Are Your Business Relationships on a Road to Nowhere?

“Relationship building” has long been a given of business development. Business leaders and career experts regularly extol the virtues of networking, telling us that an attorney with an iPhone full of contacts and a calendar packed with business events is a success. But what makes relationships inherently valuable?

Not much, it turns out. According to Mike O’Horo on Attorney at Work, an attorney who regularly meets new contacts can spend 200 hours a year on developing relationships that lead to…absolutely nothing.

At a billing rate of $250 an hour, sinking that much time into one-on-one networking can cost an attorney $50,000 a year with no guarantee of a return on investment. Sure, in theory, every new contact has the potential to become a client—but a 100 percent conversion rate is impossible to achieve. If a prospect has no need for your specific legal services, no amount of personalized emails, fancy lunches or friendly phone calls will make them hire you. Why drain resources on a business development tactic that may go nowhere?

All of this is not to say that relationship building is unnecessary. It just needs to be done strategically. Here are three strategies you can try:

  • Choose a handful of tried-and-true networking events to attend every year. If you’ve had success finding prospects in the past, it’s more likely that you’ll have success finding them in the future. If a networking event or association starts to feel like a drain, drop it and dedicate that time to a more fruitful business development activity.
  • Learn which relationships you value and pursue them. Maybe a relationship is worthwhile to you if it exposes you to a new industry, even if it doesn’t result in a new client. Or if you’re focused only on building your client base, determine exactly what kind of client you want and limit time spent networking with people who don’t fit the criteria.
  • Channel your relationship-building efforts into thought leadership and content marketing. If you establish yourself as an expert through your website, social media and online publications, you’ve created the opportunity for interested contacts to reach out to you, instead of the other way around. Plus, you’ll be increasing your credibility among current clients. Not a bad deal.

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