May 17, 2012

Business Development For Young Professionals

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Getting young professionals to blend online and offline marketing strategies will grow the receivables for your firm.

Young attorneys and accountants have traditionally been a firm’s worker bees. Senior partners throw tons of work at them, and they’re expected to crank out the billable hours. And if they do that long enough, one day they may become partners—some of whom bring in new business, while others just continue on the “worker bee” route.

“It’s all changing,” a managing partner at a Los Angeles firm recently declared over lunch. “Finding new clients isn’t something just for senior partners anymore. The economy has taught us that we have to market the firm, and everyone has to do their part.”

When asked about new hires and associates, he responded, “If they ever want to make partner at our firm, they need to learn how to bring in clients. The day will soon be here when you won’t make partner at a firm without a developed book of business.”

Two Reasons It’s More Important

The economy downslide of 2008 triggered a series of actions that caught law firms and accounting firms off guard. Business slowed, clients were slow to send in their payments, and the phone wasn’t ringing like it had before.

Law firms felt the effects almost instantly, and 2009 was a down year for many firms. Divorce became “too expensive” for some law firm clients. Litigation gave way to settlements and mediation, which reduced billable hours and workloads. Bankruptcy attorneys did well, but real estate transactions dried up, which affected a lot of Southern Cali­fornia law firms.

Accounting firms felt the effects a little later. Many accountants had a profitable year in 2009, when clients locked-in losses and needed to account for them. The following year, 2010, was the year that many accounting firms felt the slowdown.

The second trigger is marketing itself. Until Bates v. Arizona State Bar (1977), it was considered unethical to advertise legal services. And while attorney advertising seems to be everywhere, there are many firms that have personnel who still reject the notion, feeling it belittles the firm.

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In the early 2000s, attorney marketing began to increase. This, in large part, has occurred in the more “retail” oriented areas of practice, such as personal injury, class action litigation and family law. But in the past five years, more traditional areas of law have adopted the practice. Law firms focused on business and transactions have joined the ranks, and today marketing and business development is on the rise in most areas of practice.

It’s interesting to note that this rise has also paralleled the shift of marketing dollars from traditional advertising to Internet and alternative forms of marketing. Firms that traditional advertised in “yellow pages” phone directory ads have diverted their budgets to more website, Internet and search engine advertising.

The pressure of a slowing economy and the rise of marketing is forcing senior partners to work harder to bring in business, and that’s given rise to asking even more of younger attorneys and accountants.

What’s In It For Young Professionals?

Other than maintaining a Facebook presence, a lot of young professionals don’t like the notion of marketing. At a recent training session, a young accountant asked, “What’s in it for me? Why should I bring in business if I’m not a partner?” There is not one reason—there are three.

First, learning to bring in business increases your value to the firm. Cranking out the client work is important, but learning client service, client development and new business techniques makes you a more rounded professional. Learning what attracts clients to a firm will help you become better at taking care of the clients you already have. This is particularly important when you consider that it takes far less time and money to keep an existing client happy than it does to go out and find a new one.

Second, business development increases our chances of upward mobility in your firm. Once senior members of your firm see you not only handling your current clients, but bringing in new ones, you will be marked as a long term asset to the firm. They will want to keep you. And to keep you, sooner or later they will invite you to the partners’ table.

The third reason young professionals should learn business development is to prepare for a career future that may include breaking out on their own. A legal recruiter recently mentioned that she is seeing an increase of younger attorneys leaving firms, sometimes solo and sometimes with a few others, and opening their own shops. Generation Y (also known as millennials) are on a fast track to life. They live faster and communicate faster. They want to achieve, but they are also concerned with the environment, family and quality of life. This leads to some Gen Y professionals to feel less inclined to stay in the trenches at big firms for long periods of time.

Three Key Strategies For Young Professionals

If you’re a senior partner, you don’t need to worry about teaching young associates how to network online. Gen Y created social media, and they own it. You may help them focus their efforts, but they’ve got the technology down.

Possibly the most important strategy you can teach a young professional is offline social networking. While conducting a recent training session for young professionals at a firm, the managing partner made it extremely clear to, “Get your butts out of the office and go see our clients—in person!”

Millennials have grown up with emails, instant messages and texting. While this works well with their network of friends, it does not work so well with clients. A client recently complained that one of his best young accountants had a bad habit of expecting clients to email him back quickly, and if they didn’t, the accountant just emailed again. It never dawned on him to pick up the phone and make a call, or better yet, go see the client face to face.

Part of offline social networking means getting face time with clients, pressing the flesh, and learning to have a chat over a cup of coffee. While these things are less comfortable for young professionals, this is the way most clients want to network. Study after study shows that people who hire attorneys and accountants not only want a referral, they also want to meet and get to know their trusted advisor before beginning the engagement.

Senior professionals tend to market themselves. Even if they work at a large, well-known firm, they market themselves because they know one true thing: if the client comes in, they will enjoy the largest share of the profits.

Younger professionals have less experience, so it’s harder for them to be perceived as experts and therefore justifying higher rates. This makes business development harder for many young professionals.

One strategy for clients with younger associates is to get them to market themselves as part of a larger team. Associates can ride the coattails of senior partners, leveraging the team’s experience and expertise. By doing this, potential clients can feel much safer engaging a firm because they know there is a depth of experience. They also feel more confident that there are several people working on their account. This also helps justify different billable rates, as most clients will understand that the rate of an associate three years out of school is different than a senior partner with 25 years in the field.

Young professionals can succeed using this technique by learning as much as they can about the senior partners on their team. They should know what schools they went to, what articles they have written, the latest case results they have achieved.

A third strategy for associates is to begin developing an expertise very early in their careers. This works very well when a young associate can focus on one specific area of a practice, and learn anything and everything about it. For example, an accountant who, in addition to his general tax practice, studies the tax strategies of Internet start-ups. In this case, since many Internet startups are engineered by young entrepreneurs, they are generally much more open to having a young accountant who can speak their own language.

Final Thoughts

The days of associates working in the background and not generating business are a thing of the past. Young professionals will increasingly need to generate income for the firm beyond their billable hours.

Senior management needs to know that young professionals will be most effective when they combine their own knowledge and skills with tried and true practices of the past. By learning what motivates them, giving them the tools to succeed, and compensating them for success, you can turn your younger staff into a business generating team. •

What Makes A Potential Client Choose You?

A recent study by Hinge Marketing asked companies that hire professional service firms what makes them choose one over others. The results reveal several very specific things that professional services firms should take to heart and integrate into their business development practices.


Personalize Your Understanding of the Client

Unprepared cold calls don’t work, and they were cited as the number one pet peeve of clients. Rather, potential clients said that they want potential professional service providers to display knowledge and/or expertise of the client company and industry.


Pitch Your Skills and Your Team

Potential clients want to know what you bring to their party, and they want to know who you are bringing. Your firm’s size, your price and personal relationships are less important. Research also shows that the best way to do this is not by email, and not by phone, but rather in person, and if you really want the business, bring your team to their place of business sometime during the search process.


What Do Potential Clients Really Want?

Research shows that someone who might potentially hire you wants you to answer three fundamental questions:

A. Can you fix our problem?
B. Will you make our life easier?
C. Do we like you, and will we have a good relationship?

Work to address those questions, even if they are not specifically asked in a meeting with a potential client.—B.H.


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About the Author

Brian Hemsworth
Brian Hemsworth is the president of Newman Grace Inc., a Los Angeles-based marketing and brand consulting firm. He is also a member of the adjunct faculty of Pepperdine University, and has published more than 100 articles on business, marketing, technology, travel and fitness. Visit Newman Grace Inc. or to learn more about Brian and his professional services. Read more about Brian Hemsworth...



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