By: Malcolm D. Gibson
M.D. Gibson & Bolen, P.C.
There is nothing new under the sun, including recessions. During my career as a lawyer, they have occurred roughly every twelve years. Covid-19 is my fourth. When an economic crisis strikes, the most important lesson I’ve learned is not to take the media too seriously. Journalists are not economists. Most bad news that is reported is only 50% as bad as its headline. The same goes for good news. Dig into the data yourself before making any new business plans. Over the years, I’ve learned to use each slow-down to assess how the business climate might change when the recession has passed and to adjust my marketing approach accordingly. For example, most companies will seek to emerge from recessions much leaner. This means more outsourcing. If you research what products or services were provided to a company by employees or vendors before the downturn, when business picks up again (and it will) you can be in a position to offer those products or services in a more economical “package” on a contract basis. If you don’t have all the deliverables yourself in-house, you can find joint venture partners to join with you.
I have also found that every customer needs something to weather a recession. What it is will vary from company to company, but there is always something. For example, an accounting firm may need introductions to law firms for referrals. Ask your customers what they need the most to ride out the recession. If you cannot provide those things yourself, find out who can. Using your network to help your customers’ find what they need to survive will enhance your personal brand with them. Whether you are successful or not, they will remember that you tried and return the favor when times improve.
To further illustrate this point, consider the results of a survey of law firm clients taken some years ago. When asked what was most important to them in hiring a law firm, they did not choose how often a firm had won or lost legal cases, its fee schedule, or its response time. Far and away the leading criteria was whether the law firm had its clients’ best interest at heart. Never discount the value of loyalty, especially during hard times.
It’s easier to get to know your clients on a personal level when business is slow. Rather than discussing legal issues, I have used the time (free of charge) to ask more about how their company operates. They have always been happy to oblige and that I cared enough to inquire. The more I learned the better position I was in to offer economical legal services down the road. I also learned about their interests outside of the office, such as non-profits and charities, and how I could help them support these causes.
When recessions hit, I have discovered that trade associations often seek to provide their members with information about how to weather the storm. I’ve always asked our clients if they belong to any such organizations and, if so, I’ve offered to make a short presentation to the group at no charge about legal issues during hard times. It’s given me a chance to enhance the image of our client before a group of its peers and to promote our firm.
Another tactic I’ve used in the face of a slow-down is simply to become less specialized. There are always areas of expertise that you enjoy more than others and they tend to become specialties. But promoting your full range of skills will increase your universe of potential clients.
Finally, when business slows, I’ve always tried to focus on finding and/or keeping smaller customers. While it may be may mean making some price concessions, in an environment where businesses are being forced to close every day, I prefer to have ten small clients than one big one. It helps pay the light bill.