Does social media lead to business?

Does social media activity really lead to new business? This question comes up quite frequently, along with its cousin, Why am I not seeing ANY results from my social media activity? Social media too often becomes a time-consuming, illusory activity that seems to promise results are just around the bend.

But some lawyers have cracked the code. I recently ran across an article titled The Social Law Firm Index 2016: Is Your Firm a Social Law Firm? which has some good tips based on a social media survey of the AmLaw 100. (If your firm is nowhere near the 100, don’t worry: the tips apply regardless of the size or type of firm.)

The whole article is worth reading, but let’s focus on the first “best practice”:

By remaining true to their primary business objectives and core brand messaging, social law firms are most effective at extending their reach and engaging with their target audience.
This sentence identifies four core aspects of effective social media use, each of which is implicated in any kind of successful business development activity:

  • Primary business objectives: You must have a business development strategy in place and a plan to execute it. Like any other activity, social media must fit within that strategy.

  • Core brand messaging: Having a clear brand-based message is important in any business development activity, but it’s critical in crowded social media communities. Otherwise, even if your “thought leadership” and educational efforts (two of the other identified best practices) hit their mark, your audience likely won’t remember what firm offered such helpful information.

  • Extending their reach: Effective social media activity is a way to appear in front of new people on a regular basis. Knowing whom you want to reach and what kind of content will catch the right attention is the heart of your business development strategy, and social media is one of the vehicles to use to make that happen. 
  • Engaging with their target audience: Social media is social, an opportunity to connect and engage with other users. It is not effective when used as a megaphone. Regardless of the particular platform that you’re using, your plan needs to include a way to identify individuals strategically and to connect with them in a way that moves an online relationship into offline conversation.

There’s a lot more to this article (much of it more granular that the report’s initial point), so please do read it if social media use is any part of your marketing plan. If you aren’t getting the results you want, you will likely be able to self-diagnose what’s missing.

When you plan to “try”

When confronted with a new, daunting challenge, many of us have a tendency to say we’ll try.

In the business development context, that might show up as, “Oh, I hate networking, but I know I need to meet new people, so I’m going to try attending the monthly entrepreneur’s meetup.” Or “I know I need to be easier to find online, so I’m going to try to publish a few articles this year.” Or “It’s been a couple years since I looked at my business development plan, so I’m going to do that and try to get it updated this month.” Or… Well, you get the picture.

Here’s the truth about saying, “I’ll try”:

 

Sometimes “I’ll try” does mean “I plan to make a legitimate and strategic effort to accomplish this goal.” If that’s what you mean, leave out “try” and just say you plan to do it. Of course there’s a risk of failure—there’s always a risk of failure—but leaving out the fuzzy word “try” may help to minimize that risk.

I urge an honest and pragmatic approach to business development. So if you aren’t fully committed to undertaking an action (and by fully committed, I mean intending to take planned, strategic, and consistent action), don’t kid yourself. You don’t have to do everything—in fact, you can’t do everything—so acknowledge what you can and can’t do (or will and won’t do) and leave “trying” on the sidelines.

Make the most of your summer (or vacation season)

Vacation season (whether for the summer or winter holidays) brings fun and challenges. Do it right and you can enjoy and refresh yourself while maintaining your progress toward your goals. Fail to approach it thoughtfully, and you probably won’t like the outcome.

This week I’m sharing several greatest hits from the past with tips to help you make the most of your summer, whether you’re about to be in the full swing of it or whether it’s still six months away in your part of the world. (And, of course, these tips apply for any kind of vacation as well as no vacation at all.) Click on the links below to read the full articles.

  1. Increase your efficiency by cutting the time you spend in the office:  This post shares three tips about how you can shift your approach to work so you can get more done and get out the door.
  2. The Reset Button:  Two tips to help you feel less pressured, which in turn will increase your efficiency and effectiveness.
  3. Addressing Burnout:  Your Productivity Depends on It:  How can disconnecting from your work improve your productivity?
  4. Get Out of the Office:  Your best thoughts about work probably won’t happen at work.
  5. The Productive Value of Vacation:  How short bursts of recreation can refresh and reinvigorate you.
  6. How Your Holidays Can Help Your Grow Your Practice“Your future is created by what you do today.” This article covers how to continue forward motion while enjoying your vacation season.
  7. Mix Work and Play for Fun & ProfitThis article covers the neglected art of gracefully shifting a social contact into a business conversation—without being that tone-deaf boor who’s always selling him- or herself.

Why market on price?

There’s no doubt that price is a factor in most buying decisions. However, price is not the only factor, and it doesn’t have to be the most important factor. Consider this:

If you want to command a higher fee, deliver extraordinary quality, convenience, service, and value. How to do that is a long conversation. How do your clients judge quality? What does convenience look like for your clients? How can you create additional value for your clients? And finally, how can you provide client service in a way that produces quality, convenience, and value? Answering those questions typically requires some digging, but it’s a worthwhile pursuit.

Here’s the deeper thought, though…

If you market (primarily or exclusively) on price, doesn’t that in effect concede that you don’t deliver extraordinary quality, convenience, service, or value?

Do you need a CRM?

Relationship development is a key part of any business development initiative. That’s why we put so much effort into meeting new people, getting to know them, and following up with them over time. But how do you gather and track the relevant must-know information about your contacts?

Enter the CRM: the Client (or Customer) Relationship Management system.

(One prefatory note for the rest of this conversation: if you’re working in a larger firm, you may have access to the firm’s CRM and consider that sufficient for your purposes. Before you reach that conclusion, find out how easily you will be able to extract your contacts’ information should you leave the firm. If it’s at all difficult, given the reality of today’s professional world, don’t rely exclusively on the firm’s system.)

A CRM is most often software (local or in the cloud) that organizes contacts and information about them, but it need not be highly technology-driven. Some people successfully use spreadsheets, Outlook, Evernote, or even a Word file. CRM software offers functional advantages.

Here’s a list of features and attributes your CRM system should include:

  • The system must be accessible from wherever you are.
  • The system must be secure.
  • The system must be a centralized and easy-to-update repository for contact data, including address, email, and telephone as well as business and personal interests.
  • The data within the system must be sortable (so you can identify people who are located in a city before you visit, for example).
  • The system should include a tickler function to prompt you to follow up with clients and contacts on the schedule you define.
  • The system should track your communications so you can see when you last spoke with a contact and what you discussed.
  • The system should allow for easy import and export of your data.
  • Optionally, the system may save a library of resources you can use for follow-up contacts.
  • Optionally, the system may include some automation to streamline your efforts.

Two of my favorite CRMs for small firms or for individual use are Contactually and Less Annoying CRM.

Why might you not want to use a CRM? If you won’t keep it updated, a CRM may do you more harm than good. Otherwise, a CRM is a good investment to facilitate building your network.

Lessons from an airline

Airlines have been in the news quite a bit lately, and not in a good light. As I was scanning Facebook recently, I ran across this article sharing a 2015 story about a Southwest flight that had pulled away from the gate when a passenger’s husband called the airline trying to let his wife know that their son had sustained a brain injury. The article goes on to detail the many kindness Southwest extended to the passenger.

Nice story. But how is it relevant to legal marketing?

The relevance lies in the comments to the Facebook post sharing the story. Over 1000 comments as I’m writing this article.

Comments to Facebook posts made by “news-ish” pages are generally the cesspool of the Internet. But the comments to this post are striking (and educational) because of the uniformly positive tone, with only a handful of dissenters. Two themes recur in the comments:

1.     “I would know this story is about Southwest even if it hadn’t been named!”

2.     “I love Southwest! Southwest is amazing!”

Let’s look at why each of these themes matters for you as you’re thinking about your firm.

First, “I would know this story is about Southwest” reflects Southwest’s strong branding. It tells us that Southwest has crafted itself in a way that’s instantly recognizable to the purchasing public.

There’s something about Southwest that sticks with customers. Maybe it’s the fun staff (videos of announcements on Southwest flights go viral on a surprisingly frequent basis), the kindness shown to passengers (which results from employees’ authority to do the right thing for their passengers), their no-upcharge prices (no extra fees for checked bags, no change fees, etc.), or their just-plain-niceness.  There’s a quality about Southwest that makes it instantly recognizable.

Compare this to typical law firm branding. So many firm websites use the same concepts, even the same words: years of experience, highly educated, ranked, prestigious, innovative, client-focused. In fact, a common consultant exercise takes “About us” or practice group descriptions for several firms and asks the client to identify which one is from his or her firm; the client only rarely succeeds because all the samples sound so similar.

Law firms brands on the whole aren’t instantly recognizable. 
In fact, they’re so similar that distinguishing one from another is difficult.

The problem here is that it’s impossible to stand out from competitors if you should just like they do. Your branding must speak directly to your core client and create a strong impression. Southwest has clearly succeeded on this front. Do you? Does your firm?

Second, the hundreds of “I love Southwest!” comments show that people feel strongly about Southwest. They have a relationship with the brand. Many people who commented recounted their own stories about Southwest, whether stories of dramatic kindness or more ordinary positive experiences.

This is what delighted customers do: they share their stories. (It’s also what disgruntled customers do. We don’t want that.)

You may be thinking that it’s more challenging to delight a legal services client than an airline customer, and you’re right. Free snacks and humor in the delivery of the service won’t cut it for legal services clients.

What might delight your clients? Ask yourself what the biggest snags tend to be in a representation. The most common usually revolve around time: how long does it take a lawyer to respond to an email or telephone call, how much time does the attorney leave for a client to review work product before a deadline, how long do clients wait when they come for a meeting? Iron out those snags to remove friction, and share your resolution with your clients to create positive expectations.

Then ask what your clients value. If it’s time, can you offer a streamlined communication process or even a legal-adjacent service that would save time? If it’s money, can you create a client service package that provides certainty for your clients and profit for you? If it’s information, can you spot what your clients would like to know and create a system for making sure you convey that information?

Client delight is unique, and it won’t necessarily be feasible for you to delight every client. If you work with small business clients, for example, you might aim to delight your larger or high potential clients while providing excellent, friction-free service to clients who come for smaller, routine business formation matters.

Here’s the lesson to learn from Southwest: when your clients feel strongly about your (or your firm’s) brand and when they’re delighted with the service they receive, they’ll want to talk about you. And that’s the route to a strong practice built on referrals and a long-term clientele.

To get the big biz dev project done…

One truism about practicing law is that there’s never quite enough time. That’s especially true in two business development-related instances:

  • When you’ve succeeded in securing a substantial amount of new work and you have to figure out how to get the billable work done without losing biz dev momentum, and
  • When you’re working on a large biz dev project such as completing a book chapter (or a book or even a weighty article), launching a new website or a newsletter or blog, designing client service materials, etc.

Let’s focus on the second of these challenges: the big project. Having survived law school and some years in practice, you no doubt know all the tips about breaking a large project down into bite-sized pieces, mapping out the ultimate objective and interim goals.

What if, despite your scheduling time to work on the project at the end of the day or on weekends, you just aren’t making progress? It’s time to take two steps.

First, ask yourself whether you’re committed to this project. It’s ok to change your mind, so long as you acknowledge the change and know what you’ll do instead. Having an outstanding goal that never gets closer undermines drive and confidence in the ability to reach that goal. Don’t do that to yourself.

Second, rearrange your day so that you spend at least a half-hour at the beginning of the day working on your big project. That rearrangement (while perhaps inconvenient) recognizes the priority that you’re placing on the project and ensures that you’ll make consistent progress. This is, of course, a valid time management approach for any priority project. It’s particularly useful in the context of business development because it creates a specific time slot and time pressure for an activity that may otherwise lack either. (In other words, it’s blocking space in your day for a task that is important but not urgent and, in doing so, creating some urgency around it.)

Take a look at your schedule today. Is your first task of the day one that’s important to growing your practice? If not, rearrange.

Activity or achievement?

Here’s a quote for you to consider.

Sometimes when I speak with lawyers, especially those new to business development, they share all the steps they’ve taken…And I’m left with one essential question that I always ask in a more diplomatic way: So what?

Activity is critical, of course, since accomplishment can exist only through activity of some sort. That said, it’s important to distinguish between activity and achievement to ensure that your business development activity is worthwhile — meaning that it is moving you toward the results you want to see.

For example, if you attend a conference or other meeting where you collect 100 business cards for new contacts, so what? Conversation with five well-targeted new contacts will usually yield a better business development result. That’s because you’ve had the opportunity to connect with new contacts through your on-site conversation, so follow-up activity is about deepening (not merely establishing) a relationship. However, if your objective is to be elected to a leadership position in the group, meeting as many people as possible might be more valuable. Objectives often hold the key to the activity vs. achievement distinction; other times, your follow-up controls. Without proper follow-up contact, even in-depth conversation with an ideal new contact (which could otherwise advance your objectives) is unlikely to get much in the way of results.

Take a look at the business development tasks you’ve completed over the last month and ask whether each represents activity or achievement. If you find activity, check to see what else you might do to achieve instead.

Join your clients’ team

Don’t you love it when someone else is genuinely interested in your success? We all do. And we all know when interest is genuine, as opposed to when it’s self-motivated and faked. Genuine interest is tremendously appealing, while self-serving is off-putting and even alienating.

Are you interested in your clients’ success? You don’t have to tell anyone, but answer honestly. Depending on your practice, that interest could mean anything from a years-long involvement at the most intimate business levels to a deep interest in a limited aspect of your clients’ experience that’s followed with well wishes, a farewell, and rare-to-occasional follow-up contact. If your answer is lukewarm, that’s a sign that something is out of alignment, and it deserves attention.

Assuming your answer is yes, you are interested in your clients’ success, the question becomes, how do you show your clients that you’re interested in them? When interest is genuine, it tends to flow naturally, but because life is busy, you’ll likely find it helpful to come up with some ways that you can demonstrate that interest. A few examples:

  • Use your clients’ services and products whenever possible. Even if your representation is not business-related, patronize your clients. One lawyer I know makes a special effort to host lunches at a client’s restaurant. Another of his former clients is also his insurance agent, and he purchases gifts from another client’s yoga studio. You might question how much this matters, but imagine how you would feel if you discovered your lawyer hosted a staff luncheon at other restaurants in town but not yours.
  • Where appropriate, promote your clients’ business to others. The lawyer I mentioned in the previous example does this each time he brings someone to his client’s restaurant or send out a gift from his client’s yoga studio. That’s a win/win—even more so if it’s appropriate to mention the client connection.
  • Look for opportunities to provide extra value to your clients. This might be business-related, but it doesn’t have to be. Anything from identifying a trend that might benefit your client to recommending an accountant or contractor counts. You know all those recommendations to circulate useful articles you read? That’s another example, when done well. The measure is what your client will find valuable.
  • Watch for news about your clients, and respond appropriately. If you have a low-volume practice, place Google Alerts on all of your clients; if not, place Alerts on a selected number of high-priority clients. (Either way, be sure that the results are filtered or sent to a non-primary email address.) Celebrate good news, offer condolences, or extend a helping hand.
  • Communicate. The number one complaint about lawyers is the lack of timely communication, and knowing what matters to your clients and when and how to convey that is both a professional responsibility and a way to demonstrate your interest in your clients.

These are just a few examples of how you can let your actions show your interest in your clients. The best methods, of course, are the ones that are most genuine for you and the ones that have the most positive impact on your clients. When you act from genuine and appropriate interest in your clients’ business and personal success, you join your clients’ team. That tends to create client satisfaction (maybe even client delight), recurring business, and referrals, and it also tends to become an enjoyable extension of your practice.