Tag Archive legal

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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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When Social Goes So Wrong – Reputation Management

One of the great benefits of social media is its instant connectivity and accessibility to so many individuals across the globe.  This benefit however can become a distinct disadvantage when things are not all rosy in the social media garden.

SMFL 01 Clooney full size

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s just look at a few examples.  Staff with the responsibility of posting content on behalf of your business decide to boost the reach of your messages by tapping in to a popular hashtag #.  It can be harmless and often look unprofessional, more akin to jumping on an overburdened bandwagon.  One such recent example is #PlutoFlyBy .

Nice pun from the bathroom accessory guys…

Space is all over the news with the#PlutoFlyby, so let us help YOU save space in the bathroom

Or this one from a US Italian restaurant chain…

Have a breadstick on us, Pluto! You’ll always be a planet in our eyes. #PlutoFlyby

Mmm… awkward and looks a little desperate however it’s not malicious and no one is harmed in the hijacking of the hashtag.

Moving on to corporations creating their own hashtag and it backfiring; now that can be an interesting spectator sport.

#MCDStories McDonalds marketing team expected nothing but genuine “nuggets” of wholesome stories, instead they created a McFlurry storm of negativity as tweet after tweet tried to out-score the other on their terrible experiences. Ouch!

Even classy supermarket Waitrose hasn’t escaped the hashtag howler brigade. Their #Waitrosereasons campaign generated a stream of pretentious and pompous tongue in cheek tweets that played on the expense of shopping at the store.  This included a tweet suggesting the shopper always transferred shopping to tesco bags so neighbours didn’t know they’d won Euromillions!

Yes we can laugh at the big brands getting it wrong but what if it happens to you and your business.  We are all vulnerable to attack as soon as we “put ourselves out there” but how do we respond if someone genuinely takes against your business or someone who works in it.

Examples that hit the media spotlight often involve high profile individuals.  Kevin Pietersen brought a successful claim for defamation against Specsavers when their Facebook and twitter advert suggested the ex- England cricketer tampered with his bat.

But it’s not always possible to hit the troublemakers for six.  Bed and Breakfast owners Martin and Jacqui Clark failed to win their case against TripAdvisor after they had received very poor reviews on the rating site.  The Judge refused to reveal the identities of those making the post which had caused the Clark’s to lose business.

This leaves something of a hole in the world of social media where trolls can continue to inhabit and inflict their pain without fear of retribution.  In my view this should be addressed rather swiftly as the proliferation of rating sites has led to many attempts to “game” the sites for competitive advantage.  If a review is fair the reviewer should have no fear of being seen.  If they are allowed to remain anonymous the opportunity to post false and defamatory messages is made far too easy.

What Should You Do

  1. You have the right to take legal action if a post mentions you or your business by name or by reference makes it clear who the message is about. For a successful claim of defamation it must be considered offensive leading others on hearing or viewing the comment to think less of the referenced person/ business.
  2. Defamation cases fall into two categories.
    • Libel for the written word e.g. newspapers, e-mails, texts, blogs, tweets and Facebook posts.
    • Slander refers to the spoken word – overheard or recorded.
  3. If you are the subject of an offensive comment on social media report it, block if it’s a tweet. Unfortunately Facebook’s policies are rather inconsistent but still report any messages that cause genuine offence.  Most social media platforms now have options to block foul and abusive posters.
  4. If it’s defamatory content my advice is not to engage with the person posting. Many celebrities and businesses have fallen into the trap of trying to “manage” the situation by responding directly. It’s a natural urge to do so but often creates a stream of communication that escalates without resolving.
  5. If not considered abusive or defamatory – let’s say it’s a publicly visible negative message/ complaint received mentioning a product, service or person within your business. Then you should seek to take the matter away from the public gaze.  If on twitter follow them and ask for a follow back to enable a direct message DM which only the two of you can see.   Message them on Facebook or better still ask for an e-mail address or if appropriate phone number so you can deal with the matter directly and without additional public interference.  Often with big brands, as seen with the hashtag examples, one negative comment can quickly lead to a feeding frenzy of vented spleens. Engaging publicly with everyone can quickly become a full time job.
  6. If your own quick actions as above fail to solve a problem of defamation or if the comments are visible in other mediums such as Google search you may need to call upon the help of a professional.

There has been a great deal of media attention around high profile cases of social media based defamation including Kevin Pietersen, Lord McAlpine and Russell Brand.  As a result there’s been a threefold increase in cases across the country as more of us gain an appreciation of our rights.  The numbers are still pretty low, only 26 matters  2013-14 but the year before saw only 6 cases.  Source: Thomson Reuters – Practical Law

One of the biggest problems a victim of social media trolling can face is the challenge to find anyone to listen.  The huge social media corporations are notoriously oblique in their “face to face” relations with users.  Facebook, Twitter and Google have layer upon layer of FAQ’s, help forums and suitably straight-jacketed reporting processes.  If, as many find, your problem doesn’t tick the right box you’ll have a merry old time attempting to get a sensible answer or swift resolution.

If you find yourself in such a situation please drop me a line.  Over the years I’ve had a number of successful outcomes for clients dealing with Google, Facebook, Apple and Twitter.

David Laud

Make an enquiry here:-

Byadmin

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

Law Firm Management – Survival of the Fittest

Charles Darwin knew a thing or two about evolution.  If I can cast my mind back to my human biology lessons, the term coined by the great naturalist was “Natural Selection”.  It took a little while for this radical theory to be accepted by the mainstream scientific community but now it is universally seen as the reason we, as humans, exist in the form we do today.  Of course not just humans, we can trace the origins of all living creatures through this process.

Crisis? Perhaps you need to adapt to survive...

Crisis? Perhaps you need to adapt to survive…

If Darwin were alive today he would no doubt be fascinated by our individual and organisational development.  He might also see how his theory can as easily be applied to businesses as it can to individuals.

A sector currently experiencing a significant series of evolutionary events, shaping their structure, relationships and existence is the legal profession.

Just last week we heard of yet one more familiar north east name going into administration.  The loss of 50 jobs and a history of 250 years, gone.  They are not the first in this recent wave of firm closures and they most certainly won’t be the last.

Why are we hearing of so many failures?  The answer, as in any scientific evaluation, is not straightforward.  The truth is that the myriad of challenges that have conspired to arrive at the door of law firms in the UK are individually manageable with care but when they arrive in rapid succession, they create a chain of events that leave only the very fittest and dynamic of practices standing.

The Law Society reported toward the end of 2013 that over 400 law firms had closed in the preceding 12 month period.  Last week the same organisation revealed that more than 4,500 solicitors had simply not arranged to renew their practicing certificates.  Without it they are unable to carry their work.

The events that have brought about the closure of so many firms include;

  • The recession resulting in SME’s looking to save cost by avoiding lawyers’ fees – (Law Society Gazette May 2013), larger corporations driving down fees and personal clients unable to get divorced as they can’t afford to put their affairs in order. The property market is also only just waking from its lengthy hibernation.
  • Personal Injury and Medical Negligence solicitors impacted by the Jackson Reforms seeing an immediate drop in fee income, volume of instructions and the departure of claims management companies from the market.
  • The Government removing legal aid for divorce and failure of mediation to replace the lost fee income.
  • Introduction of the Legal Services Act and “Alternative Business Structures” enabling non solicitors to offer legal services and large corporations such as Co-op, Direct Line, DAS, BT entering the market.
  • Professional Indemnity insurance cover proving increasingly difficult to obtain, suppliers in the market cherry picking only the very best risks and others facing excessively high premiums.
  • Solicitors Regulatory Authority introducing burdensome and expensive measures such as Compliance Officers for legal practice and finance.

These facts and more point to a series of tremors in the legal world that have built to form a seismic event.  The consequence of these factors is when the dust settles the clients, both personal and business will have far less choice.  On the upside, of those firms remaining we can be assured that they are resilient and very likely to be focussed on the needs and value they can bring to the client.

The conclusion we can draw using Darwin’s theory is that having survived the natural selection process those still standing will be fitter and more prepared for the future.  The advantage existing firms have at this time is their opportunity to still act, adapt and ensure their survival and avoiding a Dodo dilemma.

David Laud – Partner i2i Business Solutions LLP

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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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Spinning Plates, Juggling Balls & Shot Selection – How to Create an Effective Marketing Strategy

Devising a successful marketing plan hasn’t always been easy but your options were pretty straightforward.  Depending on budget and market your choices were clear and experience along with a good creative agency would go a long way to delivering results.

It's getting harder to keep things from falling down - Multi Channel Marketing Challenge

It’s getting harder to keep things from falling down – Multi Channel Marketing Challenge

Those factors of experience and creativity still exist but in the digital age we’re now confronted by a multitude of potential channels and measurement tools many of which are relatively untried and untested.

The variety of digital channels and the parallel phenomenon of shifting customer behaviours pose new challenges for today’s marketer.  The need for organisations to have digital marketing experience has become increasingly important, almost essential, as we start a new year and many of us look to plan for growing the income and profit of our businesses.

For those who rely on 3rd party agencies for digital channel support it can prove frustrating and expensive especially if their promises fail to deliver the expected results and the rationale for failure is dressed in uber geek jargon.

My advice to any business owner or marketer is to trust their instincts, not to forget the basics of solid marketing principles and not over complicate plans by throwing in every new channel.  If you set up a new social media platform account remember you must be prepared to deliver regular appropriate and original content.  That account management takes time and resource and can detract impact of your marketing efforts from areas that will deliver tangible returns.  It may also damage the brand if the execution misfires.

 Key Tips for Multi-Channel Marketing Plans 

  1. Be clear as to who is responsible for what.  Establish clear roles, responsibilities and set out and communicate expected outputs. Don’t overlook potential internal departmental conflicts such as I.T. v Marketing.
  2. Don’t lose the overarching objective in the mass of opportunities and options. Increasing twitter followers looks good but is it delivering a return for the business.
  3. Put the customer at the centre of your planning and thoughts of how best to engage and enhance brand and convert to sales.  Facebook might offer a rich source of demographic data but may not be the environment where potential or existing customers want to interact with your business.
  4. If you can’t or don’t know how to measure it don’t do it or a better option, find out how to.
  5. Use tools to support your efforts eg Google Analytics, Hootsuite, Followerwonk, AppAnnie
  6. Keep the boss informed. If you’re struggling to keep up with digital trends just imagine the difficulty those who don’t use the platforms on a regular basis will have in understanding what they do.  Consider creating a simple FAQ or SWOT on each marketing channel to share with colleagues and the senior team.
  7. Don’t be afraid to experiment. It can be possible to test channels in a low cost simplified manner to gauge the mechanics and opportunities therein. Be sure you always follow no. 4 in such circumstances.
  8. Don’t see the plethora of choice as a problem but an opportunity. A positive mind-set can free you from debilitating inertia brought on by a lack of decisions.
  9. Keep agencies on a tight brief with clearly defined objectives and review progress regularly (at least monthly).
  10. Keep the radar turned on.  Whilst there’s already an abundance of channels to spend our budget on technology is moving fast. Voice recognition and intelligent interaction with Apple’s Siri and Google’s alternative are just one example of how search technology is developing.
  11. Don’t get lost in the technology.  Traditional marketing channels can and do deliver strong returns with well co-ordinated and executed campaigns.
  12. Don’t be afraid to use your networks to ask for help.  LinkedIn groups and professional bodies can provide very useful intelligence.

Personally I love a challenge but with so much “noise” in the on-line and off-line marketing world it’s often hard deciding on which path to take.  Such difficulties in selecting which channels to invest in is a very common problem, reassure yourself you’re not alone.

Meanwhile I’ll continue spinning, juggling and making those shot selections, doing my best to keep up.

If you have a question or suggestion on this topic please feel free to comment or contact me via twitter @davidlaud or e-mail david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk

David Laud FCIM, Chartered Marketer

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

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Have You Lost Your MOJO? 10 Tips to Re-Discover Your Confidence

A few years ago a client turned to me after a meeting and said he would hate to have my job.  At the time and as you might expect this took me by surprise not least because the individual making the statement was himself a very successful lawyer and partner in a successful firm and actually the meeting had been very positive.

Losing Your Mojo - Loss of Confidence

Losing your Mojo can affect your confidence and career prospects

 

When asked to qualify why my role might present as a poisoned chalice to him he referred to the constant pressure to deliver results.  One winning strategy or campaign would never be enough and that there was a constant demand for positive outcomes borne out of successfully winning work from the competition.

That might sound a bit odd certainly now we’re in such a competitive climate and expectations for delivery are not only directed at the marketers but each and every facet of the business.

What’s interesting is that this conversation stuck with me over the years.  The reason is that it made me, for the first time, seriously question my own career path and if indeed the suggestion of unrelenting demand for results would make for a happy working life in the long term.

The reality of course is that there are stresses in everyone’s job from CEO, entrepreneur, director manager, homemaker, carer, doctor, parent, journalist you name it there’s pressure to be found.  We can all question ourselves as to our performance, relationships, success and failures and when times have been tough with the economy many of us have been hard on ourselves or had others make unrealistic demands leading to unnecessary stress.

When I have a bad day and let’s face it we all have them, I revisit that conversation and remind myself why I do what I do and why over the years it’s proven to be a good career choice.  That technique helps keep me focussed on the positives and avoids dwelling on negative thoughts that can seriously damage your working life MOJO.  We all need a healthy dose of self-belief and confidence but it can be a greater challenge when events really turn against us and at those times a little external help might be required.

Questioning our own abilities can be caused by our mood and often the actions of others which can frequently be outside of our control.  That doesn’t stop us worrying and spiralling into a feeding frenzy of stress as we think back to the minutiae of our working days or projects in a negative post match analysis that either finds you coming up short or blaming everyone else for their failures.

How do you overcome these thoughts and loss of confidence?

  1. Accept that there is a problem requiring a solution, don’t bury your head or find alternative releases such as alcohol, arguing with loved ones or pointing the finger at others.
  2. Seek out someone you trust and who understands you but is also capable of being clear and logical of thought and non-judgemental.  Avoid engaging with a friend who will simply reflect what they think you want to hear.
  3. Be honest.
  4. If you can’t source someone consider running a self-diagnosis SWOT by looking at your personal strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  Be as honest as you can without being too negative or overly positive and glossing over the issues.   The SWOT can be useful if you have someone to help you too by providing structure to your discussion.
  5. Be prepared to be challenged and to challenge yourself.
  6. List the key milestones in your career/ life that have provided the greatest moments of pride and satisfaction, remember the feeling.
  7. Review the current role and identify where positive changes can be made and what you can specifically influence by way of outcomes.
  8. Review relationships at work and how your behaviour may impact on others both positively and negatively.
  9. What are you passionate about, what excites you? Make a list, no matter how short that list may be we all have something that sparks our positivity and passion, remind yourself of yours.
  10. Looking at the working and home life what makes you happy?  Find an activity that’s affordable and makes you smile and allow yourself regular opportunities to enjoy your favourite pastime.

Wherever you are in your career, just starting out, at a mid-point crossroads or towards the end you deserve to be making the very most of that time you spend on it.  Re-discovering your MOJO, the element which drives you, makes you stand out from the crowd and defines who you are can provide the all-important spark to re-ignite your work life.  It can also help you realise your ambitions and life goals by providing a fresh focus to the time you’re spending at work and your priorities and more effectively counteract those negative forces.

If you’re interested in the issues covered in this blog please feel free to contact David via twitter @davidlaud or e-mail david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk

 

 

Byadmin

Think You’re a Thought Leader? Test that belief with 12 tips to thought leadership

“Thought Leadership” now there’s a two word phrase that has emerged through the social channels in the past couple of years. As with any trendy term the bandwagon soon becomes full and chased by those who think they know the answers but often started after the opportunity well before they’d studied the direction in which they should be travelling.

Thought Leader

Thought Leader

Personally I’m not a fan of such glib phrases mostly because of their all too often over use in the hands of those who think using it will magically propel them into the top echelons of that particular sphere.

Before my cynicism takes hold I would like to make a few positive observations about the concept of thought leadership and how it can be a powerful force for good, in the appropriate hands at the right time and with considered execution.

Let’s start by reflecting on what makes a thought leader. It’s not necessarily a business owner nor entrepreneur but someone who has a depth of knowledge and clearly articulated view on a specific topic. The best thought leaders have a passion for their chosen subject of interest and that enthusiasm carries through in the variety of channels they chose to convey their message.

What it’s not – it’s not a sales platform to funnel in a pitch for a particular product, service or concept that offers immediate financial return for the communicator. That is out and out selling and will be spotted from some distance by your audience of network members.

What it should be – open, honest and thought provoking communication that adds to the knowledge and understanding of your target audience. Of course there will be an unspoken understanding within your network that behind this altruistic sharing of intelligent analysis and opinion lies a commercial objective.

How do you capitalise by giving your best ideas away for free? – No one is suggesting that all of your best thinking needs to be shared openly however it’s a very cluttered and noisy world and the challenge is in how you may find a voice for yourself, colleagues and your business by positioning them as leaders in a particular field. The danger of holding back on a particular subject may leave a door open for a competitor to establish their viewpoint and be perceived as the new “go to” source of information.

Do you need to be an expert in all areas? – Of course you’re setting yourself up for a fall if you’re a self-proclaimed “Guru” and for me that’s the biggest turn off. The phrase is “Empty vessels make the most sound” and unfortunately there are no shortage of those. What can be refreshingly appealing to an audience is an industry commentator who admits that they don’t know it all. That openness and honesty builds trust with a network and an affinity that you won’t see from those who are clearly making it up as they go along.

How can this apply to my business? Whichever area you work in – legal, IT, manufacturing, organic farming, charity, education or public sector there are individuals who will be looking for answers, original thinking and leadership. Social networking platforms enable everyone with an internet connection and a suitable device to link to millions of data sources each day. Creating a space for you or your organisation by positioning it as a lead in the chosen specialist area will add value to the brand and over time ideally lead to an increase in the volume and quality of enquiries.

Is it all about the broadcast? What you say is of course very important but what you do is equally telling. If you receive a re-tweet or a G+ or comment it should always be offered the courtesy of a response. If you see someone else posting very good content, useful links or other material supportive of your sector don’t resist the opportunity to praise the contributor, even if it may be a competitor – it’s about positioning and taking a “big picture” view rather than scrapping things out in the trenches.

What should the message be? True thought leadership is sharp in focus and unique in its perspective. Not borrowed or paraphrased from others. It should follow a consistent line. If customer service in retail is your particular line of interest the messages conveyed need to retain a common theme leaving the audience in no doubt of your view and suggested course of action. That message should deliver insight and information that leaves the reader or viewer feeling that they have gained from the experience. Investing time in absorbing data online is very popular but won’t pay off for you if the content falls short or leaves the reader frustrated.

Who should you be directing your message to? This might sound obvious but it’s surprising how many, who are active on social networking sites, persist with an obsession with the numbers. How many you have in a network will play a minor role in your success especially if the network is largely made up of competitors, friends or random individuals who will add no value to your business. The audience needs to gain real value from the knowledge imparted and for an opportunity to impress and create impact an in depth understanding is essential. A detailed awareness of your network, their jobs, problems, aspirations and interests will help shape the message and provide a tailored communication that has far greater prospect of engagement.

Developing as a thought leader. Sitting back and expecting inspiration to flow will work in the short term, if you’re lucky, but not in the longer term. As with any other industry expert you can’t afford to sit still and ignore the developments that are happening all around you. Actively seek out available information from those who are influential and recognised sources, subscribe to trade press e-mail alerts, twitter accounts, join sector specific associations, work groups on LinkedIn, attend conferences and build a continually growing bank of information. From this source you can articulate your view and place your own organisation at the centre of that conversation.

What makes a good thought leader? Malcolm Gladwell uses the term Maven in his excellent book Tipping Point (recommended reading) and the (i)Wiki definition really puts it very well.
(i) A maven (also mavin) is a trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass knowledge on to others. The word maven comes from Hebrew, via Yiddish and means one who understands, based on an accumulation of knowledge.
Those whom I would site as leading Mavens or thought leaders of note include, technology futurist and social media strategist Guy Kawasaki @GuyKawasaki, Virgin entrepreneur Richard Branson @RichardBranson, and leading business strategists Rosabeth Kanter @RosabethKanter and Stephen Covey.

How do I start? A suggestion would be to think long and hard about the message you wish to convey, how your business wants to be positioned and who within the organisation could be sufficiently qualified to take the role of a thought leader. You may need to face the reality that you don’t have that particular skill but look to recruit for it. As you’ll fully appreciate it’s not a given that everyone can be a thought leader but if you have a passion for your business, access to strong communication skills and a connected network you can begin to build a presence and see where that journey takes you. Above all have a plan and be consistent.

Each industry or sector will have its own leading lights but that doesn’t preclude you from learning from their approach and finding your own voice and space to communicate.

If you would like further help with the development of a “thought leader” strategy in your organisation or have your own particular view we would be delighted to hear from you.

David Laud – Managing Partner i2i Business Solutions LLP
follow me on twitter @davidlaud

Byadmin

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

Black Belts vs Ninjas – The Fight for Innovation

In recent weeks I’ve talked to many business owners, partners, directors and mangers to try and gauge their confidence within their company and chosen sectors.

This has been a fascinating exercise which highlighted a number of interesting issues and quite a few common trends.

Following these discussions I’ve realised there is one area that I must highlight as a priority. There is a natural tendency for organisations to focus on costs, processes and efficiencies in times of recession and economic uncertainty at the risk of overlooking or mismanaging the search for innovation.

I too have evaluated in my business where cost savings can be made and how working smarter may deliver a better return on profits. The danger is that we become locked into a mindset that focuses on the internal mechanisms, processes and practices and don’t allow for the spark of innovation.

There are numerous examples of highly efficient CEO’s parachuted into struggling corporations to trim, tighten and improve the bottom line. When a business leader faces a change in the market, increased competition and potential threat to the customer base it can be comforting to fall back on tried and tested measures.

One such mechanism often used to great effect within process driven businesses is 6 Sigma. Originally developed by Motorola in the mid 80’s this set of clearly defined steps provides quantified financial targets for cost reduction and profit maximisation. I wish to stress that I am not anti Sigma as it has a demonstrable track record of success within many industries. The “Champions” of 6 Sigma or “Black Belts” become highly proficient in their roles constantly looking for the margin of improvement.

My concern, however, is that too many of the businesses I talked to have a 6 Sigma or equivalent focus on their business and bottom line. The long tail of our economic depression has resulted in looking inward for answers to survival rather than the “heads up” free innovative thinking that created the company.

Innovation should be a key part of every business but shouldn’t be confined to the measures and methods of 6 Sigma….some have tried this and it failed. You can measure innovation but as a process it should be allowed its opportunity to operate outside of conventional practices.

Creative thinking should also be within everyone’s job specification, not just the marketing and management staff. As humans we are naturally inquisitive and creative but often forget how to apply those aspects to our working days focussing instead on the tasks that need to be actioned but not allowing time for free thinking and putting forward ideas.

Encouraging innovation within a business is critical to its overall success and long term future, Apple, Starbucks, Red Bull and Dyson all place huge emphasis on the innovative core of their organisations and as a result reap the benefits.

But how do you encourage innovation? The obvious and rather blunt instrument is financial reward. That can work but often can prove divisive if an idea is, as is often the case, borne out of collaboration. Quite often the biggest motivator is recognition by senior management and perhaps a benefit or gift to reflect the effort.

    Top Tips to Introduce Innovation

• Set clear vision and goals
• Communicate to all staff – provide examples of innovative solutions
• Encourage participation – inject enthusiasm and make staff accountable
• Consider appropriate motivational hook
• Introduce a sense of urgency, positive stress
• Continue to communicate
• Measure the financial impact of ideas taken forward
• Celebrate and reward success and the effort even for the failures
• Maintain momentum – avoid complacency
• Enjoy the process

suited man martial arts

Senior managers should actively encourage discussion among employees around innovation and be open to the wild and whacky. Not every idea will grow legs and become the next “big thing” but the process and input of fresh thinking from all corners of the organisation will stimulate a level of creativity and engagement with the firm.

Those discussions should also focus on an overall sense of urgency or as I would prefer to term it the delivery of a level of positive stress. Without the positive stress complacency can set in and momentum quickly lost.

The hardest part of delivering an innovative organisation is in maintaining that sense of urgency and motivation beyond the first and second story of success. The business should constantly be looking for the “what’s next” and have an eye firmly set on the horizon.

What staff need to know from management is the simple outline of the direction of travel, ethos and core goals of the company. They need to know what they can expect for creating a “good” idea. They can then be set free to join the dots, brainstorm, scribble down ideas as innovative ninjas thinking and moving fast solo or in groups to invent the future of your business.

The great bonus of creating a focus on innovation is the fun you can have in developing ideas. Shot selection and picking winners is critical but the process can be and should be an enjoyable one for all staff.

David Laud – Consultant, CEO, Mentor

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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

Evolutionary Law

Charles Darwin

In his day Charles Darwin would have been aware of the existence of solicitors but probably not considered that his theory on evolution and natural selection could be applied to that most staid of professions. 

Darwins’ theory explained evolution as a process that took millions of years. The difference for your typicalUKlawyer is that right now they have a life changing event akin to the impact experienced by the dinosaurs to contend with. 

One would hope that the introduction of the Legal Services Act would not so much wipe out solicitors as we know it but accelerate a long overdue evolution and metamorphosis.  Not to say there won’t be casualties, for some the impact has already been felt.  A number of practices across the country have struggled; failing to manage succession, obtain professional indemnity cover or simply folded because running costs were too high and they didn’t attract enough clients.

Add to the mix the prospect of high profile competition from nationally recognised brands such as the Co-op and BT, the governments drive to strip costs from publically funded areas and eliminate referrals for personal injury and life for your average managing partner just became more than a little interesting.

Quality Solicitors

Those with an eye for an opportunity have quickly seized the initiative with the creation of apparent “safe harbours” for law firms to lay anchor and leave the tricky task of trying to compete to someone else.  Examples include Quality Solicitors.  The recent impressive TV ad launch from Quality Solicitors will have created a significant stir and feeling of warmth amongst its early adopting panel.  Will they feel quite so content in 12 – 18 months when they’re joined by even larger already established brands?  Claims Directs £16m TV budget didn’t deliver for them 10 years ago but it did create a noise.   

“The survival of the fittest” a term first used by polymath Herbert Spencer following his study ofDarwin’s theory is an appropriate phrase to describe the pressure on our legal sector.

Being fit means of course being in shape, physically with the talent within the business including leadership and essentially the strategic direction including the message communicated to customers. 

If you’re running a law firm right now you need to decide if you’re prepared for the future and indeed have the energy and ambition to succeed in an increasingly competitive market.

The future of many firms lies with the next generation of lawyers and managers who need to see that the business has a clear sense of its position and confidence in its approach.

The time is not to make like the dodo or dinosaur but to see the increase in activity by larger brands as an opportunity.  Millions spent on TV advertising is not such a threat as many may think, it’s putting the subject of a range of legal services into the mainstream media.

Of course some may be attracted by the glossy, polished national ad campaigns but in my experience it only serves to increase overall awareness. Well placed, local firms will benefit as long as they’ve evolved and adapted to capitalise in this brave new world.  Be brave, don’t fear the new world, be bright and stand out. 

David Laud

Partner i2i Business Solutions LLP