I don’t play golf. I don’t really like going to games. I’m tired of having coffees, and lunches, and happy hours.
How can I connect with my potential clients out of the office? How do I move the relationship forward? How do I progress the relationship without being creepy?
How do I network when my clients who are predominantly male?
As female attorneys or accountants, you want to take advantage of your unique traits to build your practice. In any firm, there will be an equal number of styles of conducting business development as there are professionals. You will pick up traits from your male and female colleagues. Try them on, adapt them to your strengths, and mold them to be your own style. You may try something, and it won’t fit. Make it your own. And realize your natural competencies.
Women are great at building and maintaining relationships. It comes naturally to us. We are empathetic and can shift our perspective to understand our clients’ viewpoints. We are often energized by building these relationships and introducing our contacts to each other. Women tend to be natural Connectors, as Malcolm Gladwell describes in The Tipping Point.
Women are perceived as great listeners. Because we are good listeners, we build trust with our clients. There is a difference between genuine listening – where we are paying attention to everything being said verbally and non-verbally – and hearing, where we are waiting for someone to stop speaking so we can start. We give our clients focused attention. We make them feel heard and understood. In our fast-paced world, this is often ignored.
As women, there are some aspects of business development that are a little bit harder than for our male colleagues. Stay true to your natural strengths and build on that. Find opportunities to pull people together that you know will enjoy meeting each other. If you feel uncomfortable, or it doesn’t work with your schedule to meet for happy hour and watch a game, find another opportunity to meet with someone: conferences, networking events, a common interest (yes, you’ll have to ask questions to find this out!)
Tips to keep in mind
Build relationships where you already spend your time. Where do you spend your time when you’re not at the office? Deepen those relationships – on the sidelines at youth sports, at school events, at the gym, at volunteer activities, etc. People hire those they know, like, and trust. Introduce yourself succinctly and effectively.
Keep an accomplishment log. Write down your achievements, big and small. Use this to remind yourself when your confidence takes a dip. Use it for your annual performance review. Review the list and notice the themes. Use this list to convey who you are as an attorney or CPA.
Maintain happy clients. The best referral sources are happy clients. Use those listening skills and reach out at key times, i.e. when your client’s daughter is graduating from college.
Become a trusted advisor to your clients. There are times your client may need help with something outside your area of expertise. Offer them value with an introduction or recommendation. Use your listening skills!
Build a relationship with a sponsor. Someone who is more experienced than you and will take you under her/his wing. Like a mentor – who tells you about her experience – a sponsor is someone who advises and advocates for you and your career progression.
Be resilient. Don’t dwell on rejection or loss. Clients, prospects, colleagues, and contacts will pick on this feeling of ‘less than’. Shift your focus to the next opportunity.
These are all skills women adapt easily and use their natural strengths to be successful marketers. Focus your efforts on what you do well. Incorporate business development tactics into what you’re already doing. Don’t compare your efforts to others. Rather, compare yourself to where you were and what you were doing 12 months ago. (Comparison is never a healthy practice!) What are other obstacles that get in the way of building your book of business? What is one action you’re going to put into practice today?