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Networking and deepening your connections matters

Networking is the base onto which your business development efforts sit. Who you know matters. The broader your network and reach the better chance it will lift you up towards success.

It seems obvious that you should want to be known by as many people as possible. We all have different ideas of what networking is or should be. You and I may meet at an professional event, but that doesn’t mean our respective networking activities will be a mirror of each other. You may be there with the goal of collecting business cards and meeting as many people as possible. I may have reviewed the list of attendees, researched them, and am focused on meeting a smaller number of specific people.

Both methods are right and can work. The goal is meeting people, whether a large number or consciously deciding who you want to meet. No matter how you do it you will then need to nurture the connections you make and see whether they evolve into trusted relationships. That needs to happen for a connection to trust making a referral to you or connecting you with one of their trusted connections.

There are many ways to advance professional relationships to the point where there is mutual trust. All involve you committing time and energy into growing relationships. You should think about and come up with ideas and strategies to ‘touch’ your connections. There are various ways to do this, such as by sending an email to check in, forwarding an article on a topic your of interest, or sending a book. Of course, you always can pick up the phone and call. The choice is yours, but you should have a goal of getting to know your connections well enough to know what type of contact is best.

The idea of thoughtful acts or gifts isn’t new, but it is something else you should think about. I have a partner who is great at this. He will get to know people and send them thoughtful gifts. An example is when he learns a connection roots for a specific professional or college sports team, he sends a gift related to that. This is easy to do online. You can bet the people who receive those unexpected thoughtful gifts remember him. Plus, these types of gifts are great because most people will keep them in their office and are likely to think of the sender more often because they are reminded of them every day.

Another idea is to hold gatherings where you can bring your connections together, i.e. be a connector. You need to realize your connections are great connections for your other connections. You can hold a formal meeting, go to lunch, or have a happy hour. The choice is yours, but people appreciate and remember when you are willing to help them by introducing them to your valued connections.

Sitting around hoping for work to find you is not a good method of business development. Instead you need to take action by coming up with a plan and then jumping feet first to networking. Once you start making new connections, the next step is deepening those connections. Do this by making a plan and working on your network every day.

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Overnight success is a myth

We all know the cliché “overnight success.” In the real world overnight successes have put in time and most people don’t even realize it. For instance, the Beatles are viewed as an overnight success. Actually their rise to the top took approximately five years, thousands of hours of practice, and hundreds of live performances. To think they didn’t put in the time and sacrifice to get to the top is incorrect.

Their first UK number 1 was in May 1963 and their first US number 1 was in January 1964, but John Lennon and Paul McCartney first met in 1957. Thereafter, Lennon asked McCartney to join the Quarrymen, who, other than Lennon, were not very good musicians. In 1958, after lots of practice and many shows, George Harrison joined the group. By 1959, only the three future Beatles remained in the band.

In 1960 they renamed themselves the Beatles. After that they spent a lot of time in Hamburg, Germany between August 1960 through December 1962. During that time they lived in one cramped room with a bathroom down the hall, practiced for hours each day, and playd clubs at night. They put in hard work and sacrificed to improve their skills. Obviously it worked for them.

You are asking yourself, “okay, but what does this mean to me?” It is this type of investment in yourself and commitment to whatever you are doing, whether alone or in a group, that gives you the best chance to succeed in any field. I could have told you the same story about entrepreneurs, professionals, etc. from every industry. The Beatles are a good example because everyone knows who they are, thinks their success was immediate when it wasn’t, and don’t realize the time and energy they invested in themselves leading to their huge success.

Stories of peoples’ different roads to success have in common a significant time investment and hard work. Of course, this alone doesn’t guaranty success, but it gives you a much better shot. You need to plan strategies for your business, career, networking, marketing, and whatever else you’re doing. This should be done regularly for both the short term and the long term. If you ask most successful people you know, you will get a good story about what it took for them to reach where they are. If you probe further you will learn those same people continually are trying to improve, because staying on top of the mountain is as hard as reaching the summit.

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Mentoring is more challenging than ever

Most professionals still are working remotely and will be for the foreseeable future. This makes mentoring relationships more challenging. You can have phone calls or Zoom calls with a mentor or accountability partner, but mentoring relationships grow from forging a relationship based on knowing each other. Getting to know each other is harder to do by phone or Zoom unless that close relationship already existed. Even then, it’s not as good as being able to spend time together in person.

All of this makes beginning new mentoring relationships more challenging because it’s easier to build the relationship and trust through meeting in person, which then can be supplemented by phone calls or other manners of communication. This doesn’t mean solid new mentoring relationships can’t happen without meeting in person, it just means it is harder.

Imagine you switch jobs now. You are coming into a new company. Maybe it even has a formal mentoring program to help integrate new employees into the company and its culture. It’s much more difficult when you are sitting in your home office than if you are at the company’s actual office.

This is because the basis of the mentor mentee relationship is trust. Trust may be assumed at first, but it really is earned over time. The better the level of trust, the more both parties to a mentoring relationship gain. If you are in a mentoring relationship and it isn’t helping your professional growth, it may not be a good fit or maybe it has run its course. Your hope should be that by participating in such a relationship, you both evolve in many ways that benefit you in the long run.

So, depending on where you are professionally or in life, it always is a good time seek out a mentoring relationship. It will help if you are doing so now to acknowledge it may be more difficult or take longer to forge the bond that really allows such relationships to grow and flourish. But I challenge you to do so and look to play an important role in another’s story.

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Be relentless about continuous improvement

This is part of my firm’s culture. We have a fundamental that says: Be a lifetime learner and continually invest in your own education, both formally and informally. Be curious and never stop improving your legal, technical, and personal skills. Embrace change. Look for a better way.

No matter your role, you are constantly learning and change is constant. You should strive to learn and adapt to and embrace change. Part of this is realizing and accepting that you don’t know everything, there always is more to learn, and that change is happening whether you want it to or not.

William Butler Yeats said “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” He is right because there is no way to fill up your brain with too much learning or new information. There always is room for more. On Wikipedia, lifelong learning is defined as “is the ‘ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated’pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons.”

Note that lifetime learning is voluntary and requires self-motivation. When we were younger and in school, the motivators were teachers and parents. As adults, we may have similar figures in our lives pushing us to continuously improve, but many people don’t. This is why being a lifetime learner requires self-motivation. You should challenge yourself to always be learning. In our world it could be learning about a change in the law or maybe you want to learn to paint. Whatever it is you should follow the muse because it will improve the quality of your professional or personal life.

Another part of this fundamental includes embracing change. As Heraclitus said, “Change is the only constant in life.” This is true and your attitude towards change makes a difference. When change happens you either are influencing the change or not. If not, you likely will feel out of control and like you are being dragged along by the change. To avoid this, you need to be pro-active. This may require you to acknowledge your fears and take action anyway. It is okay to be scared of change, but don’t let that stop you. If it does, change will happen anyway, but without you being in the driver’s seat.

Someone named David Mann explains it well in a few minute video: https://youtu.be/Vae0Cm_VFI8. He explains that change happens and you can see it as a disruption or an opportunity. I urge you to view change as an opportunity. It could be an opportunity to learn or to improve yourself or your surroundings. Many times you don’t know where the change is going to lead you, but wherever it is will be better if you are pro-active and face it head on.

As we head into a new year, it’s a great time to be pro-active about the change you want to drive in your life. Instead of making a resolution and hoping you follow through, you should make smart goals related to whatever you want to learn or change. The point is to take control of your evolution, because with change being constant, so is your evolution as a person. Be the driver of your life, not the passenger.

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Show gratitude always

We are a few days out from Thanksgiving. In thinking about writing about being thankful or gratitude, I thought back to a post from last November. I can’t say it better, so here is my annual blog for the week of Thanksgiving.

This is a good time of year to think of gratitude generally and what you are thankful for specifically. At the same time, it’s a great time of year to spread good feelings, which you can do by letting others know when you appreciate something they have done for you.

Those of you who have younger children (or older ones…) know that you end up reminding them to say “thank you” all of the time. That is because thanking someone or showing gratitude is a learned behavior. If it came naturally or from observing others we wouldn’t have to teach children to do so.

Hopefully you remember to thank people as appropriate in your daily life. In my day, this can be thanking someone holding the door for me when I get to my office, for holding the elevator for me, or for making a pot of hot water so I can have tea and get that needed caffeine injection upon arriving for work. Many of these situations are universal to all of us, but I notice when I hold a door for someone and they walk through without saying anything.

Of course, if you go through your day looking for when people should be thanking you, you likely will be disappointed. Instead, I think about how I want to come across to others, as well as ways I don’t want to come across to others.

We all have bad days, but most days we should recognize when thanking someone is proper and appropriate. Plus, it has the added bonus of making you or the other person feel good, making it a great way to go through life.

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Dream Focused

I have an old t-shirt from a concert I attended years ago. On the back it says “dream focused.” I hadn’t worn it in a while, but happened to pull it out this week. At the same time, I received an email from a friend who said I need to write about the power of dreaming. Coincidence? I say inspiration!

Dreaming is powerful. Whether as a child or now, dreaming can take you to another place, or place you on a path towards a goal. It involves curiosity. It also can be hard to do in the daily grind of life where we spend little time without someone or something (think cell phone, tablet, computer) in front of our face. When this happens the time to dream is lost.

I think that some of the best ideas or plans I come up with alone or with my wife happen when we are out of town. We generally are disconnected and have time to think of things not involving work, kids, or other daily concerns; our minds are free.

Once you free your mind, you may well find your body following. It could be to a new job or to start a business. It could be to change how you parent or deal with a troubled family member.

It’s a matter of being able to step back and have perspective. Of course this can happen while you are slogging through your everyday life, but it’s less likely. It also doesn’t mean you need to go out of the country or do a cave in the woods. You can create the space needed to dream and let your mind be free from routine in your home or hometown, but then you have to be intentional to do so.

Maybe you need to go on a hike but not listen to a podcast or listen to background music you won’t pay specific attention to (I used to do this with long jams by the Grateful Dead or Phish, but that’s another story). The idea is to create the space for your mind to drift and thoughts to come and go until you latch onto something that intrigues you.

Dreaming is important and powerful, and opens you up to opportunity. So dream big and then focus on how you move towards your dream coming true.

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Clean up your own mess

If you spill, don’t just stand there, because you need to clean it up. Don’t expect or wait for others to clean up for you. This correlates with taking responsibility when you create a mess; don’t blame others for issues you cause or expect them to clean them up for you.

This was brought home to me this morning by a mess I made. I was in a hospital waiting room and spilled a large cup of tea. As the puddle of caffeine spread across the floor, causing many people to lift their feet up onto seats, I was, of course, horrified. I jumped up and started looking for paper towels to start cleaning up. A nurse told me not to worry about it. She had called maintenance, but I did find some paper towels and cleaned up as much as I could by the time the maintenance person showed up.

I had the choice to clean up my own mess or not. I had back up with the maintenance person coming, but, to me, it doesn’t feel right sitting by in such a situation. I certainly made the maintenance person’s job easier even though she may not have noticed. But this was about me doing what I think is right.

In business, we all cause messes that need to be cleaned up. I believe in taking the same approach and cleaning up what I can. It doesn’t mean you don’t let others help you, but it sure shows better to your team if they know you don’t expect them to do so without your help.

Of course, messes in our business and personal lives can be much messier than the spill I caused. This means it will take more effort and time to clean them up. The more effort you put into doing so, the better. It will help you resolve the mess as much as possible and reflect well on you at the same time.

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Follow through is a double edged sword

People are fast to commit, but then what? Some do exactly what they say they will. They email or call the next day. Others don’t.

This leads to two quick thoughts: (1) some people are organized and follow up and (2) some people are disorganized and don’t. I think there is a third thought that has to be acknowledged: many people say they will follow up when they have no intention of doing so. It’s the flip side to people making offers or telling people to follow up with them when they don’t mean it.

I have been thinking about this and have come up with my own rules for making offers and following up. If you took the time to think through these ideas you may like the idea of having similar rules, or not. My rules are:

1. Only make genuine and intentional offers.

2. Don’t say you will follow up or show interest unless your response is genuine.

3. If you make an offer and the person doesn’t follow up, note it and move forward without them.

4. If someone makes you an offer, follow up.

If you are challenged by organization, use tools such as calendar reminders or organization apps on your phone to prompt you to follow up.

The point is to be intentional in your actions. It also is to be genuine. It will save you and others time, which is our most valuable commodity.

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Don’t be a poor winner or loser

Despite the participation medals or trophies our kids get for seemingly every activity or sport, in most everything in life there are winners and losers. This obviously includes in business. The baseline is easily a business surviving versus a business failing. If you speak with someone whose business is going to fail, they don’t want a pat on the back or to be told “good try.” They wanted to win.

Of course we all lose. When you lose, how do you react? Do you get upset? Do you blame others? Or do you take responsibility for your part in the loss, if any? I ask because I am used to seeing people make excuses.

Conversely, how do you act when you win? Do you gloat? Do you put down whoever lost? Or are you complementary to the person who lost?

In what I do there are winners and losers all of the time. It could relate to a motion being considered by a court or at trial. No attorney can win them all. And there can be real excuses because we are hemmed in by the facts in each case and the law that applies. The excuses I have heard over the years for these types of losses are many, such as “the judge made a mistake” or “the jury just didn’t like my client,” etc. The list goes on and on.

When I have lost I chalk it up to experience and try to look back on what I can learn. I also try to be a graceful loser, where it makes sense and is appropriate. When I communicate a loss to a client, such as when a court issues a ruling months after a hearing or trial, I make sure to do it in person or on the phone, and not by email or text. I don’t make excuses. Doing so never helps the situation and is not how I would want to come across.

When I win, I am, of course, happy. Who isn’t? But I also maintain a professional decorum with any opposing attorney or party. I save the celebration for my client and the attorneys I have worked with on my side of the case.

Knowing how to win and lose is important. It contributes to how people view you and your reputation in your community. Next time you win, or lose, think what you want your reputation to be and let it guide you to acting accordingly.

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Luck v. Skill

I really like the podcast How I Built This, on which Guy Raz interviews entrepreneurs about the businesses they have built. At the end of most of the interviews he asks each entrepreneur how much of their success they attribute to luck and how much they attribute to skill. The answers can be interesting, but it always makes me apply the same question to my business and those of my clients. Since first listening to that podcast in the last few years I have been known to pose the same question to my clients and professional contacts.

For me, and for most of the people I have asked, I believe it’s a combination of both. I include timing as part of luck, because most times there is nothing you can pin a chance meeting or conversation on.

An example is when, many years ago, I interviewed at a law firm where a partner there asked me for references. In addition to asking for the usual type of references we generally know will say how great we are – otherwise why would we be using those people as references? – they asked for an adverse reference. I never had been asked that question and thought of an attorney who had been very complementary after being adverse to me in my first trial. The end result was that the formerly adverse attorney, after giving me a great adverse reference, asked me to come work at the firm where she was then employed. I accepted that offer.

If Law Firm A hadn’t asked for an adverse reference I never would have had the opportunity with Law Firm B. Additionally, the timing of this occurring was at a point in time when Law Firm B was interested in hiring someone with my background and skills.

Without those skills, the serendipitous timing wouldn’t have mattered. My skills allowed the opportunity to advance to a job offer and to succeed in that new position.

The point is that business and life are an amazing combination of luck and skill. You need to take the time to hone your skills in you chosen line of work. As you move forward you need to be open to luck and timing. This could be a job opportunity like I had, or a chance connection with a new client with really interesting work for you to do.

If any of you have a great story on the intersection of luck and skill, I would like to hear about it.

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