By Mark Powers & Shawn McNalis

This article originally appeared in Lawyers Weekly.

“Okay, I’ve met someone who could be a great referral source for my practice. Now what do I do?

We receive this question constantly from attorneys attempting to cultivate new business. Usually, they are stymied about two things: how the process of developing a business relationship works and most importantly, how to go about it without appearing desperate.

What they want to know is this: How do I get this new person to like me enough to send business – without, of course, actually looking like I need their business?

We will use the rest of this article to answer this question in more depth, but here’s our short and sweet response: Relax. You already know how to make friends. You’ve been doing it all your life and have probably never appeared desperate in the process.

It is only when you try to dissect the process, and allow yourself to worry because this is a “business” relationship that it seems strange. But people are people. And the way to cultivate them follows an ancient and very familiar path: you court them. In the same way you courted your current spouse, your ex-girlfriend, your past boyfriend –whom ever fate put in your path that you decided you’d like to get to know better. The same thing applies to acquaintances which blossomed into close friendships. You focused on the person, learned about their likes and dislikes and found enough common ground on which to base a relationship. Except for the romantic element, building business relationships is much the same.

The following is an outline of the steps to take when cultivating a new relationship. As you read what we ask you to do, ask yourself if anything we suggest is too exotic, too difficult or off-base. We hope your answer will be a resounding no. All of the actions we describe are well within the bounds of ordinary social behavior and in fact are things you have already done at some point in the course of your social life. All of the behaviors are normal, just more strategic than what you may be used to. To make it easier for yourself, be sure to modify any of the suggested short scripts into language you would be comfortable using – just don’t change the intent.

Here’s is the step-by-step process:

  • At your first meeting with a new potential referral source, however brief, say something like, “Why don’t we get together in the near future for lunch – I’d like to hear more about your business,” or “I’d like to get together sometime soon and learn more about what you do.” The emphasis on them is intended. No one wants to get together with you just to hear a commercial about you. People are most interested in talking about themselves first and learning about you, secondarily. You can never go wrong if you remember this.
  • At this first encounter, try to get a business card, a phone number or e-mail address. Getting contact information is important to continuing the relationship, but if you don’t get it you can always ask the person who introduced you or consult the yellow pages or internet to fill in the gaps. You can even google the person to see what comes up. If their business has a website, look it over before you meet with them again.
  • Wherever you find it, put the contact information in your database as soon as possible, along with any background information you’ve gleaned from the conversation. Put them on your newsletter list if you think it would be appreciated. Another option is to send them a short handwritten note that says you enjoyed meeting them and will call them soon to see if they’d like to get together. For less formal personalities, you can mention this in an e-mail.
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