“In the midst of a pandemic, it’s impossible to grow my practice. I can’t take potential clients to lunch or meet them face to face. I’ll just sit this one out for a while.”
This is a refrain I heard last summer from a partner at a law firm, and I suspect he is not alone in thinking this way. As we start 2021, many professional service providers, even the most fearless rainmakers, whether they are management consultants, PR folks, or lawyers, have been left despondent about growing their businesses or making new connections during Covid-19.
Personal connection and the sense of trust that comes with that is vital to getting hired as a professional, whether you are building a house for a client, or building a lawsuit for one. But how do you foster that sense of trust during a pandemic? We are separated by distance, often only seeing one another within the tiny box of a video conference. It takes work, but creating new connections and developing business can be done.
Go the Extra Mile With Existing Clients
In the book “Never Say Sell” by Tom McMakin and Jacob Parks, the authors talk about this in terms of the French word, lagniappe, which means to give a little something extra of value, such as the thirteenth bagel in a baker’s dozen. The same is true with your clients. Go beyond their expectations, particularly now.
We know that the best source of growing existing business or gaining referrals is a loyal client. Who is better to give you more of their business or send a referral your way? Provide your clients with additional value whenever possible and treat each one like gold.
Reach Out to All Active and Former Clients
Ask them how they are managing their work-from-home situation or open up the conversation to ask about the well-being of their family or colleagues. You’ll need to use judgment in knowing how personal your conversation should get, but try to reach them on a meaningful person-to-person basis.
It may sound counterintuitive, but in a time when everyone is under the stress of Covid-19, those more human conversations, where business isn’t even mentioned, can be the most valuable talks of all. They strengthen a personal connection that will help encourage future collaboration, including workflow.
And even if you’ve not been in the midst of an assignment, clients appreciate hearing from their advisers, particularly when they are not on the clock.
Use Social Media to Stay Front and Center
According to LinkedIn’s most recent figures, the platform has continued to see record levels of engagement during the pandemic and now has more than 722 million members.
LinkedIn is probably the most obvious social media platform for business-to-business connections, but if you are unsure which platform (for example, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram) is right for you and your business goals, ask a few of your clients which ones they use to connect.
Be present where your clients are active. For example, often architects and interior designers use Instagram to share images of their work or the designs that inspire them. They know that buyers of their services are following them.
Once you commit, be sure your profile is a true reflection of how you want to be viewed, comment on others’ postings, and add value to the platform’s community with your remarks and insights.
Use Reminders to Communicate, Market Yourself
Systems can make a big difference in ensuring that you will be able to follow-up. Some rainmakers keep a list of target companies on their desk, others use calendar reminders to do outreach to clients. Others like to work with an assistant or colleague who will remind them once a week to check in on their social media accounts and reach out to key clients.
Have a Plan
Start a plan by considering your goals. For example, is your aim to get more business from existing clients or to become established in a new practice area? While your plans may change over time, it’s helpful to have a good place to start.
Only once you have your goals in mind should you plan tactics for how you will get there. We’ve seen architects and consultants jump in to create webinars and write long articles on topics, but then realize afterwards that it wasn’t the best use of their time.
Put the Plan in Writing
When I’ve coached lawyers, I find the best personal plans are brief and kept on their desk or right inside their desk drawer, where they can easily see it. I also suggest placing the first draft of a plan in handwriting. Evidence points to the fact that putting goals in writing can help reduce the stress that comes from working without a plan.
In addition, you are more likely to complete a mission once you’ve placed it in writing. The most effective personal plans have overall objectives and SMART tactics. SMART is one of my favorite acronyms, as it stands for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timed. If your goals are in writing and they’re SMART, it’s much more likely you will accomplish them.
So, don’t sit this one out. Participate in business development tactics, even during a pandemic, and take an active role in creating your future practice.
Deborah B. Farone is founder of Farone Advisors LLC. She is a consultant to law firms and other professional services, a public speaker, and the author of “Best Practices in Law Firm Business Development and Marketing” (PLI 2019) and is the former CMO of Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, where she was responsible for building both firms’ marketing departments.