Supercharge your referral network by combining traditional networking with modern tools

Building a strong referral network takes time and diligence. It requires a great deal of professional networking, backed by of exemplary client service. There are no short cuts to doing this the right way. However, in today’s Internet-driven, social-media-intensive business environment, solo lawyers and small firms have an opportunity to supercharge their referral-building process using online tools.Personal Branding for Lawyers

Building a personal brand online

The first step in enhancing your referral network through online channels is establishing a strong personal brand online. Personal branding for lawyers starts with some setup tasks, like creating professionally branded social media accounts. Most of the major social networks allow you to maintain a business presence that is separate from your personal presence. No need to mix personal and business. Instead, set up company pages that you can connect to your personal profiles for easy management.

You don’t need to hit every social network (especially since a new one pops up almost daily). Instead, focus on the networks where you get the most traction. Most lawyers start with the big four—Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter—and then zero in on one or two networks where they are getting the best results. Here are some links to help you set up your company pages:

Facebook for Business

LinkedIn Company Pages

Google+ Brands

Twitter Basics

When setting up these pages, it’s important to create a well-branded presence across all channels. This means that the images, graphics and descriptive language should be consistent, and should sync well with your main website. Think of each social media page as an extension of your website. It should look similar, include similar basic info about your practice and promote the same overall brand. If you don’t have a professionally created logo or good imagery that you can use on each social network, consider working with a graphic designer or marketing company to develop what you need.

Google+, in particular, allows you to build out a more complete online profile for your business, called Google My Business. This profile is critical because it ties in directly with Google’s search results. Take your time when putting together this profile, or hire a social media expert to help, because the info in this profile will be on the front lines of online search results.

Create content to establish expert status

Once you’ve created well-branded social media profiles, then it’s time to start posting content and building that online reputation. This process can begin with simple posts to your social media profiles, but ultimately you should extend your content contributions to a company blog (on your website) and possibly to other online venues—such as industry forums, online legal publications and other legal blogs that accept guest posts.

What should you write about? Think of topics within your area of expertise, and share insights within well-composed pieces. You don’t need to explain all the ins and outs of every issue—just share a few key points, enough to encourage prospects to call you for more information. An ideal blog post length is only 300-500 words, so break up those heavier topics into smaller pieces that are more focused. Think educational, not promotional. This process is all about an open sharing of ideas, and the building of your reputation as an expert on certain topics. Advisory articles, explanations of legal terms and case studies all play well.

Extending your word-of-mouth referral network

Back to those all-important referrals. Now that you’ve built up your online presence and started contributing content on key topics, it’s time to start reaching out to your network. Begin with your existing contacts. Find your clients and business contacts on social media, and invite them to connect with your company pages. Even if you are already personally connected, ask them to “like” or “follow” your business pages. You want them connected to these business pages, because they will serve as the mouthpiece of your practice moving forward.

As you post articles to your blog or submit pieces to industry publications, post updates on your social media accounts to let people know. Think of these updates as little touch points, subtle reminders to your network that you’re out there contributing to the field.

When writing your updates, don’t promote; inform. As your contacts see these updates, their natural inclination will be to share relevant posts with members of their network that might find them useful. If you’re creating good content and sharing it freely with an engaged social network, then your communication efforts expand exponentially. It doesn’t happen overnight, but once you build some momentum, you’ll have a good system in place.

Twitter for lawyers

The more interaction you have with your followers on social media, the better it will be for your referral process. On many of the networks, users can search within that media for recommendations from their friends. For example, instead of asking all their friends on Facebook for a recommendation of a good lawyer, a user can use Facebook’s internal search feature to search for “lawyers my friends like.” Viola! A pre-screened list of attorneys appears, all “liked” or recommended by that user’s friends.

Prospective clients that find your firm through this type of search, or from a direct recommendation, are more likely to connect with you via social media. Once they do that, they will be in your network. From that point, the chances of those prospects doing business with you goes up dramatically. On LinkedIn, for instance, 50 percent of LinkedIn members are more likely to purchase from companies when they engage with them on LinkedIn.

All of these online efforts shouldn’t replace all the traditional networking and personal relationship-building that form the cornerstone of a good referral network. Places like LawBank offer an excellent opportunity to create those one-on-one connections that can lead to valuable collaborations and referrals. However, once you’ve made those connections, maximize them through the enormous potential network waiting for you online. In today’s ultra-competitive legal environment, the difference between success and struggle may be what you do with your network once you’ve built it.

For more advice on legal marketing and building an independent law practice, visit the LawBank Blog.