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.