As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact the global community, lawyers are asking me whether engaging in business development activities is permissible right now. It’s a reasonable question – for many of us, the idea of “selling” or asking people for business feels unseemly and opportunistic when so many are suffering human and economic loss.
Is it Okay to Develop Business During a Time of Crisis?
While it is absolutely true that lawyers must be sensitive to the current situation, the simple answer to that question is YES. It’s completely appropriate to pursue business development even now. Why? Because existing and prospective clients still need support and guidance, perhaps now more than ever. They need legal counsel they can trust.
What’s critical at the moment is not so much a question of whether to engage in business development, but a question of how.
Dos and Don’ts
Even in times of relative abundance and safety, pushy selling and self-interested promotion are distasteful, unprofessional, and ineffective. No one wants to be sold to. They don’t care whether you need or want the business. They aren’t interested in solving your problems or lining your pockets. They understandably want to know that what you are offering has meaning and value for them.
What clients and prospects DO want is to develop friendly professional relationships and learn new things that may be helpful to them or someone they care about, particularly during a time of heightened uncertainty. They want someone to listen to and care about them. Someone who can help solve their problems, assuage their fears, share the burden, and prepare for the future.
For a subset of people and businesses, YOU are that person. YOU can be the port in a storm. Don’t squander that opportunity because you are afraid you might offend someone. Instead, use the 6 tips that follow to engage in business development in a way that is tasteful, empathetic, and aligns with your values and goals.
Tips for Engaging in Business Development During the Pandemic
Remember that Relationships are Key. You’ve heard it said that people do business with those they know, like, and trust. The primary way to develop the “know, like, and trust factor” is to create and nurture strong relationships. Reach out to friends, clients, colleagues, and contacts for the sole purpose of checking in, listening to their stories, and wishing them well. Take your eyes off the business development “prize” for the moment and just connect. Reaching out to others with caring and authenticity is appropriate no matter the circumstances and will deepen and strengthen your relationships.
Get Creative About Connecting. Despite the quarantine, find ways to stay in touch with those already in your network. Although large gatherings are prohibited and in-person lunches, coffees, and happy hours are not an option, don’t use the lockdown as an excuse to let relationships atrophy. Use emails, phone calls, and video chats to have one-on-one conversations and small group gatherings. One of my clients pronounced the idea of a virtual coffee “weird” but, at my urging, decided to give it a try. He reported back to me that his clients were grateful to be asked, he had a lot of fun, and he has already scheduled several more virtual get-togethers, including a video happy hour with a group of old friends from law school.
Meet New People. Although it may sound strange to consider meeting new people while living through a pandemic, it’s easier than you might expect to expand your network while working from home. While sending out cold emails or uninvited LinkedIn messages touting your law practice won’t endear you to anyone, asking someone to connect because you have common interests or you want to learn more about them often results in a positive response. For example, I recently attended a webinar during which it became clear that one of the panelists and I have a great deal in common and serve a similar clientele in different but related ways. I sent him a friendly LinkedIn message letting him know about our common interests and asking him to connect. He responded favorably and we have a video chat scheduled in the next few days.
Anticipate Your Clients’ Current and Future Needs. Right now, it’s anything but business as usual. Your clients and contacts are being faced with demands, challenges, and even opportunities they may never have anticipated. As they focus on jumping into action to respond to those changes, they run the risk of suffering the negative consequences of misunderstanding, overlooking, or failing to recognize key business and legal issues that may impact them.
As a lawyer, one of your jobs is to anticipate what sorts of business and legal challenges might arise for your clients and those similarly situated. Don’t simply wait for things to happen – put yourself into your clients’ shoes and look ahead to see what the roadblocks and opportunities might be. And then make sure your clients know that you are prepared to help them navigate the road ahead.
Pair Client Alerts with a Follow-up Email or Call. Law firms of every size are sending out COVID-19-related client alerts in droves. While the alerts are intended to inform clients and guide them through the crisis, many recipients are finding the sheer volume of email to be overwhelming. The alerts themselves are often long on dense text and difficult to read, particularly for those who are already worried about physical and mental health, business failures and layoffs, and what the future may hold.
Continue to send client alerts containing valuable and timely information and tips. But instead of considering your job done when you hit the send button, identify clients who would benefit from the information in the alert and reach out to them by email or phone to point them to a specific portion of the alert that is relevant to their unique situation. Making an overture to a client or contact to help them cut through the clutter and focus on their particular challenges demonstrates your commitment to them as well as your deep knowledge of their needs. It also gives you a chance to stay top-of-mind.
Make Sure How Others See You is How You Want to Be Seen. Lawyers often claim that they can’t focus on marketing or business development because they don’t have the time. While some lawyers are now even busier than usual advising clients on coronavirus-related matters, many others are billing fewer hours and have time to devote to matters that on a typical day don’t seem urgent but are nevertheless vitally important.
Set yourself up to succeed in business development during and after the crisis by evaluating foundational materials. Assess your LinkedIn and other social media profiles as well as your website or professional biography. When others read about you online, are they getting an accurate picture of who you are, what you do, and whom you serve? Will they learn what’s unique about you and why you might be a good person to call for help? Have you uploaded a current photo in the last couple of years? If not, it’s time for a refresh.
Despite the upheaval created by the coronavirus pandemic, now is not the time to retreat from business development activities. The key is adjusting your approach to fit the current circumstances. Focusing on activities that will demonstrate compassion and value to your clients will position you for stability and growth as we emerge from this global crisis.
Contact us to find out how The Lawyer’s Edge can help you and your law firm develop key relationships, attract your ideal clients, increase referrals, and drive revenue growth.
This article was originally published in the New York Law Journal.