Call to arms
A firm’s post-pandemic success may depend on a concerted business development drive now, as Doug McPherson explains
In the context of the times in which we’re presently living and working, I’m borrowing a bit of Greek philosophy: “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” (Epictetus).
This quote has been credited to a few people (and if I’m honest, I picked it up during a recent interview with an ex-Premier League manager) – but it’s the perfect call to arms. There was nothing we could have done to prevent the current situation.
However, given it’s only temporary and clients continue to need legal services, your firm’s future is reliant on you reacting quickly, positively and decisively.
In terms of objectives, our recent experience has been that firms have two primary aims: To establish an immediate cashflow and start to build up a short-term pipeline of new opportunities. To identify what you should do to ensure you can meet your clients’ new demands and remain relevant, competitive and profitable in a more demanding trading environment.
The first step in response to the immediate challenge of maintaining your revenue and pipeline is to focus your marketing and business development (BD) activities. It’s easy (if not tempting) to think you can put marketing and BD to one side at the
Your clients are too preoccupied; if you get in touch, you’ll just be getting in the way; and you don’t know how things will pan out so how can you add any value if you did speak?
But the world is as uncertain for your clients as it is for you. This means they need to know they have the full support of the people they trust. As their lawyer, you need to tell your clients they have that support in person, online and in print. With the current restrictions in place things need to be done a little differently. We can’t see people for coffee, lunch or drinks, or attend or host events or seminars.
Similarly, over recent months the volume of content being published and webinars offered by law firms has exploded. Together, this will make grabbing your target market’s attention trickier than usual, so what can you do? We suggest doing more on the phone, publishing more content and doing more on social media.
Ordinarily, email has largely replaced phone calls – but while restrictions on movement are in place, phone and video calls have quickly become the best way to do business development. When normality returns, your existing working relationships will be the cornerstone of your practice. You need to identify key relationships and decide how you will use the phone to strengthen them so you’re the first port of call when new opportunities arise.
Some practice areas are still in demand so many fee-earners are already talking to clients, but this isn’t enough. They’ll also need to keep in touch with the clients and contacts they haven’t spoken to recently so they don’t drop off the radar.
There are two key strands to how to approach phone calls:
Professional – clients and contacts are nervous at the moment so taking time to catch up, find out more about their plans and the issues they’re facing will be welcomed. It’ll also reinforce the fact you are there for them, earning you a lot of goodwill. But it’s not a one-way street. Use the insight you gain from these calls to help you make informed decisions about how to adapt your offering/delivery to meet clients demands and to provide added value and how best to provide that. If the changes make you more indispensable to clients, it will make you more attractive to prospective clients.
Personal – informal calls are by far the most effective and enjoyable. You know the ones: instead of focusing on work, you discuss something you have in common. Some lawyers are nervous about making such calls but you shouldn’t be. All the evidence we’ve seen proves you’re a welcome distraction and these calls last longer – to the benefit of your long-term relationship.
Consider alternatives to conversations. At Size 10½ Boots we’ve been swapping Spotify playlists, joining in with quizzes, virtual wine-tasting – even playing darts via Zoom. All have been good fun and highly productive. Increasing content Internet usage has never been higher as people search online for answers to specific questions. If you want to top the search results, you should be producing a continual stream of new content.
But don’t fall into the trap many firms have: avoid shoehorning ‘coronavirus’ or ‘covid-19’ into every headline. More than 3.1 billion bloggers have done the same and yours will probably get lost. Instead, adopt a positive outlook. Choose a subject you know is affecting your clients (this is where spending time with them on the phone pays dividends), outline what they need to know and what to do to minimise the potential effects.
This content will play better in the search engines and will be better received by your audience as they’ll be providing relevant, valuable, practical and strategic advice. When marketing the content, experiment with different formats to ensure you stand out.
Don’t just publish blogs and articles: try video, infographics, flowcharts and top tips. People absorb information differently so you will extend the reach and shelf-life of your content by repackaging it in various ways.
More social media
Your choice of social media platform depends on your practice. If you’re community-focused, consider Facebook; if you’re comfortable promoting and exchanging more personal views, Twitter may be better; or if you’re able to promote aspects of your practice more visually, Instagram could work. That said, LinkedIn is probably the natural choice for the vast majority of lawyers, particularly while working from home. LinkedIn provides a free, targeted and incredibly time-efficient way to stay visible to your connections.
To ‘do’ LinkedIn properly requires doing something every day – but the good news is just doing the basics takes less than five minutes a day. All you need to do is scroll through your timeline and like and share a few things your connections are posting. You should also be reposting your firm’s new content, which takes seconds using the app. You could take this opportunity to do a little more, for instance: Refresh your profile by adding more recent experience and any specialisms. Use the ‘write an article’ feature to post blogs (this is particularly powerful as it alerts all your connections as soon as you publish).
Post shorter FAQ style blogs as updates. Grow your network by inviting more people you know to connect with you (which in turn will introduce you to their networks). Follow clients and contacts so you’re up to date with their news and have a reason to get in touch. Ask your clients for new recommendations to make your profile even more credible.
What about the strategic, longer term issues firms should consider? It’s increasingly likely your clients and the sectors you serve will want legal services to be delivered differently. This may mean refreshing how you look and operate so you can meet new market demands and give your firm a solid foundation from which to return your turnover, market positon and client relationships to former levels. This really is a BD project.
Many firms still think BD is limited to how you market and sell your services, but it has to influence how you develop every part of your business if you are going to articulate, promote, sell, do, deliver and bill for your services in a single and seamless action. I’m not going to pretend this won’t be an involved process.
But given how important it is for your firm to be ready to tackle the next phase of the crisis, it’s not a BD project you can afford to put off. To formulate the new strategic plan necessary to take your firm forward, there are five areas you’ll need to examine:
Your market – Who are your key clients, referrers, contacts and targets; and how do you ensure you’re first in line when they have a new opportunity?
Your offering – What do you do, what are your specialisms, where do you add real value and what do you need to do differently? How do you promote all this to create the competitive advantage you need? What did you learn during lockdown that you could use to improve
Your resources – Do you have the right people at the right levels to do the work profitably today; and the required succession, retention and personal development plans in place to sustain you tomorrow?
Your pricing – Are your fee levels still viable or do you need to explore alternative billing and collection processes?
Your IT – Do you have the IT you’ll need to support the required changes to your offering, service delivery, back office and the way you communicate internally and externally?
Your answers will enable you to formulate a new strategy that tackles your immediate needs (to generate immediate fee earning opportunities) and support your longer-term growth objectives. Make sure your plan is an action plan.
Successful implementation requires clear accountabilities so make it clear what needs to be done, by whom and by when. Then, once you’ve added the what/who/when to your plan, schedule regular reviews to make sure what you planned is being done and to assess where tweaks may be required.
Remember that perfection isn’t achievable, especially with so many things we don’t yet know. Here’s another borrowed quote: “A good plan, violently executed now, is always better than a perfect plan executed next week.” George S Patton. At the moment, ‘good enough’ is good enough. Don’t let the pursuit of excellence hold you up. You can adapt your plan as things develop. Get as close as you can then take action.
Firms need to be ready to respond as we move between three most likely outcomes:
A rapid return – Residual demand means we’ll pick up where we left off and recover almost as quickly as we fell into downturn. You may need to look at increasing resources and streamlining a more flexible delivery model.
A slow return – If there is a second wave of covid-19, recovery could be prolonged for some practice areas while demand increases for others. You may need to consider redeploying your resources internally or exploring more pointed ways to leverage more from areas still in demand.
A volatile return – If the infection returns intermittently over the next 12-24 months, recovery could come in fits and starts. This would mean working out how to operate with total flexibility so you can react to constantly changing levels of demand and acute price sensitivity caused by this level of uncertainty.
Doug McPherson is a director at business development agency, Size 101/2 Boots tenandahalf.co.uk