It’ 2020. Many of us had grand plans for the way that our business development and relationship building was going to go this year. We were going to spend the year connecting, deepening our engagement, forging new contacts!

I won’t remind you what threw a wrench in that.

But engagement isn’t over.

I know that you know that, especially if the sheer volume of zoom calls is any indication. But now that the initial flurry of quarantine has settled down, and we’re all figuring out what this COVID-world looks like (whether you’re still working remotely or in the office, or some combination thereof), it’s important to identify a strategy for what the rest of our year will look like when it comes to engagement, relationship building, and business development.

“Let’s content market!” you might think. And that’s a great idea. Since we still can’t meet in person to any great degree (some jurisdictions are allowed to have some smaller meetings, and even travel – what?), most of us will be relying on digital means to do what we used to do the old-fashioned way. For some of you, this may be totally natural, because you’ve already been using digital means to connect and forge relationships for years. You’re just subtracting the in-person piece for the moment until it’s safe to meet together again. But for others, this is going to feel uncomfortable – and that’s okay. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is how we grow. Test things out, figure out what works for you, and let go of being perfect. Since it’s a brave new world for ALL of us, there’s lots of room for imperfection (as a recovering perfectionist myself, trust me when I say I understand what a challenge that is).

There are tons of options out there to connect with people. Let’s look at a few here, and be sure to add any favorites that I’ve missed to the comments! A note before we dive in – each of these items is a tactic that you can (and should!) use, but only after you’ve decided on your strategy – what are the goals that you want to achieve in your practice and why? Once you know, that will help you to decide which of the below tactics will be most effective for you. You don’t have to employ ALL of these, but when you know what you want to do, and who you want to reach, the HOW becomes much clearer.

  • Phone calls: At this point, phone calls feel like a throwback! But that’s exactly why you should be using them, and they’re so important. Yes, people are incredibly busy, and yes a lot of us hate phone calls. But sometimes, you may be engaging back and forth over email on an issue that could be resolved in a couple of minutes over the phone. I’m not suggesting that you take up cold-calling (it’s miserable and awful), but choose your top clients and when there’s an issue that will affect them, instead of sending them a client alert, give them a call and talk it through. Reach out to some of the clients you HAVEN’T heard from over the last three months just to see how they’re doing – they may not have work for you, but they may need to talk. Call previous referral sources to see how they’re coping. You don’t need to be on the phone all day, but create reminders in your schedule to call someone once a day or once a week so that it becomes a regular part of your routine.
  • Email: Email has also started to become a throwback these days as well, so don’t discount it either. However, we do receive a TON of email, so ensuring that it’s targeted and useful is essential. Are you sending bulk emails to people that don’t benefit from what you’re sending? Review both the substance of your emails and your audience. Consider sending personal, targeted messages to your audience, and also using those emails to transition the relationships to either a phone call or video call (in the past, I would suggest an in-person meeting, but only do this if you can meet safely).
  • Social media: Social media is a great tool that gets a bad rap. Yes, it’s a place where your free time can go to die, and also where you can drown in arguments about politics and religion. But if you use it carefully and strategically, you can also get tremendous benefit from it. First, ensure that you’re focused on the platforms where your audience is located. If you’re looking to connect with clients and potential clients, where do they hang out? Is it LinkedIn? Twitter? Gasp, Snapchat? Most likely, if you haven’t already, you’ll want to grab your social handle on all of those platforms to be on the safe side, but you’ll only want to dedicate your energy to the places where your audience spends their time. When you’re there, employ the 80/20 rule – 80% of the content that you share should come from other people, while 20% should be your own – 100% of it should be of value. Again, this is where knowing what your goals are comes in handy. If you’re looking to be known as a thought leader in a particular area of expertise, then you’ll be sharing relevant content that positions you in that space, and connecting with fellow thought leaders who can amplify your content. If you’re looking for new clients, you might share answers to frequently asked questions in blog posts, and comment in groups, as well as connect people with other helpful resources.
  • Blogging: Blogging is a favorite of mine, which should come as no surprise to regular Zen readers. It seems like it would be a strange way to build relationships, because aren’t you writing by yourself? In some cases, yes, but let’s think outside the box on this one. Blogging can have a tremendous ability to help you build relationships, and let’s look at just a few key ways – first, blogging on its own forces you to examine subjects more deeply to write about them in an educated and thoughtful way. This helps to make you more engaged and connected with the industry and thought leaders who are writing on the same things, and potentially inspires conversation among the platforms where you’re sharing your posts, and in the comments section of your blog. Second, you can use other articles and blog posts that you’re using as inspiration for your writing as a way to connect with their authors – let’s say you want to get to know another blog or article author better. Use your own blog to author a post around a recent piece of content that they’ve written, tag them in the post, and then link to them when you’re sharing it. Introduce yourself through your writing. And third, co-writing a blog post with one of your clients is a way to deepen the relationship you have with them, and help to better understand the issues that they’re facing. Talk through a current issue from both perspectives – yours and theirs – and use it as a way to show your audience and theirs how your relationship benefits both of you.
  • Podcasting: Yes, I’ve also jumped on the podcasting train, which many of you will know if you’ve been listening to Law Firm ILN-telligence over the last three months. Podcasting is another medium that you can use to achieve your strategic goals, and you can bring on guests to chat about hot topics, do deep dives into thorny issues, and get to know people that you want to meet better.
  • Video: Video works similarly, but with the obvious difference that you’re both on camera. Yes, there are quarantine-related challenges if you’re still working from home, but that doesn’t rule video out. If it’s something you’d like to try, give it a whirl, and see what happens.
  • Zoom/video conferencing: I know we all have Zoom fatigue – I have it too. A week ago, I think I had six calls in the same day. But that doesn’t mean it’s not something we should continue to embrace, especially until we can see each other again. Truthfully, there are some of us who aren’t able to get together, even when we were able to travel more frequently, and now that we’re more comfortable with video conferencing, we can jump on a Zoom (or other platform) call and have a discussion. Sometimes, these can be candid, casual events, like virtual coffee sessions without specific topics. Or you can create more structured sessions with associated goals. Identify what you would like to achieve at the outset, and share that with the participants so that they know what to expect.
  • Webinars: Webinars are also still valuable for building relationships, and these have gotten more casual in recent months as well. Where there used to be much more formality involved, we are now seeing more webinars happening over Zoom, with participants muted throughout the session, but invited to chat during the Q&A period. There’s more video visibility, so that presenters can get real-time reactions from their audience. And those interactions allow presenters to have more post-webinar follow up as well, so that you can continue the engagement after the session, or invite participants to ask questions in advance.

As you can see, there are many tactics we can use and embrace to make the most out of this time of remote working or even in-office working, but distance networking. Whether we’re connecting in-person or from far away, relationship building is challenging and requires effort, But with some strategy and the right tools, it will pay off with strong connections and a robust network.

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Photo of Lindsay Griffiths Lindsay Griffiths

Lindsay Griffiths is the International Lawyers Network’s Executive Director. In this capacity, Ms. Griffiths is responsible for the oversight and management of day-to-day operations of the International Lawyers Network (ILN). She develops strategies and implementation plans to achieve the ILN’s goals, and handles…

Lindsay Griffiths is the International Lawyers Network’s Executive Director. In this capacity, Ms. Griffiths is responsible for the oversight and management of day-to-day operations of the International Lawyers Network (ILN). She develops strategies and implementation plans to achieve the ILN’s goals, and handles recruitment, member retention, and a high level of service to members. She is engaged in the legal industry to stay on top of trends, both in law firms and law firm networks.

In her role as Executive Director, she develops and facilitates relationships among ILN member firm lawyers at 90+ law firms in 67 countries, and seeks opportunities for member firms to build business and relationships, while ensuring member participation in Network events and initiatives. These initiatives include facilitating referrals, the management and execution of the marketing and business development strategy for the Network, which encompasses all communications, push-down efforts, and marketing partnerships, providing support and guidance to the chairs and group leaders for the ILN’s thirteen practice and industry specialty groups, the ILN’s women’s initiative, the ILN’s mentorship program, the management and execution of all ILN conferences, and more.

JD Supra Readers Choice Top Author 2019

During her previous tenure as Director of Global Relationship Management, the ILN has been shortlisted as a Global Law Firm Network of the Year by The Lawyer for 2016 and 2017, and included as a Chambers & Partners Leading Law Firm Network since 2011. She was awarded “Thought Leader of the Year” by the Legal Marketing Association’s New York chapter in 2014 for her substantive contributions to the industry, and was recently included in Clio’s list for “34 People in Legal You Should Follow on Twitter.” She was also chosen for the American Bar Association Journal’s inaugural Web 100‘s Best Law Blogs, where judge Ivy Grey said “This blog is outstanding, thoughtful and useful.” Ms. Griffiths was recently chosen for as a Top Author by JD Supra in their 2019 Readers’ Choice Awards, for the level of engagement and visibility she attained with readers on the topic of marketing & business development. She has been the author of Zen & the Art of Legal Networking since February of 2009.