giving is the best, most effective and most rewarding networking strategy of all, and it takes many forms, but it begins with listening and focusing on others.
Remember that networking is about quality, not quantity – it’s the quality of the connections you make, not the number of people you meet, that will create success. Keep your contacts diverse – instead of focusing on the same groups or types of people, network with a diverse group of contacts.
If your goal is to extend your reach, networking with the same group of people all of the time is counter-productive. In addition to broadening your horizons, diversifying your contacts will expose you to lots of different ideas and points of view. Borrowing ideas and insights from other industries is a very effective means of innovating, creating a fantastic business experience for your clients and creating a successful business.
One of the cardinal rules of good networking is follow up. Don’t wait for the other person to contact you – send a brief email, or even better, a short hand-written note. Clip an article they might find of interest. Contact them outside of the business or networking event circuit and meet them for coffee or come to their office to learn more about their business, and to find out how you can help them make connections.
Networking isn’t just about making new connections and forging new relationships. It’s also about maintaining your existing relationships and creating a better and better experience for your clients. That means you’ve got to keep networking, keep giving, keep helping, and keep focusing on your existing contacts, not just focusing on new contacts or prospects.
Josh: How do you keep track of your networking contacts? Do you have any particular system in place for managing your business networking relationships?
Allison C. Shields: I keep track of my networking contacts by entering them immediately after an event into my contact database. There are lots of different systems you can use, whether paper-based or computer based, but you’ve got to have a system. And that system should include not only the business contact information that appears on the other person’s business card, but should also include other tidbits of information – whether personal or professional – that you pick up along the way. Keep track of where and when you meet someone, along with a brief note about what you discussed. This will also make it easier to remember them later. Don’t wait until the business cards pile up or you’ll quickly realize that you’ve already forgotten some of those people whose cards you’ve collected.