Tag Archive law firms

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Social Media Management for Professional Firms – Part 2

Here is the 2nd part of my review of social media management for professional service businesses, derived from typical questions posed over the past few months.

social-media-marketing-for-professional-services

Q.      How do you inject personality into a firm’s twitter account to encourage engagement?

A. Many large corporate organisations adopt a mechanism of allowing their social media team to leave their initials or first name after tweets. This works well for customer service related posts and responses to queries, concerns or complaints. I recently had a very lively exchange with Aviva’s twitter team proving they were confident in their personas and on top of my particular issue. If you don’t have the scale of resource that makes that possible you could nominate a member or members of the marketing/ PR team and let them be the face of the firm. The only danger with that in professional firms is that there can be an expectation that the person posting has direct experience of the law, surveying or accounting practice and is not a marketer. It can therefore be too easy to come across as somewhat “fluffy” lacking in substance and rather more preoccupied with cake and lighthearted matters than the business to which they are charged with promoting.

If you think you need to create a professional persona for your twitter account you may wish to consider the following.

Ask yourself…”What is the culture of the business?”  If it were a person how would it behave in a meeting, socially and when presenting generally?

If you find that too tough a concept or you’re heading toward a rather schizophrenic answer try asking a few trusted clients.  Humour can be an excellent mechanism for injecting both personality and creating interest but beware the fine line between laughter and tears. Avoid contentious points and consider the maxim of steering clear of core topics of sex, religion and politics.

If there’s no obvious personality traits to hang your online identity to try the following more direct approach;

a) Identify a personality in the firm that clients warm to and has proven successful.

b) If not familiar with social media introduce them to the basics and the essential do’s and don’ts

c) share posts with the “personality” and ask them for their view on how they would present it to an audience, keeping to their own style and not adopting a corporate persona.

d) Test, refine and seek feedback from networks it’s an ongoing process but over time those promoting the firm via social media will start to adopt the personality and it will become established as a clear identity. It may help to give it a name.

Q.      Do professional firms properly understand their audience?

A. Honestly the answer to this question is too often no.  Many firms, be they big city affairs or regional niche practices, measure their success by their number of followers/ connections. Of course you’ll make no headway at all without a network of a certain size but it’s not just numbers it’s proper connections with those who will add value.

Your target audience is client (decision makers), client (staff influencers), 3rd party influencers/ opinion formers, potential staff for your firm, potential suppliers/ supporters, sources of sector specific news and information.

There are a number of techniques that can help identify the above but the advice should be to grow your network steadily over time and continually monitor the membership profile.

Q.      Do firms drive enough conversation on social media or are they guilty of transmitting rather than communicating?

A. Too many broadcast because of a lack of quality home grown content and ignore the opportunities to listen to their networks. We can all be guilty of it but at heart know ourselves when someone is truly listening or just waiting for their next opportunity to speak.

Social is as much listening as sharing, it’s a vital element of effective social engagement. Social selling is not traditional selling its consultative, relationship based and takes time. Trust is key and that’s built over time. Broadcasting puts your brand out there listening and responding intelligently elevates the brand perception of your network.

Q.      Which channels should firms focus on? How should they adapt to different channels?

A. LinkedIn is the classic professional networking portal but is awash with samey articles as the platform has morphed into a publisher of original posted content. As a result you need to work hard to retain a profile and audience interest.  Consider taking your LinkedIn connections to another space….e-mail.  There is a much underused tool on LinkedIn which provides the ability to download connections and their contact information to a spreadsheet.

Twitter has merit in keeping your profile raised and there is an expectation now that every business should have at least one main account. Twitter can provide a client service measure notably one to watch for both positive and negative feedback. As mentioned in previous points time needs to be given to thinking about the audience and how you might properly increase traffic to the website.

Facebook – If only to own the space and name the firm should have a page. Staff are far more likely to engage than clients but no harm in that. Often used effectively by law firms to show their community engagement, work with charities and staff achievements such as fund raising or extra curricula activities.

Google+ worth retaining a presence and keeping a watching eye on developments – has not realised its goals, unfinished business. The vast majority of firms in the UK use Google+ primarily to enhance their main Google ranking.

YouTube – Video is becoming an increasingly important medium for communicating to online audiences but thought needs to be given to its execution. No hour long death by PowerPoint presentations but 5 minute nuggets of information.

Persicope / Blab – interesting developments in video streaming and great for events but always a potential risk when “live” streaming so needs to be carefully managed.

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Bad Connections – Social Media Rules of Engagement

Recently we witnessed the media storm related to an exchange between two “professional” individuals on LinkedIn.  By professional I’m talking about a barrister and a senior solicitor.  No lightweights in the legal world.  An associate tenant barrister working toward a doctorate in Law & Sociology at Cambridge University, supporting her research in the fight against FGM and a strong background of working with vulnerable women in a variety of matters.  The solicitor is the joint chair of International IP Litigation & Head of European Intellectual Property at a global law firm.

Bad Connections

So how could two so well connected individuals find themselves at the centre of a media storm relating to the appropriateness of social media communication?

It’s actually quite simple.

The context is key here.  The male solicitor requested to connect with the female barrister on LinkedIn, a common enough action and no issue as the request was accepted.  What happened next is where their online relationship rapidly unravelled.

The solicitor immediately took the opportunity to message the barrister via the platform thanking her for accepting the connection request but then continuing to comment on the quality of her profile picture.  Prophetically he went as far as to say “probably horrendously politically correct” and used the word “stunning” and that it would “win the prize for the best LinkedIn picture I have ever seen”.

In receipt of such a message you could respond in any number of ways including:

  1. Ignore
  2. Reply privately and thank him for the compliment
  3. Reply privately and suggest he needs to think before sending such a message and disconnect from the sender via LinkedIn.
  4. Reply and also post the message and reply publically via twitter

As you will no doubt be aware or have worked out the barrister took option 4.  It’s actually not terribly surprising given her work and the undoubted shock at receiving this message on a platform such as LinkedIn.

Once posted on twitter the media quickly stepped in, spotting an opportunity to create a heated debate centred on a middle aged lawyer and an inappropriate post on social media.  The act of taking direct action via twitter added fuel to the ire of those defending the solicitor and accusing the barrister of an unnecessary overreaction.  The story appeared over the next few days in print and online in The Guardian, Independent, Daily Mail, Daily Express and reported on BBC radio 4, newsbeat on radio 1 and radio 5 along with many other sources.  In addition there were continual re-tweets and favourites of those for and against the actions of the barrister.

I have no issue with the initial response and in fact I was included in the Independent report with a screen shot of my response on twitter.  The difficulty I have is that the media involvement,  rather than raising a very pertinent issue of how we perceive and value roles  in the workplace and the need to communicate appropriately, simply polarised the argument by using terms such as “Feminazi” and digging up unnecessary archive posts on Facebook.

What happened?  In essence a lawyer made a couple of inappropriate comments in a brief message to a recent contact on LinkedIn.  LinkedIn is not a dating site nor is it a platform for lightweight banter.  It is NOT Facebook or for that matter Twitter.  It is akin to a professional networking environment where those you know and work with connect and exchange information with similar minded individuals.

The context in this conversation was entirely wrong as the lawyer did not have the relationship with the barrister that could in any way explain the comments.  By contrast “Friends” on Facebook can frequently participate in lively highly personal exchanges and yes at times they too can be offensive and require intervention.  Users of Facebook understand that there is a level of familiarity with the social interactions on the site. Whilst companies do have their own Facebook pages most users on the platform use it to keep up to date with friends and family and only work colleagues they are particularly familiar with and trust.

With all social media sites there are unwritten rules of engagement, understood by frequent users of the platforms and on occasion those rules are breached either deliberately to cause offence or unwittingly through naivety or lack of experience. This is why it is so important to be aware of the social media rules of engagement.

Apologies have been submitted by the solicitor and his firm.  I would now hope we can move on having learnt something from the incident and not lower the debate into a fight between so called “men haters” and “misogynists”.

How We Use the Main Social Media Sites

LinkedIn – Professional business to business social networking platform, exchanges akin to formal or informal meetings but all within a workplace context.

Facebook – Personal platform for keeping friends and family up to date with your life.  Socially led with focus on activities outside of work, leisure time not concentrating on work.

Twitter – Can be both work focussed and socially focussed but users tend to have either one type of accounts or another.  Great care should be taken in posting both work related content and activities of a more personal nature as it may cause to undermine the professional efforts.  With careful management it is possible to balance both.  In general terms Twitter is less formal than LinkedIn.

 

 

 

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Knowing the Price of Everything and Value of Nothing

Oscar Wilde’s famous quote from his only published novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, is one that intrigues me.  It can have a number of subtle meanings but within the novel it is specifically relating to the bartering of an item in Wardour Street . In the late 19th century this part of London was known for antique and furniture shops and Lord Henry’s bidding for a piece of old brocade may have hinted at the difficult economic circumstances of the period.  Lord Henry’s frustration at the time taken to secure his purchase leads to his statement, “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Cost-value graph on blackboard

Fast forward to the 21st century and things are not so different.  One effect of the recent recession has been our re-focus on reducing our outgoings both personally and commercially as the pinch on our profit and lifestyle hit home.

Let me be very clear (sound like a pompous politician there) I don’t have an issue with careful cost control.  Quite the contrary, I actively encourage a regular domestic and business review of expenditure.  The issue as it relates to Oscar’s brilliantly written line is that we can become “hard wired” to focussing exclusively on the currency of a product or service and not the benefit or return that item will bring.

As a marketer and business owner this is very important territory.  I’m equally a supplier and customer and in both relationships I try my best to be consistent.  The difficulty is in identifying what that often quoted but rarely defined “value” is.

What is “value”?

As a noun it’s “the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something”

As a verb “to estimate the monetary worth”

All too often we see the term reduced to a base level with items branded as “value meals” and the like.  That’s not really value, it’s just cheap but of course that’s a word that won’t shift a chicken tikka masala from your local supermarket shelf.

Knowing the value of something can be harder to realise than you might think.  Often we only truly gauge something’s worth when it’s no longer available.  From your favourite TV series to particular brand of perfume, that great boss who selfishly retired or reliable local mechanic who always fixed your car with a smile.  When they’re gone we appreciate them more.

This test equally works on goods and services that we might already attribute more value to than they deserve.   What about that expensive watch, particular club membership, car, holiday destination or brand of coffee?  These are often aspirational items and by owning or experiencing them we believe as a consequence our lives to be “better” and thereby valuable.  That’s a state of mind that many brand owners want their target customers to buy into but if we were forced to use an alternate would our lives be so much worse?

Businesses that sell services can often struggle to differentiate themselves from the competition.  There will always be those who use price as a promotional blunt instrument.  Successful companies take the time to understand not only the mechanics of their offering but the emotional response to experiencing the best and worst of the market offerings.

You might technically be measured as the very best at what you provide but if you employ robots or a team of over confident practitioners to deliver, they’re unlikely to capitalise on that technical advantage.

Good business is all about the human experience.

So what are the factors that make the difference?

  • Accessibility
  • Action
  • Attitude
  • Communication
  • Empathy
  • Experience
  • Flexibility
  • Focus
  • Knowledge
  • Listening
  • Resilience
  • Responsiveness
  • Simplicity
  • Truthfulness

And of course this can all add up, when we include the fee, to value.

If you’re up for a challenge take a look at a couple of services and products that you use over the course of the next few weeks.  Ask yourself what you are basing your decisions on and consider if that is the best measure for making those purchases.  Put yourself in a position where you must justify those purchases to a boss and they are going to want clearly articulated and rational responses.  Consider which of those items you would wish to retain and those that fall short and face being replaced.

What does value look like to you?  Once you’ve thought about it from your own consumer perspective you might want to have a go at applying it to your own business.  Consider, honestly, if you would want to buy from your business, if so great…. can you do even better?  If the answer is no… where are you failing and how can you address the shortcomings?

If you’re not a typical customer of your company’s product or service, seek out those who are and ask for their honest, non sugar-coated views.

Knowing the price of something is the easy bit, knowing the value… that’s a skill that we all need to work on.

David Laud

 

Byadmin

The Generations Game

A short while ago I was asked to present at a Practice Management Conference to owners and senior managers of law firms in the UK.  The brief for this event was to present on the challenge of engaging with younger clients.  A very topical issue not only for lawyers but many businesses facing the prospect of attracting new customers in the digital age.

Personally I find the topic fascinating and equally intriguing when you consider how little attention is given to thinking about the socio demographic make-up of potential clients.  OK, my apologies to those marketers out there that have this all neatly packaged but note, you’re in the minority.  There’s plenty of talk about addressing customer needs, presenting and delivering goods or services that appeal to a niche market but how many of us need to appeal to a broad spectrum of the population? How do we make that work?

The Generations

The Generations

For my presentation I didn’t want to talk solely about the youngest, newest client segment.  Sure, talking social media and digital advertising would be sexy and necessary but in isolation would not place that particular generational trend in context with other older segments of the population.  So there I had it.  Let’s cover ALL bases and provide an overview of the generations and their likely preferences.

To kick the presentation off I asked the assembled audience which category they fell into.  The options.

  • Traditionalist
  • Baby Boomer
  • Generation X
  • Generation Y/ Millennials
  • Net Generation/ Digital Natives

To truly test the audience of law firm senior executives I didn’t offer up the list in timeline order as it is above.  I then provided the specific classification by year to determine exactly which group they would fall into with a little more detail as to the typical traits of each, the dates represent the dates of birth :-

  • Traditionalists 1925-1946

Formal, private, loyal, trust, respect, face to face, written, value time

  • Baby Boomers 1947-1964

Competitive, aspirational, hardworking, want detail, like options, challenging

  • Generation X 1965-1979

Entrepreneurial, independent, work life balance, sound bites, e-mail, feedback

  • Generation Y/ Millennial 1980-2000

Optimistic, confident, seek positive reinforcement, multi taskers, e-mail, text, skype

  • Net Generation/ Digital Natives 2001+

Connected, ethnically diverse, entitled,

When asked to then place themselves in the appropriate category it became quite apparent most had mistakenly considered themselves to be in a category other than the one they belonged to.  This highlighted the fact that as a rule we don’t know which generation we are and probably don’t see it as being very relevant.  That is a mistake.

Let me provide a couple of examples:

#1

Mrs Marple is a recently widowed lady of 77. She is having her late husband’s estate managed by Swish Swash Law.  Swish Swash pride themselves on being at the cutting edge of technology.  “It’s all in the cloud man” “we’re totally paperless” “Have you seen our App?” “The websites purely organic and built for the mobile and tablet market” Yadda yadda – you get the picture. Well Swish Swash employ some very bright young lawyers and they are equally adept at their use of technology as they are at applying their legal knowledge.  They have a 24/7 approach to service and in their best efforts to keep Mrs Marple informed they send an e-mail and follow up text to her to inform her of their progress. It’s sent at 9.15pm.  Next morning a rather angry daughter of Mrs Marple calls the lawyer who sent the text explaining that her mother had been asleep and got very stressed when the message arrived thinking anything sent at such a time could only be bad news!

As a Traditionalist Mrs Marple would prefer face to face communication, a phone call would be ok as would a letter but only during normal office hours.  This generation values privacy and whilst very hardworking they do not always appreciate the 24/7 immediacy of life preferring a more ordered and sensible approach to working hours.

#2

My 2nd example features Jordan, a young entrepreneur who is setting up a business with a couple of friends he met at University.  They have plans to launch a business offering animation and augmented reality software solutions.  They need help with setting up the company and creating a partnership.  Jordan’s father has recommended the family firm Boggit Down & Co. Established in 1888 they have a long tradition of serving the local people of their small market town and cover private and business clients services from their grade II listed high st office.  Reginald Smythe (63) is the head of company commercial and a partner.  He receives a call from Jordan’s father and askes his secretary to arrange a meeting with the 4 young men.

Jordan receives a call from Edith, Reginald’s long standing secretary and she has difficulty arranging a time when they would all be available, they finally settle on a date 3 weeks hence. Jordan receives a letter 3 days later inviting him to the offices and setting out the terms of an engagement with Boggitt Down & Co.  Jordan and friends are not impressed.  They wanted to get things up and running pronto, they can’t wait 3 weeks and quickly decide to find a lawyer who can see them that week..or even better be prepared to have an initial e-mail exchange to provide advice and help them get started.  They Google for law firms who understand software businesses and find two within 10 miles of Jordan’s home town and a third that offers online support nationally.

As a Generation Y/ Millennial group the young entrepreneurs are quite confident, assertive and expect rather more instant returns.  The culture clash with the very traditional firm of Boggitt Down & Co. is too much and they can see that the firm is not going to “get” them or their business. Boggitt Down & Co. has not moved with the times nor understood the urgency of their need to set up this business.  The firm simply presents itself as it has done for years and not adapted to the preferences of a new, informed and impatient generation.

Two simple examples that do genuinely occur on an all too regular basis.  But what can firms do if they need to win and maintain clients from a cross section of the generational divide?

  1. Be aware of the client and their likely preferences, never assume
  2. Create variety in the methods of communication, face to face, phone, traditional letters, e-mail, text and Skype.
  3. Consider training for staff to understand the variances in behaviour and how best to offer client care with an emphasis on generational differences.
  4. Look at your own business and place it in its own generational group.  Where does your firm fit.  This isn’t when the business was established but more likely the generation of the owners or most dominant partners/ directors.  Their influence will be affecting the persona of the business.

In my firm we have a mixture of baby boomers, generation X’s and recently introduced generation Y partners.  The business is evolving and the factors that impact on the outward facing communication with clients are equally prevalent with internal communications.  Being aware of those subtle differences in attitude and approach to work is becoming increasingly important.  The generation game certainly is one for all the family – just don’t forget your *cuddly toys.

If you would like to discuss any of the points raised within this blog please feel free to contact me via e-mail david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk or twitter @davidlaud

*(That final reference places me firmly in my Generation X category, but equally recognisable by baby Boomers and Traditionalists apologies to any readers who are too young to remember the classic Saturday night BBC show of the 70’s and 80’s)

If you would like to discuss marketing support for your firm please feel free to contact me to arrange an initial no obligation meeting

 

 

 

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The Best of Times or the Worst of Times? – Surviving and Growing in an Unpredictable Period

I’m fed up with hearing that we’re living in “interesting times” we’re not.  We’re actually living in the times outlined by Dickens in a Tale of Two Cities.  I’m sure you all know the opening chapter of the book word for word but just to remind us……

business navigatorIt was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – [Extract from chapter I, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)

 

 

Anyone else feel the contemporary connection with these words?

2014 has presented as a year where we are seeing economic recovery, employment levels rising and an all over feeling of optimism, well so certain politicians would wish us to think.  I’m not against a healthy bit of optimism, by nature I’m drinking from the half full cup most of the time but in reality there is still an awfully long and hard journey ahead for many businesses and thoughts of instant solutions are really not helpful.

 

If a business is going to survive and thrive it needs to have a strong realistic vision of its future, a plan for managed growth and control over its costs.  Leaders of these businesses need to retain and recruit the staff that share a passion for making that organisation the best in its particular sector/ sphere of operation.  It’s not easy, it takes time.  Things go wrong, deals don’t come off, recruits fail to live up to expectation and customers can change their preferences at the least expected moment. What you shouldn’t do is panic.  Retain the belief in the business and acknowledge that the World is partly mad and partly sane, you cannot predict everything nor expect to be continually on the back foot.

 

Even though we’re in what still feels to me like a futuristic date, 2014, the words of Charles Dickens in the opening of the classic Tale seem as appropriate today as when they were first penned some 150 years earlier.

 

Whether you do face the best or the worst of times I see it as a period for calm heads and a return to the principles of good solid business practice with, of course, the energy, enthusiasm, creativity and originality that will deliver sustainable success.

 

David Laud FCIM, Chartered Marketer

 

follow me on Twitter @davidlaud

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Marketing – It’s a Dirty Word

I still encounter those who see marketing as at best a necessary evil and at worst a practice of smoke and mirrors with no substance.

iStock_000028922460_Small

This unwarranted prejudice is borne out of a lack of understanding of the core principles of marketing.  Sceptics who poke sticks at marketers often suggest that the acquiring of customers is not difficult.  Winning new business is not connected to marketing activity.  They believe that by producing a quality product or service customers will return and promote to others.  That method of gaining customers can often be effective but the marketing element should already be interwoven with production and customer experience and not simply be seen as a blunt instrument of advertising or PR before or after the fact.  Ironically sceptics often employ marketing techniques, unaware of their natural ability to develop the business.  MD’s don’t always connect their activity to marketing which they see as a separate collection of basic promotional actions.

If you were to survey 100 non marketers and ask them for a definition of marketing the chances are over 50% would reference advertising within their response.  The truth is marketing, certainly for me is “The Business of Business” a little more than creating and placing an advert.  To be an effective marketer you must understand all you can about your customers, the financial model that produces the product, where the margins kick in, the mechanisms involved in delivering the product and the experience of customers once purchased.  The entire scope of the company, its infrastructure, inner workings and technical elements must be understood to contextualise a successful approach to develop the brand and thereby grow the business.

All too often when recruiting or appointing a marketing resource business owners go into the process with a narrow pre-determined idea of what the person will add to the mix.  They focus on PR or advertising.  They might also worry about the need for a better online presence rather than consider an opportunity to involve the marketer in helping with business planning and setting a strategy.

Typical Marketing Professionals Skill Set

  • Account Management
  • Administration
  • Advertising
  • Analytical
  • Brand Marketing & Management
  • Business Development
  • Client Relationship/ Customer Care
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Content Marketing
  • Contract Negotiation
  • CRM/ Database Management
  • Creative
  • Direct Marketing
  • Displays
  • Event Planning
  • E-mail marketing
  • Financial
  • Interpersonal
  • Leadership
  • List Management
  • Market Analysis & Research
  • Market Strategy
  • Merchandising
  • Mobile Marketing
  • Order Processing
  • Planning & Project Management
  • PPC
  • Presentations
  • Product Research
  • Problem Resolution
  • Product Management
  • Product Promotion
  • Professional
  • Public Relations
  • Purchasing Inventory
  • Quality Control
  • Reporting
  • Sales Tracking
  • SEO
  • Social Media
  • Supplier Management
  • Teaching/ Training
  • Team Player
  • Time Management
  • Troubleshooting

An added challenge for many is the “hobby” marketer boss who believes they can play “the marketing game”.  We all consume so many marketing messages each day it’s not surprising that a boss or client might suggest they have the answer to a new advertising campaign, website or sponsorship deal.  Don’t for one minute think I’m against business owners or bosses getting engaged with the marketing activity.  I’ve spent far too long in my career trying to encourage such interest to fight it; but it can be difficult for junior, less experienced marketers to put a counter view forward when the ultimate decision maker insists on having their way.

Where experienced and effective marketers set themselves apart is in their ability to distinguish “good ideas” from the ego driven project.  They need an ability to swiftly reflect and analyse any newly presented opportunity, establish the potential impact and make recommendations in plain jargon free English.  That particular skill can save organisations a large chunk of their marketing budget.

A very good example of the scale of the challenge for today’s marketer is their need to stay on top of the terabytes of information related to digital marketing.  Without necessarily being an expert the modern marketer must understand the principles of SEO, (search engine optimisation) PPC (pay per click advertising) Social Media, Mobile Technologies, Online Advertising and CRM (Customer Relationship Management).  Interpreting Google Analytics and having the confidence to reject or accept digital agency proposals are also essential attributes of those holding the responsibility for marketing in any organisation.

Yes it’s complicated out there but life is these days.  We can either keep up or give in and outsource management to the wave upon wave of niche agency suppliers promising to deliver success.  Without the confidence borne out of our own knowledge of specific marketing processes we’re left with fingers crossed just hoping that the agency knows what they’re doing with their sizeable budget.  Personally I don’t see it as an option.  We owe it to ourselves, clients and employers to provide the very best level of expertise and professionalism and demonstrate that more than ever we have the knowledge and the spark to drive businesses forward.

Far from being a dirty word marketing is the discipline that business owners need to embrace wholeheartedly.  They need to seek out the very best qualified practitioners to work with, provide resource and trust them to deliver.  David Laud – FCIM Chartered Marketer, consultant.

Byadmin

Marriage of Convenience or True Love – Law Firm Mergers

What lies behind the sudden increase in solicitors firms merging?  Is it a need for personal partner security, succession or future proofing, fear of failing or a strategic move to build a successful business?

Marriage Merger

2013 has revealed a weekly supply of dramatic news impacting the legal profession.  Jackson reforms, loss of legal aid, liquidations, economic position and client migration, inability for partners to plan ahead, ABS’s and the increasing impact of the Legal Services Act, succession issues for traditional partnerships, professional indemnity renewal……they have all combined to place the profession in new uncomfortable territory.

One consequence of these issues is the fact that there are now far fewer firms in England & Wales than at any time recorded by the Law Society.

As at September 2013 there were some 10,726 firms to be precise. It still sounds like a big number but as reported in the LSG it’s 400 less than the same month in 2012.  This dramatic fall is due to all of the above factors which have resulted in:

  • Firms closing their doors voluntarily
  • Firms placed into administration
  • Increased merger activity

The rather worrying state of affairs has created a rather tense atmosphere within many firms as they find themselves glancing around to find security against the pressures, the security of a merger partner.

It’s the merger activity that is of particular interest because if well thought through and executed it can deliver a very positive outcome to counter the weight of negativity surrounding the profession.  Unfortunately the press releases with smiling partners shaking hands in front of newly branded and dressed offices are unlikely to convince many onlookers of the true drivers of such arrangements.

When partners start to feel the cold and their accountant or bank has that “little word in the ear” they see the one route to securing their future as that long discussed but never acted upon merger opportunity.

The firm nearby that presents less of a threat to personal control than others with domineering partners.  The firm that has the client you’d always courted but failed to land.  The firm who’ve just announced an investment in IT which must mean they’re “switched on” and looking to the future.  The firm that hasn’t joined a national brand in a vain attempt to protect its future flow of work.

It’s not surprising that the above traits are seen as attractive to the partners of a firm keen to link arms with another.  Regardless of whether it’s an arranged marriage or one that all partners consent to willingly, the success of the union will not be founded in any of those considerations but could certainly result in its failure.

As with any successful marriage having things in common helps but is not essential.  Yes you need an attraction, a spark and a personality match that uses the “chemistry” to good rather than toxic effect.  When joined the “personality” of the newly formed business must be a commonly shared persona.  If not the deal can be blown wide open leaving space for detractors, conflicting agendas and negative views of those who were just waiting for the “I told you so” moment.

Leadership is critical and it doesn’t necessarily need to be a single person more often a team who share a vision driven by clearly stated and understood objectives.

The original cupid arrow that created the merged business is typically founded in solid logic and should have all the ingredients for a successful outcome. Unfortunately the complexity and challenge of putting organisations together can dilute and lose the benefit of economies of scale and combined resources.

Critical to the success is a clearly articulated strategy delivered consistently by an effective leadership team. The focus at all times MUST be on the customers, lose sight of that key fact and matters can start to unravel fast.

Rather than being daunted by the scale of the challenge it’s helpful to view the merger plan as a series of projects that each need to be worked on to achieve the overall desired outcome.

Not many employees relish change and mergers present plenty of new challenges and potential threats to personal job security.  Keeping the talent engaged is important as is the need to motivate the business to achieve the new goals.

There are many positives to be borne from mergers but before being charmed by a suitable partner it’s worth looking at theirs and other track records. We can and should certainly learn from the mistakes of others and the legal market is peppered with them.

On the upside mergers can and do deliver, but best look at an equation that gives 1+1 = 3+ not 0.  This is a marriage that needs to deliver offspring that can grow and evolve and take the newly formed business forward.

Here below are a list of projects, an example of the areas a typical merger would need to cover to deliver a positive and co-ordinated outcome.  The list below is but a guide and is not comprehensive.  The projects would of course be determined by the specific features of the merger.

Merger Projects Example

  • Client database co-ordination
  • Staff induction & integration
  • Accounting period, procedures & systems
  • Cashflow projections and monitoring
  • Client care, complaints and reports
  • Business Plan evaluation of strategy
  • Marketing – website, materials, budget
  • Brand evaluation, name, positioning
  • Compliance matters – money laundering/ SRA
  • Insurances
  • Overall IT infrastructure assessment
  • Quality mark retention

If any of the above issues resonate with you and your business and you would wish to explore your options please feel free to drop me a line in confidence – david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk

David Laud

Managing Partner

i2i Business Solutions, Management Consultancy

david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk  twitter @davidlaud

Byadmin

Making all the right noises – using social media to support your customer service

Have you ever found the need to offer up a tweet of desperation, or Facebook post of frustration when a company fails to deliver on its promise or has caused you a problem?

I know I have.

Customer-Service

At the time of composing the message it can prove to be cathartic, setting out your ire and pointing it at the target you can get it off your chest, even in 140 characters.

But how does the company deal with your complaint? For me that is the true measure of a good organisation, its ability to respond. Did they get back to you swiftly, accurately noting your comments and responding appropriately? Or did they respond in their own sweet time and offer up an auto bot placation to hope you’ll go away? Worse still are those who just fail to respond leaving you to boil and find a way to escalate the issue with added justification.
If you’re running a business, any business, you must consider the way in which you can handle potential negative feedback. The rise in popularity of Tripadvisor has taught many restaurants and hotels that negative reviews can directly impact future business and positive feedback offer a reassurance and drive customers toward you.

With so many of us now connected on social networking platforms and becoming increasingly comfortable with the medium as a method of communication we cannot afford to overlook their impact.

These are the key tips for offering excellent customer service on social networking platforms;
• Make your company twitter and Facebook accounts clearly visible on your website
• Actively engage with those who “like” your Facebook page and “follow” you on twitter
• Monitor the social networks for references to your business and keywords associated with it;
o This can be done via Google alerts by setting up the keywords and having any reference e-mailed to you. Note: This can build in a time delay so should not be relied upon for real time responses.
o Use a social mention monitoring site to manage the references and keep up to date by having the alerts function activated.
o Sites worth considering; SocialMention.com, mention.net, social oomph, hootsuite, twilert.
o Take a look and see which suit your needs, twilert is good as it is simple and low cost and enables a free trial to assess the effectiveness for your business.
• When you receive a negative comment whatever you do don’t become defensive or aggressive
• Offer multiple channels for communication, tweet but take it private so DM (direct message), e-mail, phone or text.
• Respond quickly and consistently, if you don’t have an immediate answer let the customer know that you’re working on it.
• Don’t patronise or engage in chat that would be considered “too personal”
• Above all ensure those who are charged with handling frontline matters on social media understand the rules and are chosen for their interpersonal skills and client care focus.
• Don’t allow third parties to present themselves as “helpers” or “customer support”. Self-help through technical forums can be beneficial but taking that one step further exposes your business and brand to potential risk of damage through unauthorised comment and actions.

Its common sense, you may think, but just consider your own experience and how the big organisations often get it wrong. Mostly customers want to know they’re being listened to, offered a channel to communicate and be allowed to express a view. Of course not every complaint or query will be justified but by offering a sympathetic and proactive customer response via social media can significantly reduce the negativity and in many cases reverse the position entirely. If you’re not aware of the conversations on social media you run the risk of missing opportunity and being subject to unwarranted bad publicity.

If managing your customers via social media is something you want to explore in greater detail drop me a line.

David Laud

David.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk Twitter @davidlaud

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Teenagers, Smartphones, Relationships & Privacy – David Laud on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour

bbc-radio-4

i2i’s Managing Partner, David Laud, recently contributed to a discussion on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour concerning the increased use of technology in the home and its impact on family privacy.

Click the link below to hear the clip

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01b9r54

This brief discussion covers a growing domestic problem and highlights the need for parents to stay up to speed with social media platforms and the exchanges children are having.

David is interviewed by Radio 4’s Jenni Murray and joined by Ruth James who runs a blog to help parents with teenage children. http://survivingteenagers.co.uk/author/survivingteens/

Byadmin

The Trouble with Twitter

Working as I do with professional firms I’m often asked or challenged on the true effectiveness of twitter and other social media platforms. For the purpose of this blog I’ll focus on twitter as it is the most frequently quoted cause of confusion, frustration and anxiety.

twitter

Yes, I did mention anxiety. Managing partners, Managing Directors, VP’s & CEO’s are more than aware of the phenomenon that is twitter but few can put their finger on what it is doing for their business.

In the beginning it seemed simple. Create an account, charge the marketing team with tweeting about the wonderful services on offer and sit back and wait for the results. And wait they did, the wind whistling through the trees whilst tweeters tweeted in an increasingly desperate fashion hoping upon hope that someone would tweet back.

Aware of competitor firms growing large follower networks and seemingly becoming the popular point of contact the business owners call the marketing team to account. “Where’s our ROI?” “Show me a spreadsheet of time and cost vs return.” “Why do Bloggs & Co. have five times the followers of our account?”

In a panic and under pressure the marketers fail to deliver the key financial justification for continuation and are forced to concede defeat.

Ok, perhaps an extreme example but the story will have a ring of truth for many. The demand for results, analysis and business owner frustration that the firm is failing to match others or capitalise on this new medium is a very common experience.

What is the answer? It’s not as simplistic as suggesting that having an account and sending the occasional tweet will eventually deliver results but time is a factor and it takes more than you might think to build a truly effective twitter channel.

Here are a few suggestions for those grappling with twitter and losing the fight;

  • Revisit the plan (or if not already created draft one) focus on what you want to achieve and keep the objectives modest.
  • Think about the membership of your network, who do you want – followers with special interests, local to your office, commercial, personal or both. Search for your targets and start following them.
  • Consider targets for follower count (you want to aim for 500+ if you’re a medium sized regional firm). Set a target for the number of re-tweets of your content and measure its reach.
  • One example of measurement – aim to achieve a Klout score of 30+ within 12 months. (see Klout.com)
  • Create content such as regular blogs that feature key individuals and services. Make this regular and not too heavy – 400-500 words is enough.
  • Don’t delegate the generation of your tweets or blog content outside of the business or to anyone not qualified to comment effectively on behalf of the firm. Your network will soon realise if you do have a 3rd party or unqualified communicator and it can hamper responsiveness.
  • Profile, use a photo, ideally of a real person in the business – people follow and interact with people.
  • Ensure the profile copy is clear and impactful with a hint of personality.
  • Make sure you visit the account at least twice a day and check the timeline for contributions from your network. Re-tweet frequently when you see good links, tweets.
  • Don’t make your tweets all about work, consider the interests of your network and show off your personality…be careful to avoid controversy and making or supporting offensive messages.
  • Manage your network as its grows through using lists to segment specific groups.
  • Feed back to the business owners on a regular basis, be proactive and keep them informed as to network growth and interactions.
  • Get creative, build in special offers, competitions, quizzes and above all have fun with it.

Managing the expectations of the management team and business owners is all important. It can be hard trying to convince an analytical driven leader that they need to invest resource in something that can be quite so hard to quantify. As a marketer I fall into the camp of wanting to measure marketing activity and in all circumstances you should strive to analyse the impact of your efforts. Twitter apps are available to measure any number of actions but don’t get lost in analysis. Keep the focus on the big picture of building the business brand and connecting with your network.

Traffic visiting your website through tweeted links will be one clear indication of reach as will comments or feedback from network members.

As I’ve referred to before by way of analogy, twitter is very much like a broadcast channel. Decide on your audience the type of output you want to produce and the viewing figures you’d like to generate. Remember very few of us would want to tune in to a channel that is 100% or even 50% advertising so keep the balance fresh and entertaining.

If you would like more specific help with developing your social media strategy or simply making your existing activities more effective please drop me a line.

David Laud – i2i Business Solutions LLP e-mail david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk

Byadmin

A Question of Quality, Quantity, Quill-pushers, Quarrels and Quakes

Managing a Law Firm in Uncertain Times

My year has so far been a flurry of activity – clients seeking new initiatives to stave off the competition and the search for a bright torch to show the path through the darkness. The darkness cast over the legal profession impacting on a managing partner’s vision has been caused by a multitude of concerns;

• The regular announcements of new, SRA approved, dynamic alternative business structures (ABS’s).
• The spread of ineffectual but tempting branded “legal networks” seeing an opportunity to build a business on the fear of failure and their belief of strength in numbers.
• Government changes to Legal Aid removing such client support for key practice areas including Family.
• Further legislative changes to reduce Personal Injury fees via the Jackson Reforms.
• Changes to employment legislation and general job loss fears reducing the number of employment law matters.
• The property and construction markets flatlining.
• The Ministry of Justice removing claims referral companies as a source of new Personal Injury work.
• The regulatory body for firms in England & Wales – the Solicitors Regulatory Authority and their insistence on adding layers of bureaucracy through two new compliance officer roles.

And of course the ever present need to find enough fee income to pay for Practising Certificates and Professional Indemnity Insurance.

Add to this the pressure to invest in technology, talent and training and you have a series of seismic events that for many are leading to nasty rumbles if not catastrophic quakes within partnerships throughout the UK.

On the upside there are significant opportunities for law firms across most areas of the practice spectrum. Those opportunities are not in the same shape, colour and size as before. Clients are far more comfortable and capable accessing information online before deciding on contacting a lawyer. Clients now come pre-packed with knowledge and a revised expectation of what value your service is to them.

They also select their law firm or lawyer on criteria that has evolved to include recommendations but often accepting them from comments posted on web forums and increasingly social media. Twitter is now far more likely to be used to find an answer that will be acted upon than Google as responses are provided by a trusted network.

Firms that believe clients will still flood in because of their “long standing reputation”, “location”, “profile of senior partners” will find themselves falling further behind as competition increases. This will be ever more apparent in firms who have failed to implement Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions to enable a meaningful ongoing interaction with existing clients.

Well that’s a bright and cheery view. I make no apology; it is the reality of managing a modern law firm in 2013. To be successful, a legal practice like any other business needs to grow through innovation; understanding of customer needs, a clearly articulated vision and quality execution of service.

After 5+ years of recession we can be excused for feeling tired, battered and lacking that vital spark to revitalise the business but now is the time to do it.

If any of the points above are a current concern to your business and you would like to discuss please email in confidence to david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk or call 08456 446624 to arrange an initial meeting.

Byadmin

How Many Social Media “Experts” Does It Take To Turn On A Lightbulb?

We’re all under pressure for one reason or another. This ever developing technology has not delivered its promise of greater leisure time and standards of living; well not for most of us anyway. Instead we’re expected to task like a multi armed, dextrous ninja; responding to e-mails, calls, texts, skype and of course schedule in good old fashioned face to face interaction.

No surprise then that I’m often met with a more than cynical sneer when its suggested that a business owner take some of that valuable time and engage in or make more resource available to develop their social media presence.

I get it. I truly do understand that the thought of “tweeting” baffles and bewilders, facebook’s not for everyone and Linkedin, whilst appearing more suited to the business professional; is not easy to see how you benefit.

Too many evangelical so called social media “experts” have fallen in love with the various platforms and the ego trip of growing followers, connections and responses and forgotten that for most they’re not seen as essential in the battle to grow their company. There’s an awareness of the staggering demographic statistics but not how they can be used to benefit a business.

Many of my clients are very sharp individuals who’ve typically built successful businesses by meeting the needs of a targeted customer base. They’ve kept a step ahead of the competition, invested in their company and know their business inside out.

They also have no fear in challenging the call to join the social media bandwagon. They didn’t succeed by following a flock but they’re curious enough to ask the direct questions everyone should pose to a new medium.

How does it work? What are the benefits? What are the costs? Who needs to be involved? Where are the opportunities? And my favourite which covers all the aforementioned, Why should we do it?

If practical answers to these key questions are not forthcoming it’s unlikely the business owners will engage, and who would blame them?

Each business is unique and no one solution can possibly “fit all” which is why my advice is qualified by researching the specific sector, understanding the issues and the behaviours of customer groups and industry influencers.

We’ve now experienced over ten years of social media activity, it continues to move very rapidly yet within this timeframe you can find a multitude of examples where companies have positivley engaged with their customers. These examples are quantifiable, real and very often prove to be the “lightbulb moment” for MD’s VP’s CEO’s Directors and Partners especially if it’s a business operating in the same sector if not a direct competitor.

From Insurance and Aflac running an XFactor styled voice talent competition to Airlines and KLM’s “meet and seat” facebook campaign.

Of course it’s not just big businesses that can afford to make the most of social media and most towns, sectors and networks have their own shining examples of “best practice”.

We strongly believe in encouraging ownership and participation “in house” to develop the understanding, not outsourcing social media activity to third parties.

As professional marketers our objective should be to build confidence for our clients and employers through practical planning, suitable resourcing and measurement; all prepared as a specific project helping to make best use of everyone’s time. Social media’s a serious business development tool but we should make sure we factor in time for some fun too.

If you’d like more information or arrange an initial consultation please drop me a line david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk

David Laud – i2i Business Solutions LLP

David Laud
Partner
i2i Business Solutions LLP

Byadmin

Lights, Camera, Action! – How to Make Social Media Perform For Your Firm

Listening to professional service firms across the UK, I hear time and time again of their frustration with social media.

“I just don’t get it, everyone talks about it but no one has the time to do it, even when I do spend time on it I’m not really sure what I’m doing.” Views that may well resonate in your firm. But what is the answer?

You have five main options:-

1. If you haven’t started just don’t bother

2. If you have made an attempt, opened the odd twitter, facebook or linkedin account, stop right now and do no more

3. Hire someone to do your donkey work and outsource your social media activity

4. Instruct all fee earners to embrace social media and open a variety of accounts, throwing your firm head long into all things “social”

5. Introduce a workable approach to using the most appropriate platforms for your firm by setting a plan and working to it

With so many people, businesses, clients, competitors actively involved in social media can you afford to “not bother?” You may well be frustrated by the lack of response to your initial efforts but it’s like trying to drive a car in a busy town centre without having had a lesson, scary and likely to put you off getting behind a wheel forever.

Getting someone else to drive your activity may well be a good way to start but ultimately most platforms require a personality and connection that would be hard to replicate and pretenders are often quickly found out. However compelling the sales pitch and attractive the thought of delegating tweets to third parties, it’s not the way to grow a trusted network.

As for the stick theory, demanding fee earners to “just do it” will result in some activity but for many it will be with reluctance and without effective training, plans or analysis, it will engender a widerspread feeling of hopelessness and confusion.

So that leaves option 5, it seems and is, a sensible approach but that short line of a few words does no more than sentence the one charged with making it happen to a period in solitary where they’ve nothing to do but work out “what the hell do we do about this social media malarkey?”

That in a nutshell is the problem – advice is cheap but effective action is priceless. The added complication is that in general, those working within the professional sector like certainty, don’t like taking risks, however well calculated, and this new communication medium seems fraught with danger.

On the upside there’s no shortage of help out there but a word of caution, not all who speak with marketing tongue can walk the social media walk.  Alterian’s annual survey of 1,500 marketers, agencies and consultants last year identified that amazingly a third didn’t understand how to manage social media. A staggering 70% were simply not reporting on its effectiveness to senior management or clients.  So beware the sales pitch

The reasons to strive to understand the medium remain compelling. The statistics ever impressive with millions of “friends” “followers” and contacts to “link to” we ignore social media at our peril and risk being left far behind.

A few mind bending stats that suggest social media is far from a fad or momentary medium used by niche groups:- 

  • Linkedin – Launched 2002, 90 million members, 200 countries, 5m in the UK
  • WordPress – Launched 2003, latest version of the website downloaded 32.5m, 13% of the World’s top 1m websites use WordPress
  • Facebook – Launched 2004, 500 million users, 48% 18-34yrs, av. 130 friends (big rise in 35+ users)
  • FlickR – Launched 2004, 5bn photos, 50 million accounts,
  • YouTube – Launched 2005, 490m users, av. user 20 minutes per day,
  • Twitter – Launched 2006, 190 million accounts, 55 million tweets per day
  • Foursquar – Launched 2009, 381,576,305 check ins 2010 

If your fear is it’s already too late DON’T PANIC, there is still time for new joiners or those who’ve just scratched the surface to quickly seize the initiative.  The truth is that a large number of professional service firms have leapt to join in but not truly understood the potential of the various social media platforms. Trust in your instincts and apply the same level headed approach to this marketing discipline as you would to any other.  The focus is all about the conversation, the connection and the trusted network you can build within which, on occasion, you can introduce messages that promote the practice and the people who deliver your services. 

I view social media marketing as an altenative form of broadcasting.  You have multiple channels, a wide variety of potential audiences and no shortage of material to consider to put “on air”. 

Consider your twitter strategy with this broadcast analagy in mind.  Which of your fee earners will be tweeting, what is their ideal audience, how best can you hope to engage with that target, what source of material could be of interest and how frequently do you want to send a message promoting the firm or specific service? 

Very few of us want to watch a channel that is 100% adverts.  But we will tune in to a broadcaster offering interesting comments, observations, news and support and interactivity within the network.  Our rule is generally one promotional tweet to every six offering alternative content. 

Please don’t worry about how you become a trusted, entertaining broadcaster.  The vast majority of twitter accounts are run by ordinary people who have simply spent time understanding the language, tone and appropriateness of the medium.  There is no short cut alternative to gaining experience of social media platforms.  Many so called specialists in the field can offer advice and training but there is no substitute for getting your “hands on” and starting the process. 

This is marketing as a truly participative event, no arms length seminar, newspaper column or e-mail campaign.  Here you are engaging in a direct manner and developing not only your firms brand by adopting a social media strategy, but critically establishing yourself as a brand that your network can trust and call upon for advice. 

Ready for your close up?  Don’t worry no make up required, well not until you establish your YouTube channel. 

David Laud FCIM, Chartered Marketer Twitter @davidlaud  LinkedIn http://uk.linkedin.com/in/davidlaud

Managing Partner – i2i Business Solutions LLP – Marketing Consultancy for Professional Service Firms

& CEO of Samuel Phillips Law Firm