In our practice, I am what is affectionately called the “Gripper and the Grinner.” As the more outgoing and outspoken member of our partnership, part of my job is to use my naturally gregarious personality to go out into the world and make connections with other attorneys and professionals in the Worthington area.
Now, anyone who has tried to create professional connections or find gainful employment has heard that age old phrase, “It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know.” While there is truth to this saying, I would venture to say that it is incomplete. The “Know” aspect of any relationship is the bare minimum. Just because you know someone doesn’t mean that you have a meaningful relationship that can provide you with the professional benefits you seek. A mantra I try to build my professional relationships on is more evolved: “Know – Like – Trust.”
KNOW – In this technological age, the “Know” portion of the process is all too simple. It’s as easy as sending that LinkedIn ® invitation, or Facebook ® friend request. In the real world, all it takes to “Know” someone is the initiative to introduce yourself and start a conversation. Before I try to approach someone, I find something that I like about them. Nice tie? Confident demeanor? Their proximity to the snack table? Whatever you like. Then I approach them with a smile and extend my hand and introduce myself. When they take my hand, I make my handshake firm, keep eye contact and smile and tell them I am pleased to meet them. That’s it.
LIKE – The next stage of the process is “Like.” I give the person I am trying to connect with every opportunity I can to like me. I am polite; I ask questions and try to find a topic that interests them to start our conversation. I treat this person as a new friend not a business opportunity. I keep smiling, nod when I agree or understand something they have said, and find that common ground. You will know that you have reached the “like” with your new friend when they drop that age old networking phrase: “So what do you do for a living?” This stranger as of five minutes ago is now expressing interest in you! This is your opportunity to move into the next stage. Trust.
TRUST – When someone asks me what I do for a living, they are giving me a shining, golden opportunity to build the initial foundation for Trust to be formed. They have just offered me the next 60 seconds of their life to listen to “what I do.” Instead, I use the time to tell them who I am.
Trust is not earned without sincerity. In the end, the words that come out of my mouth are not as important as the authenticity and feeling behind the words that will leave an impression. I am fortunate to absolutely love what I do. I have chosen to use my time and talents to build a law firm from the ground up with my brilliant and compassionate partner Abbie Obenour. It’s my name on the door. It’s my voice on the phone. It’s my choice to take a client’s case and it’s my privilege to see it through. I tell my new friend the truth about who I am, because in the end, that is the only thing that matters in any relationship personal or professional.
Yes, you should “Network to Get Work” but don’t ever stop there. Building the “Like” and the “Trust” is a commitment. If someone gives you their card, follow up with them! Emails are good, phone calls are better. Act like you want to get to know them better because you do! Even if it’s clear that they have no business potential for you at the outset, maintain that connection and build that friendship. A friend is always a good thing to have.
Not everyone out there is a Gripper and a Grinner. If you take anything away from this post, it is be authentic and work with what you have! If you are less interested in large groups and want a smaller pool to draw from, try joining a dining circle or a bar association committee. If you’re even less inclined to seek out contact with new people, start with contacts and networks you already have! Send a well thought out and organized email to a former professor or colleague that already knows and likes you; and ask them to refer you to a useful source or association.
Above all, Know, Like and Trust yourself. Know your business and how your talents and skills can be an asset to other professionals. Like getting to know other people, everyone is different and has something to offer you, even if it’s just perspective. Trust your instincts and follow your gut – they are the guiding rod that will set you apart. Getting a foothold as a young professional in the big world of business can be daunting, but as with almost everything else in life, “practice makes perfect.”
So join me, and go forth into the world. Arm yourself with your self-assuredness, a smile and a stack of business cards. You’ll be just fine.