join now
advertise with us ABA Journal Blawg 100 Award 2009 ABA Journal Blawg 100 Award 2008
Subscribe (RSS Feed)TechnoLawyer Feed

SmallLaw: How to Use Conferences to Generate New Business Opportunities

By Lee Rosen | Monday, May 17, 2010


Originally published on May 10, 2010 in our free SmallLaw newsletter.

Along with the warmer weather and blooming flowers comes conference season. Conferences occur in every industry and every part of the country. It's time to pack your bag, jump in the car, get on a plane, and get out and meet some people. Conferences can generate significant new business — often in ways you cannot predict. Woody Allen explained it best when he said "Ninety percent of life is just showing up." Today's column explains how to maximize the other 10% to ensure success.

Select Conferences

Picking the right conference is important, but not nearly as important as going in the first place. It's easy to get caught up in the decision-making process and fail to take action. At this point, it's less important to deliberate than it is to act.

Register for something and go. Consider an industry conference related to your practice area. Maybe you handle construction litigation and the National Builder's Association is the right place for you. Maybe you have a radio station client so you'll go the National Association of Broadcasters convention.

Maybe there isn't an industry conference for your practice area. Maybe you practice white collar criminal law and the closest thing to an industry conference is the annual banking convention. If that's the case then consider attending a conference involving other lawyers in your practice area. For example, if you haven't attended the Real Property Section meetings of the American Bar Association, it might serve you well.

As you consider your options, think outside of the box. Consider a leadership conference, management conference, social media conference, or something totally random like the Le Leche League International meeting (I did that — twice!). You're more likely to develop ideas and business opportunities outside the office than sitting behind your desk.

Conduct Reconnaissance and Rehearse

Picking a conference is step one. Step two is gathering the conference attendee list along with the vendor and speaker list. You can always get the vendor and speaker list. The attendee list isn't always available. Study the lists and determine whom you'd like to meet while you're there. Speakers are usually the movers and shakers in the group. Vendors are always willing to talk. Scour the attendees list looking for people who might prove valuable to your firm.

As your list comes together, go ahead and arrange some meetings now, before the conference. Call or email your list and arrange to have a meal, coffee, etc. Don't book yourself solid. You'll want to save some time for talking with folks you meet along the way.

Before you pack your bags for the trip you should practice. Make sure you have your elevator pitch down. Make sure you have good conversation-starter questions ready. Carry plenty of business cards, along with a system for taking notes about conversations you have. Search for online photos of the people with whom you have meetings. Think through the legal questions you're likely to be asked and have your answers organized in advance. Rehearse some of your best stories and be prepared to tell them when the opportunity arises.

Work the Conference

Next up is the conference itself. Stay at the main conference hotel. That's important because you need easy access to the attendees. You want to share the same elevators, restaurants, and gyms with the conference participants. Crossing paths with new people is an important part of your effort. You can usually get a discounted rate at the conference hotel.

As the conference gets going, it's time for you to get going. Get up early and stay up late — there's time for sleep when you get home (take an afternoon nap during sessions if you get tired). Your goal is to meet people between your prearranged meetings. Talk, talk, talk. Don't get trapped in conference sessions where you're required to sit quietly and take notes. Get out in the hall and chat with folks. Meet people, figure out how you might work together, and take notes. You don't need to close the deal at the conference. You'll follow-up later.

How will you work together? Many possibilities exist. Some folks will become clients, some will become marketing partners, some will become referral sources. You'll meet the association magazine editor who'll invite you to write an article, the meeting planner who will ask you to speak next year, the vendor who needs help tweaking his contracts, and the reporter who needs an expert to comment on an industry issue.

After the sessions wrap up for the day you should head for the bar. Hang out and get to know people. Gather a group and move out for dinner. Talk about dinner as you maneuver through the day and invite anyone who doesn't have a plan. You may want to book a big table for each night before you leave home. If your budget permits, go ahead and buy dinner for the table.

Follow Up After the Conference

Do all of that and you'll succeed unless you make one huge mistake — fail to follow up once you return home. You must plug the names, email addresses, and numbers into your whatever system you use immediately. Then communicate with each person to make your plan for new business come to fruition. Call all those people who invited you to participate in some way and make it happen. Call prospective clients and move toward an engagement. Contact the referral sources and move the relationship forward. Follow up is critical. Otherwise, you may as well just stay home.

Written by Lee Rosen of Divorce Discourse.

How to Receive SmallLaw
Small firm, big dreams. Published first via email newsletter and later here on our blog, SmallLaw provides you with a mix of practical advice that you can use today, and insight about what it will take for small law firms like yours to thrive in the future. The SmallLaw newsletter is free so don't miss the next issue. Please subscribe now.

Topics: Law Firm Marketing/Publications/Web Sites | SmallLaw
home my technolawyer search archives place classified blog login