“If the world operates as one big market, every employee will compete with every person anywhere in the world who is capable of doing the same job. There are lots of them and many of them are hungry.” Andy Grove
We work in a global economy. The rapid evolution of technology has enabled the world to operate as one big market. Competition is fierce and many of the products and services that were unique at one point have become commodities. Technology is having an incredibly disruptive effect on business, all businesses but particularly professional services.
The legal profession has not been spared. There was a time when lawyers were able to merely focus on honing their craft. Partners and associates at a firm devoted themselves to the practice of law without worrying about the business of law, including marketing and business development. Maybe one partner (who liked to drink) would be in charge of working the old-boy network. But otherwise, most old-line firms discouraged young partners and associates from such mundane concerns as finding new clients, preferring that they focus their attention on taking care of existing accounts.
In the old days, business development simply meant another lunch at the club, or attending an occasional event where you could mingle over cocktails. Or if you were a real go-getter, you would give a talk at a seminar or conference to highlight your expertise to a roomful of eager young professionals. But guess what? The old boy network falls far short in today’s hyper-connected, ultra-competitive world.
The rules of business development have changed, even for the most established of firms. It is no longer enough to have gone to the right schools or to be really good at what you do. In the hyper-connected world a law firm must now engage with the rest of the business world on the platforms they use: social media. Quite simply that’s where your clients and competitors are already living.
Consider for a moment the differences between the old school and new school approach to business development and you’ll quickly appreciate why the old tools and techniques are now so outdated:
Old School Approach
If you’re serious about working your connections the old-fashioned way, you’ll stay busy attending a few events a week, pressing the flesh. But how many of the people you meet are really interested in what you do and how much opportunity do you have, with a brief handshake and introduction, to explain your expertise? And how does a brief personal meeting translate into a marketing opportunity so you’ll be “top of mind” if a person you meet some day needs your services?
And don’t forget the simple physical limits on the old school approach of networking. How many events can you attend in a week? How much time and money will that cost you? Will it put a strain on your marriage or personal relationships if you’re out night after night? And what if you are looking to network with people who live overseas? Are you going to travel all over the world attending cocktail parties and handing out business cards?
And even supposing you’re prominent enough to get invited to speak at a conference, how many people will you reach on that given day? No matter how many events you speak at in the course of a year, they will never provide you a platform to reach a worldwide audience.
To be sure, in-person engagement can be valuable, but it’s time to consider a new approach.
New School Approach
Now consider the reach and engagement you can generate by actively participating in social media. With a well-crafted social media strategy, your message can be delivered to hundreds or even thousands of people – people with a known interest in your expertise — without leaving your desk.
Social media and social technologies enable professionals to position themselves as thought leaders in their area of expertise, develop a following, and engage with a broader community online, all of which provide an opportunity to form meaningful trusted relationships with prospective clients, colleagues and influencers around the world.
Instead of mingling at yet another event, spend the time developing your website, writing a weekly blog post and curating content. There is incredible power in the network. Once you begin to share your expertise and point of view, social media provides enormous leverage for the time and energy you invest. The contacts you make begin to share your message with their networks, amplifying your reach, literally extending to people all over the world.
This is the new paradigm for business development. The old boy network is fast becoming a relic in light of the power and ubiquity of social media. This is a reality that all law firms ignore at their peril.
Updated and republished June 9, 2017.