As in-person events of all kinds have been canceled, postponed, or moved to a virtual setting, it has become more and more difficult to keep up with contacts and referral sources. Even working relationships among colleagues within the same firm are strained due to the reduction in personal interaction and face-to-face communication.
Gone are the various unplanned interactions that would occur throughout the day before the virus changed the way we work. Even those who have returned to an office setting are not interacting as much as they used to, and interactions wearing a mask simply don’t have the same impact or connective power as unmasked interactions. Simply put, the old way of interacting that contributed to relationship-building with colleagues and building a firm culture no longer exists.
Like it or not, these days, most communication is occurring in a virtual setting. So how can we improve our virtual communication to build better relationships with colleagues, clients and referral sources?
Start by making a plan for regular communication
Just because you are no longer having regular lunches with colleagues, firm meetings and attending monthly networking events doesn’t mean you should forego those regular interactions. Only now you may need to put more effort into scheduling them.
Set a regular schedule of meetings with your team every week. You can check in by telephone, videoconference, or in some cases, even using a messaging app like Slack or Microsoft Teams. Make it a point to check in with your assistant at least daily.
You might not be seeing your clients and referral sources in person much lately, but rest assured that if you aren’t communicating with them, someone else will. Make a list of your best referral sources and create a similar strategic plan to connect with them virtually. Do the same with your client list. Who haven’t you been in contact with for a while? Who hasn’t sent you work in a while? Who have you lost touch with?
Reach out to at least several clients and referral sources each week just to check in to see how they’re faring. These communications shouldn’t be about asking for business – they should be about checking in with the people who are important to you and your practice to let them know you’re thinking about them and to offer any assistance if needed (and that assistance might be completely unrelated to your practice).
Connect virtually with your existing contacts
Load up your address book to LinkedIn and start connecting with colleagues and referral sources through LinkedIn. Unlike other social networks such as Facebook and Instagram, LinkedIn is a professional network; the discussions center around business. LinkedIn is a great way to stay current with your market and keep up with your contacts without a lot of time and effort.
Using LinkedIn is also an excellent resource for information about connections you haven’t spoken with in a while. You can see what they’re up to now and what they’re interested in by what they follow or post online. Then you can message them on LinkedIn or reach out with a telephone call.
Look for ways to make connections or introductions for your connections; keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to put people together. Your contacts will thank you – and they may even return the favor.
Consider getting more active online to provide additional value to your contacts, clients, and referral sources. Write blog posts, client alerts or social media posts that not only demonstrate your expertise but provide valuable information to your network, and build a following that could provide result in future referrals. Post or share content relevant to your audience and add thoughtful commentary to group discussions. Generously share and promote others’ work; when you are generous with others, they will want to be generous in return.
Expand your network
Now that many people are working virtually at least part of the time, even those who were not previously active virtual networkers may be more open to virtual contact. Consider changes to your practice that have resulted from recent marketplace changes – are you offering new services now or working with different types of clients? Who might be the best sources of referrals for those kinds of clients? Think about how you might begin making those connections. LinkedIn can be a good first step.
Finally, remember that just because you can no longer meet in person doesn’t mean your communication must be entirely electronic. A simple card or note in the old-fashioned mail expressing your appreciation or just saying hello can make a big impact.