“Clients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
The world has changed and will never be the same. The COVID-19 pandemic is a uniquely shared global experience that tests our mettle in unexpected ways. There is no playbook, no instruction manual, no treatise to guide us through these uncharted waters. Under these circumstances, focusing on “business development” can sometimes feel hollow or self-serving, but ultimately, the role of outside counsel is one of service and excellence. Clients continue to require solutions and support to achieve their goals. We are here to take on our clients’ challenges and look for ways to lighten their load and help them sleep better at night. In reflecting on previous times of business crisis (such as the Great Recession), clients have told us repeatedly that they remember who was there for them.
Business development in a time of pandemic is still largely about the fundamentals, but there are new opportunities and tactics that are uniquely in play right now. Outlined below are seven tips and reminders for how to strengthen your connections, and stand out, while also ensuring that we get through his together.
- This is still a relationship business. In a crisis, sometimes the natural instinct is to not want to “bother” people. But ours is a relationships business and—now more than ever—clients need to hear from you as a trusted adviser and, just as importantly, as a friend. Ask your clients how they are experiencing these unique times and what you can do to support them. A kind voice and listening ear means a lot right now. Difficult times make or break a relationship, so it is critically important to show up for your clients, both professionally and personally. We remember those who were there for us during times of crisis.
- Authenticity matters. This is not “business as usual,” so don’t try to convince yourself that it is. In fact, lean into and embrace the awkward, uncomfortable and unsettling reality of these times, because that is what everyone else is feeling, too. Be bold enough to reach out to your clients and admit that this is hard, and then offer to do whatever you can to help. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and honest, to share yourself, because by doing so, you give your clients permission to do the same, while simultaneously opening the door to a deeper and more supportive relationship. By leaning into this shared life experience, you build trust and strengthen the foundation of your relationship so that when legal challenges arise, you are turned to as a confidant, friend and adviser as opposed to just a provider of legal services.
- Take care of yourself. We’ve often heard phrases like “taking care of yourself doesn’t mean me first, it means me too.” Well … it is true and extraordinarily important! Our mental health is being tested during these times, particularly when there is little to no separation between work life and home life. Do not brush off feelings of depression or anxiety as trivial, but seek out support where you need it. And remember, you’re not alone in this! Try to find ways to blend activities that benefit your physical and mental well-being—movement, sunshine and fresh air—with the requisite activities of work. Try putting a business development slant into your self-care by inviting your clients to join you in looking after themselves and holding each other accountable. Try scheduling a “walking meeting” or challenge someone to a daily workout competition.
- Previous rules of engagement are out the window. Can you think of an old classmate or colleague with whom you’ve lost touch who is now in a decision-making position in-house? You’ve wanted to reach out for a while, but it always felt trite or transparently self-serving. Well, this shared experience gives you an opportunity to authentically check in and reconnect. It’s not about seeking new business, it’s about recognizing the importance of hearing from friends and contacts, new and old. Reach out to see how they’re getting by, how their family is doing, and to acknowledge that, although time has passed, you still care enough to make the effort. The connections you reestablish today may provide opportunities for business development in the months ahead. Or they may not, but at least you were able to reconnect and rebuild a relationship.
- Get creative. Find ways to break through the noise that is bombarding your clients every day by being more creative in building connections and supporting your clients. Emails, phone calls and virtual meetings are routine. Consider sharing your quarantine music playlist, sending your client lunch or inviting their family to join the online music class your kids attend. There are endless online resources, from teaching videos to Ted Talks, so share those you find valuable, because when time somehow feels even more finite, not having to search for content can make all the difference. Consider facilitating a virtual reunion with a group of former classmates, teammates or coworkers. And when was the last time you sent a handwritten card? All of these opportunities provide ways to show support and strengthen connections. Also, consider this an opening to introduce new areas of service to your existing clients. Certain practices—such as restructuring, insurance and workplace safety—are more in-demand than ever, so make sure you are offering support in those mission-critical areas.
- Keep your sense of humor. While the situation around us is no laughing matter, the ability to laugh is an important way to find relief and share community. Laughter binds people together, and it can be a profound coping mechanism. It can lift our spirits and lower our stress levels. Wield this shield of defense, and share it with others (use discretion when sharing jokes and memes, as what may be funny to you may not land the same with everyone else). We could all use a reason to smile and to laugh.
- Count your blessings and give kindness. Like laughter, counting your blessings can feel a bit more challenging. However, by regularly identifying the things for which you are grateful, you will train yourself to recognize more positivity in the world around you. Gratitude also has the ability to unlock creativity, strengthen connectivity to others, and actually help us become more productive. Remember to frequently thank your client for placing their trust in you and providing you with work that keeps you busy during these times of contraction. Furthermore, in all times, but especially now, never underestimate the power of an act of kindness. Taking a moment to recognize the contributions of others has a ripple effect—on your colleagues (lawyers and professional staff), on your family, on those still working on the front lines of the pandemic. You have the power to inspire others while uplifting your own spirits. Many of us feel pulled in so many directions, with competing needs at home and obligations at work. Under these unique circumstances, patience with oneself, words of kindness, gratitude and praise are extraordinarily powerful tools to help us get through this together.
In many ways, these practices should always apply to business development, regardless of whether a crisis rages in the background. So, if a side effect of the rapidly unfolding tragedy all around us is a deeper awareness of our own needs and those of our clients and a willingness to address those needs, at least we have something small for which to be grateful.