The idea that you would be so busy, that you’d send your assistant or an associate in your place to a client meeting, wearing a mask of your face and pretending to be you, is ludicrous, right?

But we build relationships online via proxy all the time. And not just with potential clients, but with current ones.

“That sounds crazy!” I can hear you saying. But does it? Are any of these scenarios familiar? 

  • Your assistant replies to an email that was sent to you, either as themselves (and on your behalf) or as you, but with such a formality in the email that it’s clear it didn’t originate with you. It automatically makes your client a bit more uncomfortable in their relationship with you – now they know there’s a third party involved, reading all of your conversations, which may make them less inclined to be honest with you, or even write at all. Plus, it makes you seem as though you’re too important to write back yourself, which tells them that you don’t value the relationship as much as they do, and that you’re unlikely to give it your personal attention in the future. That could mean the difference between getting a piece of business or not.We’re all strapped for time these days, and some of the busiest, most senior attorneys I know (coincidentally also the most successful attorneys) always take the time to email me back personally. It seems like a small thing, but it’s an important one – don’t delegate your relationships.  
  • Someone connects with you using social media, perhaps LinkedIn. They read the articles that you’re sharing, comment on your status updates, send emails to you. It turns out that you have someone else monitoring and handling your social media, acting as you.That means you’re not the one having the relationship with that person – your ghostwriter is. How can someone get to know, like and trust you – and want to do business with you – if you’re not the one on the other end of the keyboard?
  • You debut a brand new blog on your area of the law, where posts focus on thoughtful aspects of that industry of interest to your clients, potential clients, and media sources. You actually have an associate or a ghostwriter authoring them, but you glance at them prior to publication.What happens when potential clients or clients are commenting on the posts and opening up the lines of communication in that relationship? How about when a reporter calls you, wanting a comment on your most recent post? With your expertise, you’ll still be able to respond, but it’s not really YOU that they’re looking for.

    If you’re not the one blogging, there’s no sense in having a blog – do ghostwritten blogs work? Yes, absolutely, when written under the auspices of a company or firm, and not assigned to any one voice or person. But when you’re putting your name to something, and as a result, tying your reputation and experience to it, YOU need to be the one behind it.

You’re not playing the leading role in your relationships in these scenarios. The content may be all about the other person, but the one doing the building isn’t you. And when you’re building relationships, you have to make sure YOU’RE the one doing the building – as we say here a lot, people do business with those they know, like and trust. They want to…

  • KNOW the person they’re doing business with – that’s you. How can they get to know you if you’re putting an intermediary between you and them?
  • LIKE the person they’re doing business with – again, that’s you. You’re best equipped to share yourself with them, to give them reasons to connect with you.
  • TRUST the person they’re doing business with – and yet again, that’s you. How can someone trust you if they find out later that, for example, you have someone impersonating you online?

“Authenticity” is a huge buzzword, and many people roll their eyes when they hear it. But the reason it’s used so much is because there is a pointed lack of it in many relationships or in how people portray themselves. The best way to be authentic is to first, make sure you’re the one doing the connecting, and secondly, be yourself – share the things you believe in (within certain parameters of what’s appropriate, of course), what you like and don’t like, and who you are.

Obviously, it’s easier to be more authentic in person – as we said in the beginning, you’re not likely to send an associate to a networking event or a client meeting and have them pretend to be you. But it’s those in-between moments where a lack of the personal touch can really impact a relationship. So yes, building relationships have to focus on the other person when you’re looking at the “what” of your interactions – what do they want? What benefits them most? What will help them?

But when you’re talking about the “who” of relationship-building, it has to start with you.

What is a time-strapped lawyer to do, if not delegate some of these activities? It’s about prioritizing:

  • Identify which of the relationships/activities are the ones that should receive your full attention, and never delegate those. It may mean that some other activities are delegated, or crossed off your list altogether, but it’s worth it if you’re fully engaged with the people that you want to be connected to.
  • Review the activities that you’re involved in to ensure that’s where your clients/potential clients are, and want you to be – which of them want calls, emails, in-person meetings? Who is spending time on social media, and which sites are they using? Do your clients read and find blogs valuable? You don’t have to be everywhere and trying to be all things to all people – think strategically about the tools that you’re using to connect, and then engage where it makes the most sense.
  • Make use of technology – are there tools that would make some of the things that you’re doing more efficient, so that you could dedicate more time elsewhere? Identify where you’re spending your time (this may be an investment up front), and how you can better manage your time overall.

Whether online or off, when someone is building a relationship with you, it should go without saying that they want it to be with YOU, and not someone else. Make sure that you’re the one doing the building, or you’re giving someone else the power to do the tearing down.