Global Ambition: 10 Lessons For Entrepreneurs

Ken Morse_Global Ambition

It might sound great to say that you have global plans for your business. But what does global ambition actually mean?

Last Tuesday, 200 members of the local high-growth startup community congregated at the Royal Bank of Scotland’s Gogarburn Conference Centre for the ‘Global Strategies for Ambitious Entrepreneurs’ workshop in order to delve deeper into the nuts and bolts of growing your business to the next level.

Speakers Joe Lassiter of Harvard Business SchoolKen Morse and Joe Tree, CEO of Edinburgh-based photo-sharing website Blipfoto took to the stage during an afternoon designed to spark a healthy discussion amongst those in attendance.

Focusing initially on the early days of disruptive business Airbnb, it was no surprise to find a variety of conflicting opinions around the room in certain areas. It’s impossible to completely remove any knowledge that you have, either of a business that has been shown to be an outlier or the development of the business environment over time, when assessing historic decisions made by the founders.

But whilst the lens may change, most agreed that there are valid lessons for us all from recognising common patterns from companies that will all face similar challenges at an early stage.

On that basis, here’s ten lessons from the workshop that you might find interesting:

  • 1. To be globally ambitious, all you need is ambition.

In a nutshell, for most businesses, your current location doesn’t matter. Clearly, for those home-grown entrepreneurs based in Scotland must both have a passport and be willing to use it. In some industries, consider establishing a second base in a key location. But…

  • 2. Don’t rule out relocating entirely.

When questioned “Why do you rob banks?”, notorious US criminal Willie Sutton (supposedly) replied, “Because that’s where the money is”. Do you truly want to be dominate your sector? If so, you may have to move to where the action is concentrated in your industry in order to access both the necessary funding and, critically, the talent.

  • 3.  The dream of building the next Google must always be balanced by the need to survive the day.

An entrepreneur does what he or she needs to do to keep the show on the road (and the money coming in). Speaking of which…

  • 4. “I don’t make pictures just to make money. I make money to make more pictures” (Walt Disney)

Be passionate about what you’re doing – making money should never be your primary motivator. If you enjoy doing something, there can be little downside. Only once you’ve finished with a business can you answer the question that acts as every entrepreneur’s own personal metric: was the time you spent worth it? Financial rewards can only ever form a small part of that answer.

  • 5. Observe the Rebel Alliance: hope is important.

In Ken’s view, the number one reason that people give up on their businesses is not because they run out of money – it’s because they run out of hope.

  • 6. Always ask for help and always go straight to the best.

In Joe Tree‘s experience, he’s never been turned away yet.

  • 7. Every investor listens to the same radio station: ‘WIFM’ (What’s In It For Me)

Do your research – in depth – before you contact an investor and answer that question clearly. You only have one opportunity to make an impression. Ten hours of reasearch per investor is not unreasonable given how important they are will become to your business.

  • 8. Understand the differences between incubator models.

There is a tension between those who provide tailored mentoring (such as theTechStars model) and more in-your-face trainers (such as Y Combinator). Joe Lassiter spoke of there being an incubator bubble and that it’s now more critical than ever for any aspiring entrepreneur to research the value of the network of a potential incubator before committing your time. After all, time is the only resource, according to Stephen Hawking’s view, that is ever truly irreplaceable.

  • 9. Never bounce ideas around in a vacuum.

Test everything that you develop on your cohort. You can never speak to too many customers (actual or potential) to get feedback on your product or service.

  • 10. Remember the lesson of the pig and the chicken in the kitchen.

Question: in making a ham omelette, what’s the difference between the chicken and the pig? Answer: the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed.

The crucial turning point in Airbnb’s history was when the founders committed to throw everything into making the business a success. Commitment is non-negotiable for entrepreneurship (defined by Prof. Howard Stevenson as “the relentless pursuit of opportunity beyond the constraints of the resources currently controlled”).

So there you have it – ten takeaways that I hope at least give you some food for thought if you couldn’t make it along. I’d like to thank Andrew Mitchell, for expertly arranging yet another valuable event and also for inviting me along. He consistently brings speakers with world-class entrepreneurial knowledge to Scotland and we all get the benefit of his hard work in doing so.

What are your thoughts? Were you at the workshop and found any other points more useful than those I’ve summarised above? Or perhaps you disagree with some of the observations – if so, what’s your experience? As ever, I’d be delighted to hear from you in the comment section below.

Note: This blog post originally appeared on the MBM Commercial LLP Startup Blog. Ignoring the SEO implications, I wanted to post it here also as the session raised a number of lessons that could be useful for entrepreneurs.   

Scottish Startups: A Great 2012 – But A Better 2013?

Hogmanay Firelight

With normal service resumed following the festive break, I wanted to take a couple of minutes to reflect on some of the highlights of 2012 from the startup community in Scotland, and within Edinburgh in particular.

2012 was a busy year with some headline high-profile events taking place – in particular, the official launch of TechCube, the second Turing Festival and the Startup Summit 2012, organised to tie in with Global Entrepreneur Week. Back in July, it was great to see the local startup community turn out en masse for the Edinburgh leg of the European Pub Summit web crawl, as a pre-cursor to the massive Dublin Web Summit, a key event for many who travelled across the water to the conference.

Meanwhile, the EClub continued to run a consistently valuable series of events up at the University of Edinburgh Business School – in my view, essential events for anyone involved in starting businesses here, both for the quality of speakers and, just as importantly, the network of attendees. Particular favourites that stand out for me during the year include the talk by the entrepreneur and conqueror of Everest Justin Packshaw (‘Five ingredients for extreme startup success’) and the informative Funding Ladders conference that was held back in May (‘Funding Ladders: How to Fund Your Business As It Grows’).

Here at MBM, as ever, we’ve continued to run events, including our popular ‘Meet The Entrepreneur Events’, with the first talk being given by PJ Darling, the founder of Spark Energy (the next event is on 23rd January with Sandy McDougall) whilst we also worked with the Business School to arrange what turned out to be a standing-room only debate ‘An Independent Scotland: What Do The Entrepreneurs Think?’. It’s worth mentioning that our Chair for that event, top journalist Bill Jamieson also launched a new website last year to focus on the startup business sector, Scot-Buzz.

On a personal note, I’ve been enthused by regularly meeting even more of the individuals who have taken the decision to make things happen. I really enjoyed being on the judging panel for the annual Innovation Cup Finals 2012 organised by SIE back in June and relaunching the ever-popular Tech Law For Startups towards the end of the year which we tied in with the launch of free Equity Guide for startups in association with Salient Point.

Further (!) afield, Michael Hayes and the Rookie Oven team continued to work hard at promoting entrepreneurial tech startup activity in the West of Scotland, with regular meetups and an active blog. It’s important that we don’t lose sight of events within the wider environment that took place in 2012 that have a direct impact on the startup scene also – the rebranding of the British Business Angels Association to the UK Business Angels Association earlier this year tied in with the important launch of “Be An Angel”, created to attract more business angels into early-stage investment – more than ever, a critical issue in 2012 with thetime-limited Seed EIS benefits available.

So – a pretty busy year! But how do we top it in 2013?

Well, the major event on the horizon in May is Engage Invest Exploit 2013 – remember that applications remain open for companies wanting to exhibit at Scotland’s premier annual investor event. Before then, the monthly iVTuesday events organised by the team at Informatics Ventures continue whilst the burgeoning Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Inovation will make its move into impressive new premises in order to continue to support the growing demand from entrepreneurs who want to build the green sector. In the meantime, we’ll continue to run Tech Law for Startups together with a series of other events aimed at engaging the entrepreneurial community within Scotland and beyond. If you have any ideas for events that you might find useful, just let me know.

One thing’s for certain: 2013 is unlikely to be any quieter than 2012. But there’s no doubt, with the closer connections continually being forged across the startup communities, driven by digital engagement, between the universities, the incubators (such as TechCube and ESpark), Informatics Ventures, the Entrepreneurship Club, the ECCI and the BioQuarter amongst others, there’s plenty of progress on the horizon over the coming twelve months.

How much can be achieved in twelve months? You can either create it or watch it happen – which one do you prefer?

Have a great 2013.

(Photo: Hogmanay Firelight via pjhunter under 2.0 Creative Commons Attribution Licence)

Note: This blog post originally appeared on the MBM Commercial LLP Startup Blog.

Startups Central: TechCube Edinburgh Opens Its Doors

TechCube launch

As 2012 draws to a close, I’m convinced that we’re now witnessing the start of a period of unparalleled development in the startup scene within Edinburgh. And no single event highlights this development more accurately than the events of last Thursday night when pretty much the entire startup community from near and far descended on Summerhall for the launch of TechCube

The event had generated a fair amount of press interest, with publicity building from well before the visit of Alex Salmond last month and culminating in recent articles in the Wall Street JournalThe Next Web and Creative Boom, amongst others. Having been in the building a number of times over the past few months, I’ve also previously written about TechCube on this blog (such as here) and it’s been heartening to see move ahead in leaps and bounds between each visit.

As MD Jamie Coleman stepped on stage to declare “We’ve finally got there!”, there was a palpable sense of optimism and, undoubtedly, relief within a room packed with the great and the good of the local entrepreneurial tech community. The origins of the facility lie in the hard physical labour – literally – of local startup community members who donated weekends over a number of weeks to work together voluntarily in ripping down walls and ceilings in order to create something of lasting value to all. So – mission achieved. And, with that ethos in mind, the formalities of the evening were thankfully kept to a minimum but it’s worth mentioning a couple of points from the talks if you weren’t there.

Nigel Eccles from FanDuel, one of the launch sponsors and a significant new tenant of TechCube, with the company having chosen to use the building as its global HQ by basing its 28 UK staff there, started by giving the audience a potted history of the journey that he, and his co-founders had taken to arrive in TechCube.

His comments on the local startup ecosystem itself were the most telling, as he ran through how he and his five co-founders had spent a significant time around five years ago discussing the type of company that they wanted to work for and the culture that it would have within it. Looking around Edinburgh, it was clear that it didn’t already exist so they decided to create it. Too early for these discussions when your business has a grand total of zero employees? For many perhaps. Yet, the reality was that the founding team went through the complex process of reaching agreement on critical business issues before significant decisions actually arose, leaving them with a clear (albeit just as challenging) path forwards.

Nigel stressed the importance of creating a hugely successful business. Why? Success begets success. Instead of simply bemoaning the lack of available startup capital locally, success is crucial in helping other local companies attract investment and, even more importantly, talent. I particularly liked his definition of success as being framed by whether ex-employees subsequently go on to create successful businesses of their own – effectively a validation of business success by the recycling of talent amongst the local startup community. That’s the approach that is required, in my view, to build an effective and efficient entrepreneurial ecosystem. And, in keeping with this, it was great to hear that Nigel intends to set aside a regular time slot each month to meet with local entrepreneurs to share his experiences.

This is exactly why this event marked such a significant point in the development of the local tech startup system. The level of support and potential for cross-fertilisation between highly talented and motivated groups of people has just been increased exponentially by having a physical location for such serendipitous exchanges to take place and this should never be underestimated. Indeed, as Plan For Cloud – a TechCube business that was unusually acquired within only a few months of existence – was told by its US acquirer RightScale, Edinburgh currently has the feel of Berkeley some 20 years or so ago. “Why not Edinburgh?” indeed.

Finally, Robert McDowell, owner of the entire Summerhall Arts venue (of which TechCube is a part), took to the stage to explain a little more about the vision. Stressing the need to strive continuously for innovative and creative solutions when solving problems, the Summerhall venue as a whole is dedicated to Arts, Research and Education – with Entertainment coming in a distant fourth place in the list of priorities. Everyone is encouraged to think broad and deep in working towards building something really quite special. With Polly Purvis of the ICT trade body,ScotlandIS reminding everyone that the estimated 100,000 people who work in ‘tech’ in Scotland generate around £4 billion-worth of value to the Scottish economy annually, no-one should ever underestimate the power of collective action within a sector.

And so, onto the rest of the evening. After another tour of the building, the event neatly segued into the annual Edinburgh Startups 3rd Annual Christmas party, this year hosted in the old Dissection Rooms, with live bands, a trapeze artist, free beer and a seriously tasty selection of food, washed down by smoothies from the ever-reliable Hula Juice Bar.

In my experience, few events over the past few years have ever come close to bringing the numbers of people out to mingle from within the startup scene from such diverse backgrounds. There was a real surge of optimism at the event amongst everyone that I spoke to and a shared belief that something special is now getting going. The level of goodwill  is significant and there can be no doubt that everyone is desperate for the venture to succeed. By its nature, it will be an inclusive facility, attracting increasing levels of money, talent and support with each success – and who within the local community of entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, advisors, trade bodies and government organisations does not want to support that?

Massive thanks go to all involved in the organisation of the evening. I know for speaking to so many that there was a huge amount of hard graft put in to get to this stage – and it’s still only at the beginning. But the foundations are here. How the story develops, for Edinburgh, Scotland and beyond is now down to all of us.

Were you at the launch party? Or do you agree that TechCube will provide a much-needed level of support and enthusiasm for the local startup scene? I’d love to hear your comments below or let me know via Twitter.

Note: This blog post originally appeared on the MBM Commercial LLP Startup Blog.

Access to Social Media at Work: Who’s Leading?

Social Media Week Glasgow 2012
It’s time for #SMWGla once again…

Access to Social Media At Work: Who’s Leading?

Who is responsible for pushing the adoption of social media within the workplace? Should you be relying on management to push acceptance down throughout an organisation? Or is the reality that only the janitor can have the necessary passion to evangelise a medium, building confidence at the grass roots which ultimately can’t be ignored? Who can you rely on to push for access at work?

Social Media Week is upon us again and after a packed day, I managed to make it across to Glasgow just in time for the start of ‘Who’s Leading? A discussion panel on access to social media in the workplace’.

Or, more accurately, I was late for the 5:30pm start. A combination of my natural sense of direction (which comes both as default and as runner-up only to Apple’s newfound mapping sensibilities) and a circuitous semi-jog to the venue later (never a good idea when your knees are filing for divorce in the middle of the 5×50 challenge) led me to the McCance Building – following which it soon became clear that it was in fact a 6:30pm start. Hmm. Not ideal. But to be fair the organisers did their best to apologise on Twitter to the assembled grumbling tweeters so no damage done.

After bumping into a few well-kent Twitter profiles in the flesh, it was on to the panel discussion.  If you were following the hashtag (#SMWWhoLeads), you’ll have seen a fairly lively debate around some of these issues:

Access

As much as we love it, Twitter is not yet mass market and there is a risk for all of us that use it regularly that we see this as normality. Figures are more impressive for Facebook in terms of adoption but still it is hard to argue – at this stage – that social media is used by all. The continued growth of smart phones will help to drive the adoption of new communication methods but if we are really looking to discuss digital inclusion, we cannot forget about libraries which to this day remain one of the most trusted engagement points between governments and citizens. Or, to use the words of Louise MacDonald (@Louisemac) of Young Scot, “Libraries are ace!”

Technical issues 

There was much debate about existing technical hurdles, particularly those faced by larger public sector organisations. The issue was amply demonstrated by one member of the audience who admitted that her NHS team were all using Internet Explorer 6. The collective release of air by the audience showed a genuine pain shared across the room – justifying a listen back to the recording of the event alone. It’s clear that logistically and financially there are issues for certain organisations.

I feel there’s still a real danger that by focusing too much on technology, people lose sight of the end goal – increasing effective transmission of information to enable us all to do our business more effectively. This isn’t about technology as much as it is about culture change and willingness to learn. Easy for me to say? Perhaps.

Top-down or bottom-up?

Ah – the old battle of control versus permission. So, where should adoption of social media come from? A healthy debate ensued around this subject, with some clearly advocating the top-down approach for strategic purposes. I have to say that I remain of the view that the reality is that adoption (however unofficial) tends to be driven from a more junior level – the Chris Brogan ‘pirate ship’ model.

Now, I’m not ignoring the fact that permission will be necessary at some stage and that traditional leadership must buy into the process in the future. But I do think that in the vast majority of organisations, waiting for permission is the simplest way to fall behind the curve (hat-tip to Seth Godin’s ‘Poke The Box’).

My – strong – personal view is that you should pursue adoption of social media, with or without management buy-in provided  you can be clear that it is of demonstrable benefit to the organisation that you work for. Years ago the use of telephones was restricted in a business environment. Then it was the internet. Let’s not try to pretend that communication must in some way always be sanctioned by management if it’s beneficial (according to traditional business – and not social media – metrics). Change is happening and the role of organisations is not to waste time and energy trying to put the genie back in the bottle. Their role is to ensure that the necessary risk management procedures are in place to facilitate this.

Cultural change

There is a permanent tension between control and permission. Gordon Scobbie’s (@DCCTayside) popular comment about “You can give a policeman a truncheon but not a twitter account” highlights the sort of issues involved. But we also have to bear in mind how instant communications directly affect existing  communications teams within organisations. We are now moving to a position where they are having to learn that they must be happy to release something publicly which may not be 100%, on the understanding that they expect to receive comments so that the release can be improved. That’s a big change for many.

The Wider Picture = Big Data

There’s clearly a significant tension around the issue of big data and ‘fracking’. Peter Cruickshank (@spartakan) is involved in some fascinating academic work regarding the collision of each individual’s online personas in the digital age.  The topic is huge and could only be touched on in passing – if you’re interested, check out the article by William Wickey in the big data guide on ‘Information Fracking in the Age of ‘Data Grande’ that I stumbled upon after the event. Serious issues need to be resolved here in the near future which will determine how assumptions can be made by organisations who have increasing levels of access to our colliding personal worlds are in association with the growth of the semantic web.

So is this a good thing? At one extreme, you have companies who are using your data unfair (such as Andrew Burnett’s example of the malevolent usage of personal data by a travel site that charged different prices to website visitors according to whether they accessed via a PC or a Mac). At the other end of the spectrum, you have the potential offered by intelligent devices to make daily life easier – such as a message sent directly to your phone to notify you that your  kettle is about to break when you’re passing a kettle shop, for example.

Leadership? 

Like it or not, when we look at traditional leadership, there is a need for reverse mentoring in this area. It’s up to all generations to understand that digital licks are required in modern business. If management don’t have them, it’s key that they seek out the people that do. In general terms, there’s an opportunity for younger generations to bring something of real value to organisations that they might otherwise not get the opportunity to become involved with.

A great start to the week and a really solid panel discussion. Great to see every member of the panel involved in following the live Twitter stream during the session and really bringing something of value to the discussion. I have to admit I was very impressed with the Chair, Gordon Scobbie who exhibited an understanding of modern technologies far beyond that which I (no doubt unfairly) had expected to see from a representative of an organisation such as the police force which must have significant hurdles as a result of its size, politics and ownership of particularly sensitive personal data.

There are a few really significant issues here, not least of which is Big Data, that justify a conference of their own. But as an opportunity to get people into one room from a mix of private and public sector organisations, to discuss the opportunities and challenges for widespread social media adoption in the workplace, it was very successful.

Oh, and my answer to the question of who’s leading?

Surely the answer has to be – the one who’s paying your bills.

 

How Can Hotels Justify Charging For WiFi?

I’m not the type to rant and rave. I tend to look for the positives in most situations and I’m happy to give people the benefit of doubt. But if there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to get me going, it’s blatant profiteering by a business which is totally unnecessary. So how can hotels justify charging for WiFi?

It’s more important than ever in the current environment for a business to not only provide an excellent service but also to respond quickly and effectively to any dissatisfaction expressed by the people who ultimately pay the bills.

I was down in the South of England last week at a family wedding. Not great timing, coming in the middle of various projects and clashing with the excellent Turing Festival in my hometown. But with a family that’s spread far and wide across the UK and Europe, it was a great opportunity to meet up, despite having some work to juggle during the trip. Of course, given other commitments, the only time that I’d have available for work was likely to be at anti-social hours. But of course the wonder of the modern working life is that time and location are for many projects pretty much irrelevant – provided you have internet access.

But, upon checking in to the Holiday Inn in Winchester, it soon became clear that the hotel didn’t share my view on access to the internet. The policy of that particular Holiday Inn is that it gives each customer 30 minutes free wifi access.

End of.

After that, you are expected to pay £3.99 for 2 hours or £9.99 for 24 hours.  Note: that’s 30 minutes from the first time you check in to your email account. Nice for the irregular Facebook visitor or the once-a-day email checker perhaps. But insane for anyone who has any aspiration of carrying out any form of work which requires internet access.

This sort of attitude from businesses – particularly those that supposedly occupy the ‘luxury’ end of the market (we’re not talking a backpackers’ hostel here) – stinks. I don’t believe that a coffee shop has an argument for restricting wifi access (which represents zero marginal cost per additional user), let alone a hotel at the so-called  premium end of the market where someone has committed to spend a not-insubstantial amount of money to spend at the very least a third of the day. I’m sorry but after looking into the issue a little further, the cost per room when you have 141 bedrooms is negligible.

But of course, in today’s business environment, it’s the responsibility of customers to comment. So I ended up tweeting:

To give them their due, the response from kc at IHG Group was

Great, I thought. A quick response and a real opportunity to show that they were willing to take concerns onboard. Intercontinental Hotels Group are the franchise owner by the way, with the various Holiday Inn hotels being run individually.  Impressed with their responsiveness, I replied:

To which they replied….

Er, no. Actually, they didn’t even reply. Not a peep from ‘kc’ nor any other person behind the @IHGcare twitter account

Silence.

I followed up with the hotel staff directly in person (again). They finally gave me two hour’s free access and suggested that I simply access wifi within the business suite overnight – not a great deal of help when you’d have to leave kids sleeping in your hotel room.

So, to recap:

  • Zero marks for the hotel for trying to charge customers for something that should be delivered free of charge for all customers.
  • Decent marks awarded for responding quickly when they were obviously monitoring the social networks.
  • But a resounding zero for failing to follow up with an clearly-annoyed customer and for failing to offer a successful resolution to a genuine complaint, despite the fact that it represented zero marginal cost to the business.

It’s time for businesses to realise that for some customers (admittedly not all, but then why piss off any of your customers if you can help it – particularly a group that continues to grow?) these kind of issues are significant. I certainly won’t be booking with them again until the policy is changed.

I should be clear – the staff I dealt with in person were polite and responsive and, to their credit, stated that my complaint was one of many that they had received about their policy. Unfortunately, the failure to follow up on social media left me with arguably a worse impression than if they had failed to respond in the first place.

I’m glad I’m not in kc’s shoes. But the problem goes far deeper I suspect. Unfortunately, Holiday Inn remain in the category of companies who – in my view, for what it’s worth – just don’t get it.

Over to you, competition. If you’re currently losing market share to a hotel that refuses to provide 24-hour wifi access, let me know. You’ve just got a potential new customer.

 

The Network Effect: Why Contacts Matter in Business and Life

Just a quick post today to say that I’ve got another post up on the MBM Commercial Startup Blog this week, reporting back from a recent Entrepreneurship Club event where noted Silicon Valley entrepreneur and VC Heidi Roizen gave a talk on how to build up a great network for business and life in general.

Heidi had some great tips for how to conduct yourself in both – I’m pretty certain that there will be something of interest for most people in her list. It’s worth considering the sort of impact the network effect can have on your life moving forwards.

Dug

 

The Six Keys to Social Media Success for Law Firms

I’ve recently had an article published on the LawNet blog titled ‘The Six Keys to Social Media Success for Law Firms‘.

The angle is that most law firms simply lack the understanding, and subsequent commitment, to record the necessary figures which can truly inform any assessment of the ROI of investing time in social media.

Have a read and please do give me any comments that you might have – if you agree, disagree or simply find it boring!

(photo credit: Krissy.Venosdale via photopin cc)

Why Senior Lawyers Should Be Learning From Their Trainees

photo credit: Bindaas Madhavi via photopin cc

 

The law has a problem. Yet unlike computing science, it’s not one caused by a lack of talent coming through the system. The universities continue to churn out plenty of talented law graduates every year. So many, in fact, that large numbers are finding only closed doors in their search for a training contract.

The right to keep running 

Successfully securing a traineeship simply gives you the right to move to the next stage of learning. In most cases, the real education starts at this stage. Yet whilst most successful lawyers can pass on substantial experience about the practice of law, very few are able to help when it comes to teaching how to generate business in a digital medium.

Established marketing teams in firms continue to broadcast rather than engage and most successful lawyers see little benefit in adding social media to the ever-growing to-do list. For a profession which relies on the intellect of its workforce to generate revenue, I’m surprised that more firms still haven’t taken the time to educate its key assets about how to use social media in a more structured way.

Aspiring lawyers are, by default, digital natives whilst the incumbents are – with limited exceptions – uncomfortable about marketing on a digital platform.

I don’t have the time!

If a client or prospect popped into the office unannounced for a quick chat, would you sink low behind your PC and refuse to take five minutes out of your day to say hello? If your answer is yes, you’re pretty much hanging the ‘Closed’ sign on the front door of the office. So why is this the default position adopted by most when it comes to social media? I don’t believe that any firms actually want to turn viable work away but that’s the effect in practice.

Some of the blame can be placed on the legal industry’s traditional reliance on charging by the hour. As with all marketing, pinning down an accurate financial return on your efforts is difficult. But be under no illusions – it is possible. Approach it in a methodical way and the efficiencies will begin to build. Sure, the web represents a wonderful, frustrating mess of information. A glut of data. But this is increasingly being catalogued for easy access by anyone with a specific interest, however niche.

The legal industry is at a critical point. Traditional firms are under pressure from the lowering of barriers to entry, with fixed fees and commoditisation being increasingly demanded by customers. Yet opportunity lies in the midst of all this chaos. All of which is great news for a profession whose customers value knowledge and expertise. This will never change. And where better to enhance that reputation than online where the benefits are scalable like never before?

Gripping the first rung

Whisper it quietly but these are changing days for lawyers. Most will not stay with the same firm for the entire journey from traineeship to partnership (assuming that remains the end goal – a whole topic in itself). Is there a risk that displaying your interest in extreme ironing or Afrobeat in a public forum could prevent a potential client from instructing you? Perhaps. But on the assumption that your work is of the same standard, it’s more likely that your prospect has gone somewhere elsewhere simply because he’s found a lawyer who shares his love of Mongolian nosepiping orchestras…

People do business with people they like.

My advice: start by setting up your listening outposts online. The quantity of business intelligence that is freely  available on the social web is unparalleled. Don’t just sit there wondering what potential customers are looking for. Have a look. What are the competition saying? And what are their clients asking for? Buy signals are being transmitted publicly all day long. Can you really afford to ignore them?

So, jump in. Blog, tweet, plus 1, pin it. But above all – engage. Don’t sit there thinking that the profession will continue as it always has, somehow magically immune to the changes throughout the rest of society. It’s happened already.

It reminds me of the old joke about two tourists out on the Serengeti Plains who stumble across a lion. The animal looks hungrily in their direction. “Now what?” hisses the first to his friend. Hearing no response, he glances over. He watches bemused as his friend pulls off his hiking boots and slowly, without taking his eyes off the lion, starts to put on a pair of trainers. “You’re mad!”, he says. “You’ll never outrun a lion out here!”

“I don’t need to,” says his friend. “I just need to outrun you”.

Competition’s hotting up. It might be too late to be first but remember – being genuinely helpful scales massively in an increasingly-online world.

Don’t be scared to jump in. Be scared to stay on the edge.

As ever, if you have any comments, please dive in and let me know below.

When Networking Events Can Be Bad For Business

When faced with an empty desk, a lawyer used to have two options. Rely on those higher than you in the foodchain to pass the morsels down or spend an increasing amount of your spare time on the circuit of breakfast, lunchtime and evening events in the hope of meeting a valuable connection.

Now, I’m not denying that time spent in one-to-one conversation is useful. Indeed, unless you have a reputation as a top specialist whose most pressing concern is how to catch the work that’s falling off the end of your desk each day, it remains  essential.

However, as I’ve watched the rise of social networking allied to the growth of remote working over recent years, it’s become clear that many traditional networking events are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Not pointless – just in many cases grossly inefficient ways of marketing your firm.

Let’s say the average networking event takes two and a half hours (including travelling time). In some cases, it will take substantially longer. That’s a fairly hefty chunk of your working day. Now, let’s ignore the likelihood that going to the same events regularly will tend to unearth the same old faces. How many new prospects are you likely to meet at an event? Depending on the quality of the event and your personality, I suspect that you’ll be looking at under double figures on many occasions.

What if you missed that event and instead spent the same time focused on online marketing, split into 30 minute segments each day throughout the week. Instead of putting all your eggs in one basket by committing to being in one physical location,  you instead focus on engaging with others online, writing a blog and listening to digital signals about what is happening within your chosen market.

Once something is posted on the internet, it will be indexed, searched for and referred to for all time coming. It’s there forever. Critics often view this from a negative perspective. But it’s time to invert that viewpoint. Its very permanency is the social web’s greatest asset.

Consider  the networking event. Out of 75 people in the room, let’s say you meet 20 on the day. Once you’ve left that venue, your involvement with that event is substantially over (barring any follow-up meetings). Now compare that to a reputation built online. Provided your input is of value to others, that effort is recorded and will be recycled time and again.  One month, six months, a year later – it doesn’t matter. The time that you have already invested will continue to work on your behalf as a lead generation tool well into the future.

When I meet resistance in legal circles about digital matters, people have usually failed to comprehend three key facts-

  • You don’t need to be present for your online involvement to continue to bear fruit.
  • Because your posts are public, your potential audience is not restricted to those that you originally engaged with.
  • The number of potential customers who search for professional services online continues to grow each year.

Traditional networking is based on the old salesman’s argument – the more doors I knock on, the more conversions I’ll achieve. Fine. But the difference nowadays is that fewer people are content to simply sit back and wait patiently to be sold to. The days of interruption-based marketing are over. They’re now actively seeking recommendations and, like it or not, this takes the form of social proof online. No longer can you build a business model which relies on potential customers being unaware of the available choices.

The main thing that the internet has delivered is choice. The long tail has created markets for specialist, niche interests across society which could never have existed previously.  It’s not that meeting face-to-face doesn’t work. It does. But as the world gets smaller by the day, the opportunities increase to build your efforts intelligently around the network effect of a hyper-connected business landscape.

Laozi once famously said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. If you haven’t yet started to think about how to engage online, it’s time for to make your first move now before it’s too late.

What do you think? I would love to hear from those who sit on the other side of the fence and continue to see social media as little more than a distraction within the context of a professional services firm. What do you need to know to help you to get comfortable? Leave a comment below.

(photo credit: boegh via photopin cc)

Is Social Media Relevant for Lawyers and Accountants?

The View From The Boardroom

Professional services firms are floundering in a rising tide of instant communication. In my experience, few have truly embraced the value of how social media can be used intelligently within a business setting. Working with startups over the years,  I’ve always held a healthy respect for nimble upstarts who run rings effortlessly around their established competitors. The change in legislation and ease with which information is being exchanged means we’re now well into this phase, in particular within the legal sector.

Increasing numbers of individuals are using social channels for business, after becoming comfortable with using them for personal reasons. Yet the total number of active users remains in the minority. Simply having an awareness of the key networks is not enough. For a sector that prides itself on effective, efficient communication, this failure to engage is confusing.

Boards of established businesses continue to debate the relevancy of ‘social’ in a business setting where the topic is even given discussion time. New does not always equal better – and nor should it. But the real risk here is that a business defaults to rejecting change simply from a lack of knowledge about what can be achieved.

If you still haven’t done so, the time is here to commit to investigating how the intelligent use of social media can benefit your business.

No-one can argue that the legal profession is currently in a state of flux, where truck companies source barristers and with the introduction of ABS in England and Wales and Scotland. In a time when competition is heating up like never before, surely it’s more important than ever to actively seek improvements in your business model?

Tradition remains a weak excuse for inefficiency. Like it or not, the world has changed. Look at how essential emails and Google have now become in legal practice. For those advisors who worry about being ‘too open’, I have only one message – you may disagree with Zuckerberg that the default is public but it’s time to face the facts. Everything that you do online is traced and that this data is increasingly being commercialised. Your knowledge of this fact is increasingly irrelevant – it’s happening. Engagement online represents the single most powerful opportunity open to you to set the tone for the discussion about your professional life and, by extension, that of your business.

There is, of course, an element of fear here. A misunderstanding of the difference between ‘facebooking’ for personal reasons with friends and using focused social media for business purposes. A concern that a hard-won reputation built up over the years could be damaged in some way by an ill-conceived tweet. After all, professional services firms has traditionally failed to reward risk and instead valued solidity. Steady, reasoned consideration – that’s always been the backbone of the advisor’s role – so I accept that any element of change must bring with it, necessarily, a risk that the status quo may be damaged.

But, here’s the rub. That status quo is a fabrication in the minds of the majority of the profession. The evidence shows that your potential customers are increasingly seeking a higher degree of engagement from those they do business with. If you don’t believe me, check out Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ or the many other virtual locations where your target customers live online. The conversation is taking place about either your brand or at the very least (if you still have no significant digital presence) your niche.

Social media might still appear confusing to some. Yet it is nothing more than communication. Granted, it may be communication at velocity and on a grander scale and unlike anything ever seen before in history. But it remains, in essence, word-of-mouth. For a profession that is built on recommendation and reputation,  there’s no modern wizardry at play here to be afraid of.

Sometimes when the tide’s rising, you just have to jump in.