Friends: 

I am a member of networking groups, trade associations, religious communities and business development groups and, with minimal exceptions, many of them at one time or another suffered from a shortage of members.  But it wasn’t just a shortage of members, but a shortage of participation and a shortage of attendance.  A member of one of the groups of which I am involved cannot seem to figure out why attendance is poor and why membership is falling.

My friends, I have the answer and it is a universal truth, whether it is in a networking group, a trade association, a fraternal or religious organization and even all of our own businesses…

When I conclude a meeting with a client or a prospective client or even a phone consultation, my final question to the other party is this:  “Was this helpful?” 

In this day of heavy competition, bargain shoppers and easy access to information, we must invent new ways to drive commerce.  It can’t just be because we are who we are.  The day of hanging out your shingle and expecting people to walk in the door is an artifact and belongs in a museum.  Instead we have to find ways to differentiate ourselves, to convince someone that their hard-earned money is properly spent for our services.  And how do we do that?  We provide them with something of value. 

I am currently a member of one specific networking group that is having terribly difficult times attracting members and participation.  Some of the members have expressed bewilderment as to why people aren’t coming more often.  “Why would people not want to come?  If they show up, they might get business!” 

This may be absolutely true, but even in networking groups, there is competition for time.  Whatever time the meeting is scheduled for, there is always something else that a prospective member could be doing.  Does he or she want to go to a meeting and hear the same introductions and the same spiels or does he or she want to help the kids with homework or respond to e-mails or simply do some work?

The attraction to the group cannot be the prospect of future business.  The attraction has to be the value that will be provided at the meeting such that missing the meeting is not an option.  And it doesn’t have to be a financial value.  It can simply be a stirring conversation, or an interesting presentation, or even the refreshments.,  The trick is not to keep the outline for the meeting the same, but to play around with options until you hit the one that works, until you find the option that provides the most value for the participants, so that they mark their calendar and ensure that they don’t miss the next and the next and then the one after that.

As attorneys, we like to think that we have all of the answers and that our clients should simply listen to what we tell them to do and follow our instructions; that because we have a fancy law degree and took an incredibly grueling examination that they should be happy to be sitting in our office receiving our wisdom.   But that isn’t the case.  An attorney’ job, an accountant’s job, a financial advisor’s job is just as much about making sure you are in tune with your client’s needs as it is in ensuring that you have the right strategies to employ.  For how impactful with the strategy be if it doesn’t actually accomplish the client’s goals?

The lawyer who gets the right result but burns considerable bridges along the way may not be providing the best value for his client if that is not his client’s ultimate goal.  The key is in figuring out what will provide the most benefit and value to the client and delivering on that expectation.

In my networking group, the key is in figuring out what will provide the most benefit and value to the potential members and delivering on that expectation.  In the bar associations, the key is in figuring out what will provide the most benefit and value to the potential members and delivering on that expectation.  In the religions organizations, the key is in figuring out what will provide the most benefit and value to the potential members and delivering on that expectation.

Are you catching my drift here?  It isn’t about hanging out your shingle and expecting people to walk in the door anymore.  It isn’t about tempting members with the potential for new business. 

It’s about the value you can provide to them so that they think twice before they walk past your door.

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