Here’s the rub, if you are going to build a solo practice you’ve got to network to get clients, but when you get clients you’ve less time to network, but when you network less, you get fewer clients, which gives you more time to network, which gets you clients which … a cycle that can repeat ad infinitum while your accounts receivable develops more humps and bumps than a roller coaster. The cure – as suggested by many a wiser author than I – is to always schedule time to network into your daily routine regardless of client load; constant contact for constant clients. The problem is that it is way to easy for constant contact to simply become a rut – a once a month lunch with the local bar association, a few “how ya doing” weekly e-mails to your lawyer buddies, the bi-weekly chamber of commerce get-together, and a bit of on-line social networking.
The question is: is this really a good way to spend your time – are you really maximizing your return on your investment? Sure an e-mail to Bob the contractor (the guy that referred the last 3 real estate closings to you) puts your name in front of him for the 20 seconds it takes for him to delete it, but did it really buy you anything in terms of network building? And lunch with Delores the banker (a statuesque nordic blond that has never referred a client to anyone) may be an hour of divine and picturesque conversation but other than briefly making you the envy of guy-kind did investing that capital really do anything for your bottom line?
Given that you have limited time to invest, the business of relationship building comes down to a balancing act between the frequency of the contacts, the type of contacts, and the quality of the relationship you want to build. Now, the easy way to handle this is to cop out and simply grab minute amounts of face-time with your network at mass attendance events like bar association lunches or chamber of commerce breakfasts – develop a taste for scrambled eggs and baked chicken and you’re set for the business world’s version of speed dating. The hard way is to develop a tickler system that reminds you to take someone out to lunch on a regular basis and then to remember that “someone” needs to alternate between old friends and new contacts.
For the past week or so, I’ve been trying to get up to speed with Graphight a SaaS application that is a smarter version of the tickler system I mentioned above. Here’s what I’ve been able to figure out so far: (a) Graphight imports your contacts and tracks your networking efforts by integrating into your e-mail, calendar, on-line social network feeds, and smart phone, (b) uses a fairly complex heuristic to evaluate the importance you place on a given contact, the current strength of your relationship with that contact, and to suggest which of your contacts you should be contacting in near future in order to improve that relationship, and (c) the folks at Graphight are going to cringe when they read how I’m describing what it is that they do. From what I’ve seen, if you want to throw a lasso around your social networking and start using it strategically, Graphight should be in your toolkit – I’m only hoping that when the company gets round to pricing it, it does not get priced out of usefulness.
Graphight is in beta testing right now, so you’ll need an invitation to give it a try and because it is a beta product, early adopters are going to experience some teething pains. However, the developers appear to be rolling out a new release on a weekly basis, adding new features and squashing reported bugs – thanks to the power of SaaS, all of this is user-transparent & because I’m not risking mission-critical information (my contacts, email, calendar, etc all stay right where they are on my servers) its easy to put aside my usual reservations about SaaS products.
As of the date of this post (and I will admit to not checking Graphight yet this week to see what changes the weekend has brought), for those using Gmail or Outlook, Graphight is going to integrate transparently into your workflow right out of the box. For those of us in that alternate universe populated with Mac’s and Linux-boxes, we’re going to have to import our contacts manually, but don’t fret they are working on that transparency bit really really hard.