Professional Networking in a Time of Physical Distancing

Many professionals completed their 2020 Marketing and Business Development plans toward the end of 2019 or early in 2020. That seems like a lifetime ago. Since then, throughout our country, whether by government mandate or strong suggestion, businesses are sending workers home from all but “essential” services. So, you packed up your laptop and your open files and set up your home office. You’ve scrolled through hundreds of social media posts laughing about the strange behavior of your new furry co-workers (a la “My ‘co-worker’ just jumped on my desk and licked my face. I think I need to call HR.”).

For some, business continues to pump along at its usual pace, but for many, there is a strange silence. If you find yourself on the quieter side, now is a good time to dust off your contacts list and start connecting.

Who Do You Know or Want to Know?

Take this time to scroll through your contacts or, better yet, look in your emails for people who have not yet been added to your contact lists. Update their information in your systems. Who are your top clients and referral sources? Have you had any connection with them since this whole craziness started? If not, make a list and start connecting. Who have you been meaning to meet? Have you put a new membership organization or conference into your business development plan? If those events are cancelled, why not identify folks who you would have met in person and reach out virtually? While many are juggling the demands of their work and family obligations, there is no reason you can’t start to identify appropriate ways to broaden and deepen relationships within your network.

Social Media

Social media, and especially LinkedIn, is a great place to start. Spend a little time adding people to your networks. Consider if it’s appropriate to connect with clients and referral sources. It may be fine to add some of these folks to your Facebook and Instagram, but LinkedIn should be a safe space for almost anyone you know through work. Be sure to include a personal note reminding them how you know each other and wishing them well in an individual way. If they accept the invitation, follow up with a short note to suggest a phone call. Check out if they belong to any online groups that would be beneficial to join. Watch their posts and “like” or comment as appropriate to signal you are engaged and care what they have to say.

You can share your own stories and respond to other people’s posts, but the real magic is in the one-to-one conversations, even when in the public or semi-public sphere. As always, you should be authentic and thoughtful. Remember, just because you are still in your yoga pants, your posts should continue to be appropriate to your network, company and profession.

Unless you are an expert in something, don’t share information without fact-checking, even if posted by someone you respect. Avoid too many posts about how you are spending your days drinking and cursing your significant other. Do support those in your network who seem to be struggling. Find helpful resources and suggestions to add value and to raise the spirits of friends and colleagues.

To eliminate some email clutter, many companies are now setting up internal private groups in LinkedIn, Slack, Microsoft Teams and other platforms, so people can share photos and stay connected in a virtual breakroom through chats and discussion boards. Keeping the human connection is important to avoid the negative impacts of isolation. Be a contributor in those forums to deepen your connections with colleagues.

Video Conferencing

Taking networking technology one step further, groups of friends and colleagues are setting up virtual meetings and gatherings. Whether to collaborate on a work project or to toast each other during a virtual happy hour, these group meetups can be a fun way to break the monotony of working from home. Just remember to clean your background of anything embarrassing before turning on your camera. If that isn’t possible, many of the software platforms now offer features wherein you can blur your background or post a virtual background.

If you have not participated in a video conference before, there are plenty of tips you can read online. Spend a little time learning about the technology and practice with co-workers or family members before you invite your best client into a virtual meeting. It’s tempting to turn your camera off and hide behind the “black box” or static photo that people will see if you do, but try to avoid the temptation. Brush your hair and let people see your face. That is part of the power of connecting. It also helps with the conversation flow, since we humans take many of our conversation cues from nonverbal communication (i.e., body language). If you can see each other, it will be more obvious when someone wants to jump into the conversation or is nodding in agreement.

So how do you flip that into business development? Instead of waiting for someone else to invite you to such an event, why not put together your own? Are there people who would benefit from meeting each other? Consider setting up a three-way video conference to introduce them to each other, just as you would if you invited them to lunch. Are you a committee leader in an organization? Rather than postponing, host your next meeting as scheduled via video conference. If your committee’s business is on hold pending future events, you can still get the group together to stay connected. Most of us take on these volunteer roles in order to meet people (not because we love stuffing nametags). So, don’t let current events shut down your ability to build relationships. Ask attendees to talk about how the coronavirus is impacting their businesses. Encourage people to share what they are doing to stay productive. Think of creative ways your group can support the larger organization or a community cause during this time.

The Old-Fashioned Telephone

Maybe you’re still wearing your “office pajamas.” That’s okay, no one can see you on the phone. Send a quick text to let a contact know you are thinking about them. Assuming you have reasonable cell service or (gasp) a landline, you can avoid the choppy connections and transmission delays caused by all of your neighbors eating up your bandwidth. The good old-fashioned telephone call may still be one of the best ways to connect. Call clients and referral sources to check on them. Do they need anything (and not related to your services at all)? Take your time and really listen to them. Don’t feel that you have to “fix” their problems. Being a sympathetic ear is often enough.

Connection Isn’t the Technology

While you may want to wait to send a personal note until more information is available regarding viral transmission via paper, the important thing is to connect. Letting people know that you care about them and following through on offers to help are welcome activities in good times and bad. Being a positive contributor to the conversation helps to build trust and deepen relationships. So, make a personal, achievable goal to have meaningful connections with at least a couple of people every day. It will be good for their spirits and yours.

Lydia Bednerik Neal

March 24, 2020 at 5:59 pm Leave a comment

Is Your Website Ready for a Refresh?

For many small companies it’s easy to forget about your company website. You hire a designer, put hours into getting it launched, and then you move on to other projects. It becomes a static electronic brochure, passively hanging your digital shingle.

That’s not terrible in-and-of-itself, but you do need to at least brush off the cobwebs from time to time to ensure search engine spiders know you are still there.

Time for minor renovations or a ground-up rebuild?

The decision regarding whether you can make some tweaks around the edges or need a total overhaul will depend on a number of factors. If you are having trouble being objective about how the outside world views your site, ask a trusted friend (better yet, a millennial or Gen Zer) to visit the site and let you know what they think could be improved. It’s even better if they don’t know much about your industry. They can provide perspective on how easy it is to find useful information on your site.

Does your website project the sophistication of the business that you want to project? Was your site built on a proprietary platform that has become obsolete or is no longer serviced by the original provider? If you aren’t getting regular software and security updates, your site might become “buggy” or start not to function as it should.

Most modern sites are now built as “Responsive Design.” This simply means that the site is smart enough to detect what sort of device (e.g., desktop, tablet, phone) that the visitor is using when they view your site, and it optimizes the display to look best on that device. Users have come to expect this level of ease, so it should be a high priority in your design.

Sometimes the sheer quantity of “small” changes you desire will make it easier to start over. But it’s not always necessary, especially if you’re starting with good bones. The age of your site will dictate some of that, but a site that is even just a couple of years old can often benefit from an annual audit of functionality and content.

The User Experience – are you meeting client expectations?

As mentioned above, many users are now accessing websites from their mobile devices, so you’ll want to make sure the site respects that user’s time and likely interests.

Different visitors have different preferences. Check your site to ensure that navigation is logical and that paths are easy to find, without running into a lot of dead ends. Search engines have trained us to type what we are looking for into a search box and to expect useful results. Be sure you are delivering results that are easy to decipher and quickly take the visitor to their desired destination.

Is your site up to date on the latest best practices around ADA compliance? Especially in California, this has become an important issue – one that could land you in a lawsuit if you choose to ignore it.

Bells and whistles: you don’t need to go crazy with bells and whistles, but a couple of elements that emphasize the right things on your site could go a long way toward differentiating you from the competition. Animations and transitions, videos, interactive elements, hover reveals, custom document assembly, download features, and onsite applications can get distracting if overused, but if used strategically can provide special focus or an element of sophistication to support your overall goals.

Content

When is the last time you added new articles or information to your website? The old saying “Content is King” still applies. Not only does fresh, timely content let your site visitors know that the site continues to be relevant, it also helps it perform well in its Google ranking.

For service areas, team bios and thought leadership (content), are the posts on your site accurately reflecting the type of work you currently do? If you are hoping to grow your business in a particular direction, be sure that you are posting content that emphasizes that work. Content should be frequent, relevant and optimized for specific keywords to support that desired growth area.

While you are at it, take a look at your copywriting for brand consistency. Is the tone of the writing consistent throughout the pages on your site? Do the imagery and language support your overall brand culture? Are articles and news items so old that it makes it seem your site has been abandoned? Posting links to other websites for articles, organizations or resources is great, but if those sites take down the linked page, then the link on your site becomes “broken.” Search engines devalue broken links and users will be frustrated if you waste their time by sending them somewhere that no longer exists on the internet.

Strategy

Of course, driving all of this, you need to address your overall web strategy. What is it you want your website to do for you? Different firms have different needs. Your business goals will dictate your strategic positioning. Your internal resources will influence many of the technical requirements. Your budget will influence how ambitious a project you can undertake. Whether you intend to employ an aggressive paid search campaign to generate leads, live chat features to connect with site visitors immediately upon arrival, or simply want to provide educational content that reinforces your thought leadership and expertise in targeted areas, you need a site that evolves with your company. If it has been a while since you paid much attention to your website, maybe it’s time to do a little digital sprucing up.

Lydia Bednerik Neal

February 21, 2020 at 4:45 pm Leave a comment

Talent Begets Talent: How to Use Media Relations to Attract Superstars

Commercial Real Estate Women’s San Francisco chapter (CREW SF) kicked off 2020 with a sold out “Leadership in Tech: Women of Inspiration Luncheon” on January 22. Moderated by newly inducted 2020 CREW SF President Samantha Low, director at Cushman & Wakefield and co-founder of TenantSee, the panel – Julie Zhuo, VP of Product Design at Facebook and author of The Making of a Manager, and Susan Rozakis, Director of Real Estate & Construction, Bay Area at Google – shared anecdotal experiences on how they’ve elevated themselves within traditionally male-dominated-industries and the qualities that make good leaders.

From Left: Susan Rozakis, Julie Zhuo, Samantha Low

While Zhuo and Rozakis each have unique career paths, a commonality for both panelists in the early stages was acute awareness that there were very few women peers they could turn to for advice and to share ideas – a challenge that endures. In today’s workplace, where talent begets talent and insight into company culture is a Glassdoor search away, showcasing a company’s appreciation for diversity and diverse leadership can often be a key differentiator in the race for top talent. Following are some tried-and-true, multi-pronged approaches that may help:

Award programs are an excellent way to shine a light on the (diverse) backgrounds that contribute to company success. The Silicon Valley Business Journal‘s “Women of Influence” and the San Francisco Business Times’ “Outstanding LGBTQ Business Leaders in the Bay Area” award programs can provide a vehicle for broadcasting an inclusive company culture, supporting recruitment efforts and highlighting the efforts of a nominee. Recognition on these lists makes your company an attractive target for others with similar experiences who seek to leverage their talents and strengths in a diverse and inclusive environment that appreciates hard work and good ideas. Even without a “win,” putting forth a team member for consideration is a huge show of faith that they are a visible and celebrated member of your organization and a valued colleague.

Encourage byline article writing and publishing. Developing articles for trade publications and newsletters not only leverages the technical acumen within the company, but also garners exposure for the different personalities that contribute to that thought leadership. As potential recruits comb through your website, they will almost certainly land on the “News and Publication” page you surely have in place and seeing spokespeople of varied backgrounds can be attractive. The resulting placements serve as third-party credentials for your brand and showcase your company’s investment in its people.

Last, but not least, trade organization networking packs a powerful punch. These avenues provide opportunities for personal interaction with those in your industry space. Forums for potential recruits to connect directly with company leaders are openings for them to sing company praises and share insights into how they’ve been supported and encouraged. As with most networking, follow up is always important to keep the conversation going! Encourage your people to get out there and mingle. Share work stories, passions, collaborations, whatever floats your boat. Someone is likely to relate and want to hear more about how they might align with your company’s culture and expertise. Your company’s investment in its people could lead to landing some outstanding talent that you didn’t even know you were looking for.

Vicky Jay

February 18, 2020 at 4:38 pm Leave a comment

LMA Program Recap and Analysis: “Your 2020 BD Goals are Set. Now What?”

On January 15, the Legal Marketing Association, Mid-Atlantic Group hosted the presentation “Your 2020 BD Goals are Set. Now What?” The program, presented by Norris McLaughlin P.A. Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer Jim Jarrell, started with a review of KPIs (key performance indicators) on the legal marketing industry, with studies finding: 1) projections of modest revenue growth; 2) low risk of recession in 2020; and 3) an increased threat by non-legal entities interested in peeling off legal work (e.g. “Big Four” accounting firms).

With these predictions in mind, Jarrell identified three components of a BD plan: 1) networking and lead development; 2) brand awareness; and 3) internal communications and cross-selling. He then walked through potential roadblocks – including time and budget constraints (both artificial and real) and offered his “5 Be’s” to breakthrough: 1) Be intentional; 2) Be consistent; 3) Be accountable; 4) Be prepared; and 5) Celebrate wins.

Regarding the inherently risk-adverse nature of many attorneys, Jarrell suggested to legal marketing attendees that they urge their attorneys to “branch out” and work to “coach them up” into positions where they can succeed.

Through my lens as a communications partner to professional services firm, a key message was reinforced: communications and marketing efforts require both advance strategy (with multiple parties on board – leadership, marketing and communicators) and workable and measurable plans.

Still in the early days of a new year, marketing and communications resolutions are fresh. Now is a good time to review (or craft) your plan for 2020 or for the next few years.

Here are some questions to consider:

– If I have made plans in the past, how successful have I been? Did I properly track and measure how I was doing?

– Are there initiatives or goals that reappear every year? What’s holding me back on these?

– Do I have/have I activated the partners I need in life to provide me the support I need to achieve my goals?

– What is the end goal that all my other goals are feeding into?

– Are there new/different tactics I can try? What’s holding me back on trying these?

With a relatively stable outlook, legal professionals and firms are well-advised to use this time to plan for the future and fine-tune existing marketing and communications efforts. Plan, execute, achieve – the cycle sounds easy enough, but, as Jarrell pointed out, it requires intention, hard-work and adaptability.

Michael Bond

January 29, 2020 at 5:13 pm Leave a comment

The Warriors Down Year Has Lessons for Marketers, Communicators

No matter how successful or “invincible” a team, company or superstar marketer seems to be, times change, and life is defined by both peaks and valleys. Just ask the Golden State Warriors. Indeed, Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr’s “teaching” year also has instructive lessons for professional services companies.

Over the last five seasons, the Warriors were considered the premier team in the NBA – making it to five straight Finals and securing three championships. As the wins and rings piled up, it seemed like the dynasty could last forever. But, just as the team was about to upgrade their castle to sparkling digs in San Francisco, the pendulum of life swung in a different direction. Superstars suffered significant injuries. One, still injured, bolted for Brooklyn. Veterans moved on, and gravity set in. As of early December, the Warriors are 4-17, dead last in the Western Conference.

Kerr summed up the situation succinctly in a recent New York Times interview:

“I don’t want our mind-set to just allow failure to sink in,” Kerr said in an interview. “Because we all read stuff, we all hear stuff and we all see stuff. Players have it at their fingertips on their phones, and all the chatter out there is, ‘All right, so the Warriors are going to be in the lottery.’ But we can’t succumb to that. We have to fight and scrap for every win we can get.”

Kerr’s mentality is one that professional services companies would be wise to adopt when faced with similar predicaments. There are “superstar marketers” and true “rainmakers” and sometimes they leave or retire, sometimes they have bad or busy years, and sometimes the magic just doesn’t work like it once did.

Managing transitional or lean years can be difficult, but also part of fostering a new era of success. Here’s a quick playbook for professional services companies:

These are the players you have.

Kerr might pine for the departed Kevin Durant to be back on the team (and healthy), or for Steph Curry’s wrist to miraculously heal overnight. Neither are going to happen. And so, he works with the players he has. Professional services marketers and communicators can see industry superstars – such as the person always quoted on an issue. But, by focusing on and credentialing the talent within, real progress is possible.

Give the kids a chance.

When senior-level employees leave a company, younger talent behind them is often thrust into new roles. Some are more than prepared to take on the challenge, while others are not.

Here’s Kerr on his dynamic from a San Francisco Chronicle article:

“It’s totally different,” he said. “Since I’ve been here, our rookies have basically been the 13th or 14th man. Their whole job has been to watch the veterans in front of them, and our job has been to work with the rookies before or after practice. … But now you’ve got to go war with them, and they’re not ready.”

In slower/leaner times, it is important for companies to nurture their more junior team members and make sure they are put into situations where they can succeed and feel they are contributing.

Try new things.

With bandwidth comes time to tinker. With a demanding rainmaker on “hiatus,” a professional services marketer or communicator can explore options like targeted blogs, podcasts or building strengths in areas that have historically been weaker. With Kerr’s young, raw squad, he and his staff are likely drawing up plays that are untested – and learning about themselves and their players in the process.

Re-focus on the fundamentals.

Some players are natural talents, with skill complemented by practice. Others are just raw talent that need careful molding. When time allows it, teams and companies should evaluate their systems and processes to weed out inefficiencies and find new pathways for success. Almost every team has a “Team Way,” – “Warriors Way,” “Sharks Way,” or “Giants Way.” This is both a mission statement and an operational manual – from the G League to the NBA, Low A baseball to MLB.

Be patient.

If companies can adjust expectations while building for the future, they will be in the best position to succeed for years to come (and get back to their “winning” ways). While the Warriors might come back to form when their top talent returns from injury next year, they might also struggle next year or find that they have a new superstar in the making. No doubt time will change the game. For marketers and communicators drilling dry well after dry well in terms of initiatives and campaigns, struggles will end – provided a strong foundation is in place. The Warriors used to be a perennially dreadful team with seasons totaling only 17 and 19 wins back in the late-90s and early-2000s. It took time, along with a new ownership and focus, to find sustained success.

No one outside the Bay Area feels bad for Warriors fans. The team had a run that few enjoy, and surely some will revel in these new struggles. It’s now far easier, despite a gleaming new arena, to get tickets for home games and – at least for this year – the jerseys, hats and tees are getting less wear. (It’s the 49ers’ time!) Still, real fans of all aspects of the game – the good and the lean years – are showing up and getting loud. The games have to be played, and the team needs its fans.

Similarly, professional services companies can have spectacular runs only to have the forces of fate – time, changes to the law or regulations, personnel departures – alter the near-term output and impact of marketing and communications efforts. This does not mean it is time to stop trying, nor is it an invitation to wait for a superstar or two to organically develop. It’s a time to dial-in, try new things, develop raw talent and focus on long-term growth strategies.

Joey Telucci

December 3, 2019 at 9:32 pm Leave a comment

Running on Empty: Why Running and Marketing After a Hiatus is Challenging

I like to think of myself as a runner. But, honestly, I’m an inconsistent runner. This on again/off again dedication has consequences and parallels in professional services (proserv) marketing. Let’s explore.

In running: When you haven’t run in a while, it’s much harder to get going again.

In proserv marketing: If your brand has sat on the shelf and had little activity, it’s difficult to raise short-term awareness.

In running, your legs and back are stiff and you’re much more quickly out of breath. Frankly, running is pretty miserable after a long layover. Sometimes I think to myself, “Why am I even doing this?!”

In marketing, lack of activity means that your brand’s image awareness atrophies. After just six months of letting up on dedicated investment, it begins to slide off the radar of your target audiences. When a brand push resumes – in byline articles, advertisements, third-party commentary, social media and other initiatives – opportunities are harder to secure and overall ROI feels low, to the point of questioning the process.

You simply can’t turn on and off your brand awareness. You need to keep the tap open. And, if you don’t want sore legs after running around the block, you need to lace up your shoes more often.

In running: Your mileage is low when you put your running shoes back on, and it doesn’t feel like it will ever go back up.

In proserv marketing: When you start marketing in earnest after a long hiatus, the total number of activities and positive outcomes is often fairly low.

The tools to run – whether around the block or a 5K – are the same, the clothes, the shoes, etc. And, in terms of total effort, the early days of running often feel more challenging than when you have been doing it for a while and are actually going on longer runs. The same applies to marketing. Getting going again is challenging and often involves many fits and starts and some dead ends. Your time “spend” may feel high, even though months later it will be more but feel like less. The process, in each case, leads to results.

In running: When you start running again, you can get early delusions of grandeur.

In proserv marketing: Early success can get to your head and set unrealistic expectations.

There are really, really good runners – super-fast sprinters and distance runners with unbelievable endurance. However, for the most part, there are people like me – 5Ks are great. 10Ks are a little ambitious, and anything longer than that requires more training than I have time or interest. It’s important to keep perspective: finishing races is great. Winning them or going from a 5K to the Boston Marathon isn’t realistic. It’s far better to set and consistently achieve attainable goals.

What’s the parallel? Well, writing a byline article for a bar publication isn’t a direct stepping-stone to being quoted in The Wall Street Journal. Running and marketing are iterative processes that reward your effort. One can go from couch to 5K to the Boston Marathon, just as one can go from an accounting trade to the New York Times. It takes effort, skill and some degree of good fortune. (It also helps to have a coach.)

In running: Not running tends to be bad for your waistline.

In proserv marketing: Not marketing tends to make your brand complacent and sluggish.

Running is good for a person on many levels, including burning a lot of calories and shedding some summer excess or winter “lining.” If you don’t run, as a person who runs for exercise, you tend to get heavier, slower and more tired – a trifecta of sloth!

Consistent marketing keeps company and personal brands agile, attractive in the marketplace and renewed. Brands that sit on the shelf go out of the public’s mind, lose out on business development opportunities and fail to attract talent.

Runners should run, regularly. (Trust me, I know.) And, professional services brands should market, regularly. Both just make good sense.

Michael Bond

November 21, 2019 at 7:28 pm Leave a comment

What Can We Learn from “Pierre Delecto?”

Pierre Delecto, we hardly knew ye! The delicious, and somewhat apolitical, news out of Washington, D.C. that Utah Senator Mitt Romney, for some time, had a secret Twitter account under the pseudonym “Pierre Delecto” is instructive for any professional who has deployed a side social media account – people can often find you, and what you have liked or written will be scrutinized.

Secret accounts and code names are not unique to Romney; just ask “Wayne Tracker” a/k/a then ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson. These accounts can be innocuous, but they also often contain:

  • Hyper-political commentary.
  • Follows and likes of “laddy” material, such as accounts for cheerleaders.

This social media activity has appeared on public, masked and quasi-private channels. All begging the question, “Can I just be myself (whomever that really is) on social media?” In short: not really, at least in some regard.

For individuals delivering professional services (e.g., lawyers, accountants, architects and others who bill by the hour), personal reputation – trumps everything (and it could be argued that this is even more pronounced for consultant-types than for business-to-consumer executives.)

But wait you say, “There is nothing wrong with me liking cheerleaders or applauding or chiding a politician!” This is true, fundamentally. But, would you make such comments in a one-on-one meeting with a client? Would you hang a cheerleader swimsuit calendar up in your office? I’m guessing not.

What if my account is masked or private? This is better, but we all, like poker players, have tells. Romney gave a lot of clues, but one of the biggest was that his account followed his family members. (Wait, aren’t we all following Tagg Romney?!?) Following a family member creates a breadcrumb trail: If a sleuth is trying to find you, they search your full name, then your last name. If your family member pops up – particularly your spouse – the searcher checks that person’s followers and can often ferret out a target. And, even private accounts leak some information out.

The bottom line is that you should be able to publicly stand behind all your social media activity and likes.

If you are trying to keep a secret or side social media account, be prepared to own up to it like the Mittster, “C’est moi.” Or, better yet, just don’t do it.

Michael Bond

October 29, 2019 at 7:34 pm Leave a comment

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