When I first set up on my own (what feels like a million years ago) I was invited to a seminar aimed at sole practitioners.  The first speaker started his presentation with the immortal lines “now I know how much we all hate networking”.  I was about to leap to my feet in protest, when I realised that almost everyone around me was nodding their heads in agreement.  I am different in many ways, one of which is (or at least was) that I’m one of the few solicitors I’ve ever met who actually loves to network. 
Networking is a fantastic opportunity to meet people that I’d never normally come across.  I’ve had amazing conversations on sport, politics, history and art and I’ve learned a huge amount.  I’ve been to places I would never otherwise have been invited, such as the Houses of Parliament and Blenheim Palace.  I’ve networked at bowling alleys, around table tennis tables and during cookery courses, and often with the aid of only a glass of wine and a smile.  Oh, and I’ve managed to get some work out of it too!
I’ve also learned some of the secrets of being a better networker.  It seems to me that the top tips are
1.            Don’t sell – people are there to get to know you.  Those who open with “here is my card, you should by my widgets” are less likely to succeed than those who are more interested in you and what you do.  Personally I very rarely talk about law, and will often tell people that a gate crashed, or I’m there to promote one of my L K Bennett parties (one come up in the Autumn if anyone is interested!)
2.            It’s not whose in the room, it’s who they know that matters.  I took a young colleague to a drinks event some time ago.  He had a lovely evening and chatted happily to a number of people but said afterwards that he couldn’t see the point, as there was no one he spoke to who were likely to need his services in the near future.  I was furious – not with him, but with myself.  How could I have failed to have explained to him that this was not what it was all about.  Everyone that he spoke with probably had over 100 contacts of their own.  If you make a good enough impression, all you need is one of those people to know someone that you want to meet, for it to lead to a good introduction or connection.
3.            Which brings me on to probably the most important point.  Know what you want.  OK we all want more business, and I don’t see that there is any harm in being honest and saying we are all hoping to make more money, but I have found that the more specific I can be about what I want, the better the introductions I’ve had.  If someone asks me the question “what can I do to help you?”, it’s very useful to be ready with a good answer that people will remember.  Anyone can say that they want more clients, but what kind of clients.  What’s a good introduction for you?  If you tell enough people that you’re looking for a one legged Liverpool supporter living in London and working in the civil service to try out your new app, eventually someone is going to say “then you need to meet my flatmate.  His cousin sounds like the person for you”.
Which brings me on to what I wanted to tell you all today, and why I’m blowing my own trumpet.  As you may know, I like to talk (no really, it’s true).  For some time at networking events, when given the opportunity I’ve asked for speaking engagements.  I have been lucky enough to have been invited to a number of events where I have been able to give talks to business owners about company and employment law, and how to be more compliant with a view to avoiding litigation and it has ultimately led to more business, mostly with people setting up on their own for the first time.  I’m still looking for more opportunities like that (subtle hint) but I’ve also started asking for opportunities to speak on the radio with a view to reaching a wider audience and getting more experience.
Well it’s finally happened.  I found out yesterday that I’m going to be interviewed on Radio Marlow on Wednesday 28th at 10am – more details will follow but I cannot tell you how excited (and nervous) I am, and it’s all thanks to networking!  If I hadn’t been at CPN (can’t remember how I came to know about that event) I wouldn’t have met the lovely Julian Donnelly who invited me to Tribe where I met the fabulous Cliff Findlay who invited me to other Tribe events where I met the amazing Jay Blake who in turn introduced me to Mary Flavelle who will be interviewing me!  I hope you’ll all tune in to hear whether or not I can stay sober long enough to make a good impression.
Kleyman & Co Solicitors.  The full service law firm.  Available for the opening of envelopes, bottles and businesses.