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 nonexperts 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.

This post is taken from Steve’s Fretzin’s book, The Attorney’s Networking Handbook.