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Heather Townsend

The Excedia Group

Director

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7 easy ways to help your fee earners fall in love with networking

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Look around at the successful people in your firm. What is one thing that all have in common? I’d place a large bet that they have a network which they are continually nurturing – and if they are in the professions, they have probably been doing so since their early years in the professions. 

Being able to network effectively, and build up a network which will aid and abet your career in professional services, is a core skill, which every professional needs to gain. (as well as any aspiring senior managers in corporates) However, do you expect your employees to naturally gain this skill by osmosis? Or do you supply the right type of environment to help them effectively build their network for life? Or do you make sure that your employee’s chargeable time is maximised so that they have no time to attend to their network?

This blog post gives you 7 ways in which you can help your employees, in particular your fee earners, build their network for life:

1. Set the expectation from day 1 that being able to build and nurture a network is a core skill of the firm

My old firm used to sit all the new entrants into the advisory functions (Corporate finance, Business Restructuring, Forensics, Tax Investigations) down on their 1st day, and speak to them about the importance of building their network for life. They emphasised that the people they trained and studied with, their peers and their current colleagues will become their first sources of work.

To copy best practice, make sure that all your trainees and graduates have as part of their induction package training to help them:

  • confidently work the room
  • use online networking effectively
  • strategically build a network for the future
  • nurture their network for life

For your lateral hires, do check their level of competency with networking and building a network when they join your firm. If they need a refresh (or help in this area) then add into their development plan actions to help them build this skill.

For our thoughts on what is business networking, click on the link.

2. Include building and nurturing a network in your firm’s competency framework

If you want employees to regularly attend to their network, then make sure that this is captured into your firm’s competency framework. i.e. a level of networking skill is required to progress in your firm. What do you need each level of employees to be doing with their network? What skills and competencies do they need to display to be doing this successfully? Remember that winning business via your network is much, much more than just working the room. It includes strategic networking, relationship management and on-line networking as well as 'working the room'

See How to grow your own partners – Part 1 for more details about what to put in your competency framework.

3. Provide the skills training as and when needed

As I have already mentioned, your aim is to make sure that your employees can develop their networking skills as they progress through their career.  They will need a suite of development options to do that. For example:

  • workshops at key stages in their career, e.g. networking basics when they join, strategic networking when they reach the stage of starting to need to win their own work, joined up  networking for people who want to use online as well as off-line networking techniques
  • distance learning options, such as short podcasts, video clips, workbooks to help them with different aspects of networking, such as writing your LinkedIn profile, building a relationship plan
To help you think through your skills training requirements, how about downloading a Free guide to build your own personal networking strategy, plus templates for relationship plans. (email required)
4. Make sure everyone has a personal objective related to their network

Along with your firm’s competency framework, you want to make sure that a fee earner knows that it is their responsibility to make time to grow and nurture their network. A good way of doing this is making sure your line managers (whether mentors, counselling managers, partners, staff managers) are always asking their people in their one-to-ones about how they are getting on with their key relationships and networking objectives. If you can make sure that every person from the managing partner down to the newest trainee has one objective relating to their network, this will be a huge step forward in helping your firm build a culture where everyone proactively builds their network for life.

5. Have standard firm documents related to people’s networks and relationships

A great way of incentivising your fee earners is to effectively find, build and maintain a network of mutually beneficial relationships is to have standard firm’s proformas, such as:

  • relationship plans
  • personal networking strategy
  • action plans relating to their network

These standard proformas can helps employees develop their networking skills using the firm’s best practice ways and methods. You can download relationship plan templates, networking plans for FREE here, (email required)

6. Encourage partners to share stories about their network

Story-telling has been used over the centuries to help communities learn and share knowledge. There is absolutely no reason, why you can’t integrate networking into the culture of how your firm operates and does business. WIth this in mind, encourage partners and other key influencers to share their stories of how their network has helped them win work, get where they are. Also don’t be afraid to let these partners share some of their war stories where it hasn’t gone so well. Everyone is human, and it can help your more junior members of staff, so to speak, get back into the saddle again after a bad experience, if they know that others have got through these bad experiences before.

7. Allocate fee earners a time and expense budget for their networking

The biggest barrier to a firm building a culture where everyone pro-actively builds their network for life, is chargeable time targets. The daily pursuit of profit and chargeable time can be counter-productive when it comes to building a culture which values people’s networks and relationships. Therefore, agree a chargeable time and expense budget for your employees to use each month to grow and nurture their network. As they become more senior, then increase this budget – after all, this is when their network really starts to bring in work.

You may find this 3-part series on how to win more business and spend less time networking useful. Part 1Part 2 and Part 3

Author Credit

Heather Townsend helps professionals become the Go-To-Expert. She is the author of the  award winning and best-selling book on business networking, the ‘FT Guide To Business Networking’ and the co-author of ‘How to make partner and still have a life’. Over the last decade she has worked with over 300 partners; coached, trained and mentored over 1000 professionals at every level of the UK's most ambitious professional practices.

Heather blogs regularly at Partnership Potential, How to make partner and Joined Up Networking

Author Profile Picture
Heather Townsend

Director

Read more from Heather Townsend
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