As of this writing, the global economy is in a near standstill because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the past few days I have spoken with friends from around the world from Nigeria to Iceland, lawyers and other professionals are working from home offices, trying to serve clients who are also working remotely. At this point, we don’t know how long the work from home orders will persist nor the extent of the recession that will result. We do know that the pandemic induced economic downturn has impacted nearly all companies, some of which will need legal advice to navigate this new reality.
How does one develop business in this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) environment? Here are some practical suggestions that might strengthen client relationships and identify new opportunities during this turbulent time.
Tip #1: Update your Business Development Plan
Review your business development plan, potential contact list, and update it given the present reality. What parts of this plan can you do without face-to-face contact (but can do by email, text, phone, or zoom)? What can wait until the lock-downs are lifted? What opportunities for advisory, regulatory, and litigation services have arisen with this crisis? How might that change your approach to your target market? Is this a time to pivot your practice, at least temporarily, to meet an immediate or emerging need of clients and prospects?
One coaching client of mine emailed me to postpone our appointment for a few weeks. He has become one of the firm’s go-to lawyers for SBA Disaster Loans, and is up to his elbows in loan applications, helping clients of the firm obtain emergency funding. This pivot may only last a few months, but can you imagine the loyalty he is earning with these clients if he is able to help them secure millions of dollars to meet payroll and rent?
Tip #2: Time for some marketing hygiene
Many business development plans include the tasks of updating one’s firm bio and LinkedIn profile. With a little extra time on your hands, now might be a good time to update your bio. Consider adding examples of work that align with emerging client needs during the next six to twelve months.
Has it been a while since you’ve gone through your contacts and updated your pipeline list? Are there referral sources, potential clients and other contacts that you have not been in touch with for a while? Or, people whom you’ve met over the past year with whom you need to re-connect?
Perhaps this crisis has re-prioritized certain industry segments or business types for your practice, and you have something to offer that might help them during this time (more on this below). Updating your pipeline list with these priority contacts will open new opportunities.
Tip #3: Anticipate client and prospect needs and concerns
Reach out to clients and prospects and ask them how the crisis is affecting them and their companies. Show that you care. Ask intelligent questions. Seek to understand how their world is changing. Discuss what you’ve learned with other lawyers, staff and professionals in your firm. Offer your analysis and insight to help clients understand what is coming around the corner and how you and the firm can help them navigate these changes. This is your chance to be that “trusted advisor”.
Tip #4: Pivot Positioning and Personal Branding
Use these insights as the foundation for short term personal branding efforts. How is the crisis affecting companies in your target market? What are the strategic, business and legal implications? What are the options for companies or individuals in this situation? These are the building blocks for content marketing tactics such as articles, blog posts, webinars and conference presentations. Consider carving out some time to put your thoughts to paper and turn them into an article or presentation proposal for an industry conference (that will likely be held next year).
If you can, contribute to a firm newsletter, blog, podcast or webinar, consider writing a series of thought leadership articles, and promote them through social media the next few months.
Some lawyers may have a choice of promoting a short-term position that helps clients in crisis vs. promoting a position that will have stronger legs when the economy rebounds. Others may not have the luxury of that choice. Either way, consider using some of your new found time to build your personal brand.
Tip #5: Connect with your clients and contacts
Most people have been working from home for more than a month now. They are grappling with how the new reality will affect their business and trying to come to terms with the volatility and uncertainty of their situation, both professionally and personally.
If you haven’t connected personally with your clients, prospects, referral sources and business contacts yet, now is the time to start. Not all calls will be the same, however. For some contacts, the call might simply be for the purpose of building the relationship and showing that you sincerely care about them. Be a friend. Listen. Seek to understand their situation. Offer help. Don’t sell.
For others, those who you know more intimately or have a working relationship, the call will be to offer help in a way that is meaningful to them. How can you and your firm add value to them? Can you find ways to offer services that stretches their budget? Are there services you can offer for free, or at a discount? How about extended payment terms? How can you reduce their burden as inside counsel? Would an associate secondment help? What about 30 minutes of free advice from another attorney in the firm that has expertise in an area of most concern?
Are there ways that you and your firm can help solve some of these challenges faced by your clients right now? Does the crisis open strategic or operational opportunities for your client that didn’t exist a few weeks ago? Your conversation might lead to a project that creates value for the client, resulting in increased loyalty to you and the firm in the future.
Here’s another benefit of working your network during this strange time. Clients want to know what other companies are doing to deal with this crisis. You can share your stories and insights (without compromising your attorney-client relationship) to help your clients and prospects make solid management decisions.
Take some time to re-connect with others and strengthen your network. Show people that you care about them personally, and sincerely offer help in any way you can.
Tip #6: Increase targeted marketing efforts
By talking with your clients, prospect and other contacts, you will identify common issues and potential solutions that are priorities for your target market. By focusing your thought leadership tactics (email newsletters, blogs, webinars, articles, social media campaigns, etc.) on these issues, you increase the probability of clients and prospects contacting your firm for help.
Recently, a lawyer told me of his success writing an email newsletter on a topic related to business interruption. Not only did it drive enquiries by clients, but that lawyer became known inside the firm as the “go-to” person for a particular specialty, practically overnight.
Tip #7: Spend some time on research and business intelligence
If you find yourself with some extra time, spend some of it researching potential clients in your target market. Work with a business development professional and leverage linkedin.com to identify other companies and people in your orbit that might have similar needs as your current wonderful clients. Find mutual connections and ask for introductions.
Tip #8: Consider alternative fees and payment schedules
Anticipating that some clients will have urgent and important legal needs, but not the ability to pay bills immediately, talk to your CFO, pricing or finance staff about options you might be able to offer clients who are experiencing financial strain.
Tip #9: Network internally
Internal networking often falls off the business development plan because of other urgent priorities. However, knowing what other lawyers do is almost as important as having them know the value you bring to clients. “It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you” is a phrase I learned from author Dave Avrin. Make a list of attorneys at your firm that serve clients in, or adjacent to your space and schedule a virtual lunch or coffee to learn about each other.
Tip #10: Explore new partnerships
Most attorneys get new work through some sort of referral. Now might be a good time to look through your contact list and identify possible new partnerships that could result in introductions for both parties. Do you serve on a community board that has an accountant, consultant, or executive that is particularly well networked? Maybe now might be a good time to connect by phone or skype to learn more about her/his business and see if there might be a benefit of mutual introductions. Ask how might you help them, or how you might collaborate to better serve a mutual target market, such as a joint webinar or private online event.
Tip #11: Collaborate & innovate
Some client problems might not have an obvious or quick solution. Is there an opportunity for you to collaborate with a client to develop an innovative solution that has not been tried before? Is there a way to leverage technology, new partnerships, or a new process to solve the problem? By looking for opportunities to collaborate and innovate in times of crisis, you might be able to find a new way to provide value and earn loyalty that will pay off for years. Consider using design thinking and process improvement methods to work with your client to clarify the problem and brainstorm innovative solutions.
Tip #12: Be nimble and adjust to a rapidly changing environment
Six weeks ago my family celebrated my youngest daughter’s birthday. With fewer than ten known cases in Colorado, we were cautious, but it didn’t keep us from dining out, going to the movies and traveling. The situation changed quickly and dramatically, and we have been on self-imposed “lock-down” ever since.
Our client’s business, legal and personal challenges will continue to change quickly. The matters that we are working on today may be very different in a few days or weeks. Be aware of how your clients’ and prospects’ needs are changing, and adapt appropriately. Constantly monitor external forces and how they impact your clients, and offer help to them as their needs change.
As crises go, this one is different. The financial markets are volatile, the consequences of not social distancing can be deadly, the length of the lock-downs are uncertain, messages from governments are often ambiguous, and the decisions facing leaders are complex. There is no playbook.
However, leaders have an opportunity to use this “pause” to focus on client needs in a more intense way, drive innovation to provide higher levels of value to clients, and engage lawyers and staff to a stronger level of commitment and sense of purpose. If there is a theme among these “tips”, it is this: listen to your clients and find innovative ways to help them through this crisis, and prepare for success in the future. Do this well, and you will gain client loyalty for years.