Has everyone got their “fa la la” on yet?

While the holidays are often a mad rush for all of us, it seems that this year especially, everyone is behind with wrapping up their end of the year duties (and wrapping up their gifts), while we try to figure out shortcuts for how to manage to get everything done before family and friends descend on us (or you head out the door yourself). In among all of the holiday madness are your professional pressures, which, of course, take priority.

So instead of adding to the pressure of asking you to throw some crazy business development, relationship building activities into your holiday mix, let’s look at a few easy and mostly quick ways you can sprinkle some engagement into your final weeks of 2018, and set yourself up for early success in the new year. 

  • Send a New Year’s Card: If you didn’t get a chance to send holiday cards out this year, consider sending out a card in the early part of January with wishes for a healthy and happy 2019. Pare down the number of cards you plan to send to your top clients, or clients you’d like to engage with better, and make it a priority to add a handwritten note to each one. Both the note and your January card will help you stand out from the pack, and you won’t feel as much pressure to get your cards out before you wrap up for the year.
  • Follow Your Clients on Social Media: Depending on which social media sites you use, take the opportunity to connect with your clients and potential clients using these tools. If you’re an avid Instagram user, do a contact search to see if any of your clients pop up. Find out whether any of your clients share your love of Twitter. Audit your LinkedIn list to make sure you’ve recently updated it with any new or potential clients you’d like to be connected to. Pro tip: whenever there’s an opportunity to personalize the message inviting them to connect, like on LinkedIn, make sure to do so. To ensure that you’re not falling down a social media rabbit hole, limit yourself to 10 clients, or 20 minutes per social site, so that you’re spending your time efficiently.
  • Connect to Your Referral Sources on Social Media: Referral sources send you work because you’re on their mind. Social media can be a way to remain connected, and top of mind, with the people that are most likely to send you business. So reach out to the people that you are most likely to send work to, and receive work from, and connect to them in the places that you’d like to foster the relationships. While Facebook does remain the most personal of the social media tools, it can also be a valuable option for developing relationships, so don’t rule it out when it comes to engagement – just consider it carefully before you click “Add Friend.”
  • Set up Check-in Calls: Never underestimate the value of a phone conversation with a client (it should go unsaid that you’re not billing for this). We’ve done this internally at the ILN, where we’ll arrange to connect on a particular subject, but expand the conversation to include a discussion on other ideas and issues our members may have. It increases engagement overall, opens up our feedback loop, and helps connect in a way that isn’t achievable through email alone.

    People like to be heard, and to know that you’re open to listening to them – and sometimes, this requires you to initiate the conversation.You may already have a feedback program in place for individual matters, but consider this to be a different type of check-in call. Develop a set of questions unrelated to any previous work or upcoming matters – for example, you can say that you’re asking your top clients for their input on what they like best about your website, or what should be changed (if you’re considering a website revamp), or ask them to weigh in on the firm’s office space if your lease is coming up. You may even want to use the opportunity to discuss co-authoring an article, but also use the call to ask them “is there anything else I can be doing to help you?” The idea is to hold one-on-one conversations with a handful of people that you’d like to improve your relationships with. I have split it up so that I was reaching out to five people a week to schedule calls (my goal was to talk to all of our members), so give some thought to what your goal might be for 2019, and how best to fit that into your schedule to achieve it. The idea here is to develop your plan for 2019, so that you’re ready to jump in when you return to the office, but you don’t have to start making the calls just yet!

  • Do a little Internet Stalking: While I’m generally against internet stalking, it can come in handy for business purposes. And in this sense, I’m talking again about looking at your top clients, and the clients you’d like to be doing more work for. There are a couple of things you can easily do to get yourself set up for being more aware of their needs in 2019:
    • Set up a Google alert: If you haven’t done this yet, set up a Google alert for your clients. This will allow you to monitor any news or web items that are associated with their name. Depending on the company name, you may need to put quotation marks around the search term to assure that the search is returning only the exact match for the name. You can then edit the alert for frequency, the sources it draws from, language, region, how many results it returns, and which email address it’s sent to. Then, let Google do your homework for you on an ongoing basis. Consider doing this for important search terms in your practice area as well, and your top competitors.
    • Set up a Twitter search: If you’re a Twitter user, you can set up a column in Tweetdeck that returns results based around a particular search term or name – it works like Google alerts, in that it’s doing the work for you, but you will need to log into Tweetdeck to see what the latest tweets on that topic or company name are. This is also useful for particular hashtags that are used in conjunction with your clients’ brands. You may also want to consider setting up Twitter lists for your clients’ Twitter handles, so that their tweets all show up in a single column for you to view – these lists can be private so that you’re the only one who knows who is a member of them.
    • Check out their websites: We can often forget that our clients’ websites are a great source of information unless we need something from there. Sometimes, I’ll check out a client’s site, only to realize that they’ve redesigned it, or they’ve listed several new events they’re hosting, or announced an award that didn’t make it to a social media mention. Take a look through to see what new features you may want to mention to them in your next conversation, what upcoming events you might want to mark on your own calendar, what pain points are highlighted that might be a conversation starter, and maybe even what risk factors you identify.
    • Use LinkedIn search: Unfortunately, LinkedIn has reduced their search capabilities a little bit, but they still offer a fairly robust search. Do two things with their search – the first is to make sure that you’re following the company pages for all of your top clients, and any clients that you’d like to do more work for. Also follow along on the company pages for any potential clients you’d like to work for. Secondly, use the search function to ensure that you’re connected to all of the people you should be connected to at those companies. Perhaps you met someone at a recent sit down, and you forgot to add her on LinkedIn afterwards. Or you’ve worked with someone for a couple of years and assumed you were already connected, but a quick search showed that it turns out that you’re not. Add the connection, with a short note as to why they should accept.
  • Do some Competitive Research: Now is also a good time of year to take a look at what some of your top competitors are doing. This doesn’t have to be too in-depth (though with more time, it can be). Look at their websites and check out their news and latest articles. What events are they offering? As we suggested earlier, consider setting up Google alerts, as well as Twitter searches, and following the firms on LinkedIn. Don’t forget that in today’s marketplace, your competitors may also include non-firm companies as well. Look for not only what those firms/companies are doing that you could also be doing, but also what gaps in the marketplace that you could be filling for your clients that you and they are currently not meeting.
  • Set up Your Calendar: If you do ALL of these things, it will take a lot of time, which is why it can be more efficient to piecemeal it and/or treat this like an a la carte offering of engagement ideas based on what works best for you, your client base, and your goals. These, along with your other business development efforts, are often not top of your priority list, and so they can easily slip your mind. So one of the things you definitely want to do is set up some calendar reminders for yourself. These can be weekly, monthly or quarterly, and will depend on what your goals are. It may be something as broad as “Look over business development plan” for a Tuesday morning at 11am in January. Or it may be “Set up calls with 3 clients” on the first Monday of the month. You can be flexible with these agenda items as your schedule dictates, but the idea is to set them up NOW, so that you have a rough reminder of when you’ll be aiming to do them. When they pop up on your calendar, you can either knock them off the to-do list right away, or work them into your schedule for a more convenient time. Either way, scheduling them now means that you’re essentially setting and forgetting it – you don’t have to try to remind yourself three months from now that you wanted to check in on your clients’ websites, or review what your competitors are up to. As you are setting some of these items up in your calendar, consider doing this for your overall business development and marketing plan as well too, if you haven’t already. I’ve shared before that I calendar a reminder to review the plan quarterly, and then schedule the pieces of the plan for the following quarter that I’d like to achieve. That way, I’m able to stay on track with those efforts as I’m working through my other daily activities and priorities.

Most importantly at this time of year, though, is to take a break, use the time as a refresh to get yourself re-energized and excited for the new year, and to come back fresh and ready for a strong 2019. Happy Holidays to all of our Zen readers!