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January 01, 2021 The TECHSHOW Issue

Business Development at a Distance

How to create and support meaningful business relationships without an in-person office visit.

Gyi Tsakalakis
Now more than ever, it is essential to be particularly mindful that messages of empathy and gratitude permeate your communications.

Now more than ever, it is essential to be particularly mindful that messages of empathy and gratitude permeate your communications.

via Goodboy Picture Company / iStock / Getty Images Plus

These uncertain times present unique challenges and opportunities. While there are very few of us who can say, “it’s been business as usual,” in many respects, the pandemic has merely accelerated the pace of digital transformation. This is particularly true in the context of client development.

Empathy and Gratitude 

Hopefully, we can agree that expressions of empathy and gratitude are not novel concepts in the context of both serving clients and earning new clients. However, now more than ever, it is essential to be particularly mindful that these messages permeate your communications.

At the risk of stating the obvious, people are dealing with historic health and economic issues. Even those of us who have been fortunate to avoid illness thus far have undoubtedly faced circumstances that have added new concerns and anxiety. Failing to acknowledge these facts can become a serious liability to your client development efforts. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Are you clearly communicating your firm’s gratitude to serve clients during COVID-19?
  • Are you providing clear guidance on how your firm can accommodate clients remotely (e.g., statuses, meetings, documents, payments, etc.)?
  • Are you actively listening to your clients and potential clients about what’s keeping them up at night?

Keep Them Updated

No matter the type of practice, there are likely people out there who want to hear from you. If you haven’t done so already, consider using a sign-up form so people can subscribe to get regular email updates from you. No, not your firm’s newsletter. Instead, think personalized updates directly from you. This helps you keep people in the loop about any changes to your practice or availability, and let’s them know how you can help them during this difficult time.

People are still adjusting to constantly changing daily routines. For some, that might mean working from home; for others, that might also mean taking care of kids. If you have helpful resources, information or expertise, now is the time to offer them up. It might be something as simple as a resources page on your site to help keep kids entertained.

You should also consider providing COVID-19 updates on your website and Google My Business. In fact, Google My Business has added a dedicated COVID-19 update feature that allows you to add posts letting folks know if there are any COVID-based changes to your business.

Don’t assume people know what the conditions are on the ground at your firm. Provide regular updates about what’s going on and your availability to assist them.

If you haven’t done so yet, now is the time to adjust your messaging and put empathy and gratitude at the forefront of all your client service and development communications. Reach out regularly to people in your professional network to see how they’re doing.

Meeting Them Where They Are, With What They Need

Since many of us are likely to remain physically distant for the foreseeable future, it’s essential that we meet our audience of potential clients where they are. This probably means adjusting your strategic marketing plan to reallocate time and money from in-person to remote activities. Regardless of who your target audience is, chances are that they are spending more time online. The question is no longer whether they are online, but where.

Think about ways you can offer something pragmatic and resourceful. Consider the real impact on your audience. Don’t try to force your firm into conversations where it doesn’t belong. Design feedback loops (online surveys) to find out what people actually need and what you can do to help.

Online Communities

Being present in online communities is one of the most impactful ways you can stay connected while physically distant. For example, ABA Connect, which is a place to network, exchange ideas, get advice and interact with fellow lawyers and legal professionals who share similar areas of interest in addition to exclusive member access to the ABA Member Directory.

ABA Connect communities organize around both practice areas and interest-based topics.

Facebook and LinkedIn groups are another place that lawyers are congregating online. Three particularly active legal communities are Legal Resource Network (LRN) of New York/New Jersey and beyond, Maximum Lawyer and Lawyer Forward. Lawyers here are regularly transferring practice knowledge, socializing and even referring business.

In addition to the LinkedIn group, LRN also hosts a regular Zoom networking meeting in which lawyers and other professionals “speed network” in smaller breakout sessions allowing participants to meet many new people in a very short time.

One of the advantages of online communities is your ability to interact with them asynchronously, on your own schedule. Even small investments of time, at your own convenience, go a long way to staying connected to people who can refer you clients or hire you. In my experience, and rather unsurprisingly, groups that also have a “live” virtual meeting tend to drive deeper relationships.

If Facebook and LinkedIn aren’t your thing, check out LawyerSmack on Slack. Creator Keith Lee also regularly hosts a virtual hangout on Zoom.

When it comes to engaging communities online, don’t limit yourself to lawyer-only communities. Find communities that have organized around the topics you’re passionate about. If you serve clients at a local level, make time for local online communities. People gravitate toward other people who share common interests.

Host Your Own Virtual Networking Events

If you do absolutely nothing else, I would encourage you to at least consider hosting your own virtual networking events. This can be accomplished with very little expense and is probably the single most important thing you can do to stay connected.

I like Calendly, which seamlessly integrates with Zoom and Google Calendar, to schedule virtual coffee and drinks. I include Calendly links in a variety of places including:

  • Email signature.
  • Social profiles.
  • Downloadable content.
  • Slide decks.

Since Calendly integrates with Google Calendar, it checks my availability in real time. You can also configure specific availability for different meetings (e.g., coffee 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and cocktails 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.).

Support Local Heroes

Taking an active leadership role in your local community is a surefire way to create, nurture and solidify relationships. Whether it’s first responders, health-care workers or local businesses, your local community needs your support.

For example, Levinson and Stefani Injury Lawyers in Chicago honors local heroes by arranging lunch discounts for local first responders from local restaurants and spreading the word on Facebook. This is a great way to do well by doing good and build a reputation in your local community.

Virtual Conferences

Finally, many leading conferences are going virtual. Whether industry-specific or community-focused, virtual conferences are likely to be our best option for large gatherings in the foreseeable future.

While there are seemingly endless virtual conference choices, I’d like to highlight two: the Clio Cloud Conference and the ABA TECHSHOW.

These are two that I’ve regularly attended for many years. While there is still much uncertainty as to what the virtual conference experience will be, at their core, they’ve always been about one thing: the people.

I hope that, at least in that one respect, this year will be no different. In fact, I am optimistic that this year’s virtual conferences will present a more inclusive opportunity for those who may have been unable to attend in-person shows of the past. Hopefully, conference organizers will continue to find innovative ways to maximize virtual introductions, interactions and social activities.

I look forward to connecting with you!

Gyi Tsakalakis


Gyi Tsakalakis is the president of AttorneySync. [email protected]

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