Originally published on February 5 in our free SmallLaw newsletter. Instead of reading SmallLaw here after the fact, sign up now to receive future issues in realtime.
Former lawyer and ActiveWords co-founder Buzz Bruggeman seems to knows everyone, including famous authors and billionaire entrepreneurs. We asked Buzz to share his secrets, which we've dubbed the "Buzz Networking Method." As it turns out, Buzz initially created the Buzz Networking Method to build his law practice. You'll learn how it started, why it works, and how to implement it at your law firm. Also, don't miss the SmallLaw Pick of the Week (newsletter only) to learn about the five key factors google uses to rank law firm websites.
In my last weeks at Duke Law School, one of my favorite professors invited me to stop by his office for coffee. In the course of our conversation, he asked me if I had any complaints or suggestions about my three years. I said that the experience had been outstanding, but I wasn't sure I knew how to find the courthouse.
He replied, "If you want to find the courthouse, buy a map." A few months later, I was the newest associate in a law firm, and while I had found the courthouse, I truly had no idea what I was doing.
A few weeks after starting, the firm's office manager walked in, and placed a circular rolodex on my desk. I took one look at it and thought that I was about to be assigned the mind numbing task of cataloging everything in the firm's law library.
But her instructions were very simple. "Write down something (beyond the basics) about every person you meet."
From Chore to Habit
It's now more than 40 years later, and I have slightly more than 14,000 contacts in Microsoft Outlook. When I discussed this story at a CLE event, a young lawyer asked me how I got them into Outlook to which I replied, "One at a time." The more important question is why I have chosen to do this.
At first it truly was a matter of following orders. At some relatively early date, I realized this contemporaneous collection of information about people was a good and potentially even brillant idea. It felt like accumulating this kind of personal information could at some point be very valuable.
There were no software tools when I started. Writing and updating Rolodex cards was a nightmare. My handwriting was terrible. Typing on an IBM Selectric typewriter made the Rolodex cards more readable, but the process was painstakingly slow.
With the advent of personal computers, I began to experiment with what were initially called "PIMs" or personal information managers. These were nothing more than simple databases with templated interfaces that began to simplify the "who/what/when/where/why/how" of what so much of my practice was about.
PIMs made it easier to accumulate data about my clients and others. When a client would mention to me that that his son was at the University of Florida, I would add that piece of data to his "profile." Once this data was in place, the rest became even easier.
I did my best to meet the significant political and business leaders in my community, and sought to ask them questions about themselves such as how they attained their positions in life. I would note their answers, and then follow up later with information that might benefit them. I practiced the doctrine of Woody Allen who said, "80% of success is showing up," and took it many steps further by coming prepared, engaged, and willing to follow through and follow up.
Adding Value to People's Lives One Note at a Time
Along the way, I realized all kinds of activities could help me build my practice — join clubs, play golf, buy drinks, network, etc. But I quickly learned that the two most beneficial activities consisted of referring business to clients and sharing ideas.
Many lawyers refer business, but sharing ideas proved harder because it required greater insight into those I met in terms of what they were passionate about and how I might be able to add value. This required listening carefully to them about non-business matters — the details of their lives and families — and then just taking notes, and processing those notes in a timely fashion.
In the early days, I clipped articles, attached a handwritten note, and had my secretary stuff them into envelopes. I was and remain a voracious reader so finding information was easy. Associating them was a bit harder.
I resolved early on that I should never expect to get a response from my notes. Perhaps my personal psychology was that if my clients thought it was a stupid idea, no problem. But I was predisposed to believe that sharing ideas would be meaningful to someone.
To my surprise and delight, my clients loved my notes. And they began telling their friends about what I did, and how meaningful it was. Adding value to their lives, to their ideas, to their work became a significant part of my everyday work.
A growing body of software for creating this kind of knowledgebase kept reaffirming and reassuring me that my ideas worked.
The Tipping Point
There's one event that truly stands out.
In 1995, I had the good fortune to take my wife and daughters to Moscow for a month. Each day in Russia, I would write 500 to 1,000 words about what I had seen that day. I would email that mini-essay back to my secretary. She would then personalize that message, and send it to every client via email and fax (not everyone had email then). When I returned to the states and my practice, I was a "rock star."
Those email newsletters had spread virally through the community. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of people beyond my client base had read them. There were stacks of phone messages on my desk with the names of people who wanted me to call them about matters that I might handle.
A Lifelong Practice
Even though I no longer practice law, I still practice these same ideas. I constantly find myself sharing information, introducing and connecting people, and doing my very best to add value to their lives.
Today's tools make it easier to store all this information, but the requisite attention to detail remains a human task — talking to people, understanding systems, and remembering or double checking my contact notes to make sure what I plan to share is germane.
At one point, I surmised that "A" list bloggers might be extremely valuable so I begin sharing articles, ideas, links, etc., again without expectation of a response. At one high-tech conference I was recognized by Doc Searls, the co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, as being a "C+ blogger, but an A+ blog reader."
As a child I had hoped one day to meet a person who had written a book. Today I am the subject of chapters in two important books. Talk about gratifying! See Robert Scoble, Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers (2008); Dan Gillmor, We the Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People, For the People (2006).
In the early days of ActiveWords, I received some invaluable advice from someone I respect that again validated the correctness of what I had been doing. He told me, "Once a product is built, it's all about relationships."
As a lawyer, I was the product — the product of my education and experience. But without the relationships I built using the method described in this article I truly wasn't much of anything at all.
Buzz Bruggeman is a co-founder of ActiveWords. He graduated with honors from Coe College and from Duke University Law School. Prior to ActiveWords he spent 30 years as real estate lawyer. He runs all of the outward facing aspects of ActiveWords, including marketing and partnering. Buzz served on the advisory board of the Demo Conference, won a Demo God award, and has been featured in books by Dan Gillmor and Robert Scoble. Buzz has been a longtime participant in the startup and blogging communities, and routinely speaks and consults on using new media tools to market and evangelize software.
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