When I was coaching lawyers I was frequently asked for my top tip on attracting new clients. Over the last year, while I have been recruiting lawyers, I’ve been asked the same question. Put simply, my answer is:

You want to increase the number of “weak ties” who influence your target market and know what you can do to help those potential clients.

I’m a big believer of the “6 degrees of separation.” Click on the link to learn more about the concept.

While we were at Diamante Los Cabos in December, I introduced a young real estate executive I know to a very successful Virginia Tech grad. My fellow Virginia Tech grad has a huge network of friends. Now, the young real estate executive may get to meet people in that network.

Lawyers I coached over the years know I introduced them to other lawyers I coached and to people I know. Those connections were “weak ties,” and in many cases, one lawyer referred business to another lawyer.

Do you know what “weak ties” are? You can read the science behind it here: The Strength of Weak Ties. My simple definition is:

Contacts that are not in your inner circle of family and friends.

I owe the success I experienced in my legal career to recommendations by “weak ties.” My most important client found me in 1984 when a government lawyer with whom I had spent three hours on a panel recommended me to handle a matter on the subject of my presentation.

How do you increase the number of “weak ties” who know what you know? You need a strategy aimed at giving them a greater opportunity to find you.

I suggest you create content they will value and find important. More specifically, I suggest you provide information your target market does not know and needs to know.

Once you create the valuable content, use the platforms where your “weak ties”  hang out to publish and distribute it. Those platforms might be social media sites, or it might not be.

So,

  • Who is in your target market?
  • Who influences them?
  • What does your target market need to know right now?
  • What platforms can you use to get the answer to the target market and their influencers?

Greetings today from Boston, where at 9:00 AM I will be speaking to young lawyer members of the Boston Bar Association at the Brand Yourself Event.

My presentation will be Starting Right for Career Success. If you are interested, I put the slides on Slideshare.net.

Among other subjects, I will share thoughts on building their profile and building relationships. In my case my writing and speaking led to many “Weak Tie” relationships.

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I recently posted a blog titled: Client Development: Use the Internet to Amplify Reach of Weak Ties.

In the post I told the story of how a large contractor found me based on a recommendation by a lawyer co-presenter on a panel presentation.

When I look back at other significant new clients who hired me to help them, almost all of them first considered me based on a recommendation from a “weak tie.” So, as a practical matter, what do you need to do? The answer is client development in a nutshell. As shown below there are four main stages:

  1. Become visible and credible to your target market and weak ties in that target market. I wrote articles and gave presentations to industry groups to become visible and credible, but there are a wide variety of other ways to do it.
  2. Build relationships and be in the mind of weak ties.
  3. Keep your website up to date with representative matters and downloadable articles and presentations. After you are recommended, your potential client will go to your website bio to see if you have the expertise and experience to handle their matter.
  4. Build trust and rapport by asking good questions and listening. When you get the meeting with your potential client representative, she will be weighing whether she can trust you to handle the matter effectively in a manner that will make her management compliment her for choosing you. She also is weighing what it will be like to work with you. In this stage too many lawyers mistakenly try to sell themselves and their firm, instead of asking good questions and selling by doing.

Want to be more successful next year? Develop a game plan to become more visible and credible, to build relationships with potential referral sources and to develop trust and rapport with potential new clients when you get the opportunity.

If you want tips on how to do it, take my 7 sessions Video Coaching Course. It only costs $49.

A “weak tie” relationship recommended you to a client. You have a meeting with the potential client lined up. This is your chance to “close the deal.” I have been around lawyers who blow it at this crucial time. Here are the ways lawyers blow it.
Client Pitch
  1. Not following up after meeting a potential client at an event, or just following up with an email that can be easily deleted or totally disregarded.
  2. Not doing the appropriate research about the company. With Google and Google Alerts, and Twitter there is simply no excuse.
  3. Not doing the appropriate research about the individual(s) with whom you will be meeting. You can find all kinds of information about the person with whom you are meeting. She may have written an article. He may have been in private practice before going with the potential client company.
  4. Being unprepared when meeting the potential client. Don’t just wing this kind of meeting. Have some questions in mind. Actually think about the flow of the meeting. Be prepared to show you have done your homework.
  5. Using a client’s competitor’s product. I know it is hard to believe, but I know lawyers who have brought out a competitors product when meeting with a client. I think if I were meeting with Michael Dell, I might leave my MacAir at home.
  6. Talking too much (typically about yourself or your firm) during the meeting, not asking questions and not listening. If you have gotten the meeting, the client knows you and your firm. The last thing they want to hear about is the history of your firm.
  7. Appearing to either be needy or greedy to the client.
  8. If the meeting is about potentially being hired, not expressing the desire to help the client (not asking for the business). Alternatively, closing (asking for the business) too early before the client has finished explaining the situation.
  9. Making a hard sell when the soft sell is appropriate.
  10. Focusing on getting the matter and not on building the potential relationship. A client can tell when you are focused on getting the matter and not focused on building the relationship.

 

Does your firm have a social media game plan? If not, you should. A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog on why law firms need to be on Twitter which included suggestions for how law firms could use Twitter effectively. I received more comments to that post than I have ever received. So, obviously lawyers are interested and have opinions on the value of social media. Senior lawyers in your firm may not see the value of it. I didn’t see the value at first either. Then, I discovered the opportunity.

I believe most clients consider lawyers and law firms for a first project based on recommendations by friends, colleagues and others who influence them. When your practice is local and is in a small town, word is passed on in person. If your practice is in a larger city, or covers a larger geographical area, in person word of mouth is more challenging.

On recent flights I have been reading “The Anatomy of Buzz Revisted” by Emanuel Rosen. In the book Rosen mentions a study on how people found their jobs done by Mark Granovetter, a graduate student at Harvard. To his surprise, Granovetter found it was rarely from recommendations from one of the closest friends. People more likely found their jobs based on recommendations by acquaintances. This phenomenon he called “the strength of weak ties.” Importantly, for lawyers it goes well beyond just the job market.

What should lawyers and law firms get from this study? Strong-tie buzz will spread word through a certain cluster, whereas weak tie buzz spreads the word from one cluster to another. In other words, people with whom you have strong ties, likely run into the same people and go to the same places you go. People with whom you have weak ties see people in different groups and go to different places than you go.

Lawyers and law firms need to consider the possibility and even likelihood they will be recommended to potential clients based on the strength of weak ties. Every lawyer I know who has gotten on Facebook or LinkedIn has found weak ties he or she had not heard from in many years. Those who have gotten on Twitter have likely connected with people they have never met personally.

Two blog posts worth reading that explain how social media can expand and leverage weak ties are The Strength of Weak Ties: Why Twitter Matters in Scholarly Communication and Facebook and the Strength of Weak Ties.

If a law firm or lawyer creates content that their weak ties find really helpful and insightful, those weak ties are likely to pass it on to others. For example if a lawyer tweeted about an article or blog post she had written and those following her on Twitter found it valuable, they will likely retweet it to the people following them.

Social media provides a really great opportunity for savvy law firms and lawyers who take the time and make the effort to figure out what is happening that will impact potential clients and create helpful content that can be easily spread. If you are a managing partner or a department head, have you thought about the value in creating a social media strategy and marketing plan? If you get there before your competitors, your message will be spread first.