Like transplanting a tree – moving lawyers and accountants overseas

Posted on: April 2, 2014

When providing business development coaching to lawyers and accountants, one of the metaphors I use is that it is like growing a tree. It’s not an overnight process. It takes time for a young sapling to find the right location, acquire the necessary resources and grow steadily each year until it becomes a mature tree. Mature trees stand out in a crowded field – it is strong, sustainable and supports its own eco-system of birds and bugs. And it can survive a couple of tough seasons – whereas a younger sapling may not be lucky. It’s nice to think about a legal or accounting practice as a forest of strong trees – with growing yields each year and a programme of careful nurturing of the young trees to take their place in the future.

So when working with firms who are moving lawyers and accountants overseas to set up exciting new ventures in far flung international locations, I think again about those trees. In effect, we are going to uproot a mature tree and transplant it into a rather different environment with a vastly different (business) climate. There will need to be a period of adaptation. All of those “roots” to existing clients and referrers will be torn away. And it will take time for new roots to grow and for the tree to become once more established and to attract new activity.

Most professionals – when sent overseas – might be equipped with a list of UK clients with connections in the new territory. And there may even be a list of referrers and other contacts to get in touch with on arrival. But setting off all fired up for the first round of “introduction” meetings is unlikely to be enough to get the tree properly established.

So you need to spend time developing a campaign. To start with there will be lots of research – to become familiar with the local culture and markets as well as to identify the other “trees” that are already well established. Then it will be important to work out the positioning or differentiation for the new tree and wrap this up in a compelling service proposition with a clear price tag. And this needs to support the firm’s overall brand and positioning and become integrated in its web site and on its social media platforms. And don’t forget the internal communications programme so that those left at home don’t forget about those distant trees.

Then there needs to be a concerted effort to raise the profile and spread the word. To create a less hostile environment. And it will need to roll out over a long period of time – maybe with quarterly themes. This may be a PR and media relations programme or maybe a fully-fledged thought leadership campaign complete with valuable knowledge in White Papers and reports distributed through a variety of social media networks and online communities.

Then our transplanted professionals will need to connect with the associations, communities and other groups where they can both start to build a network of reliable referrers and make contact with potential clients. They will need to tell a compelling story – supported by a myriad of content in a variety of formats. And all the while as well as thinking “How do I generate work?” they need to answer the question “How do I add value to these people?” so that they know “What’s in it for me?”. It’s an especially tricky task where there are no obvious or short term reciprocity opportunities.

Maybe they will have already planned a series of events – such as seminars, workshops, roundtables or receptions – to which they can invite referrers to join the platform and new contacts to come and learn more. There will need to be lots of focused sales activity – both traditional face-to-face meetings as well as leveraging the power of new technologies such as video, blogs, social media and collaboration.

Having raised awareness and profile and met people on a face-to-face basis, our transplanted trees need to capture and classify all the information and manage their sales process – how to remain in contact with all these people, how to sort the wheat from the chaff, how to build strong relationships, how to identify opportunities and how to pitch and price the work when it finally starts arriving. And, of course, they will need to report back to base regularly on their progress – that will need some good information systems.

I’m hoping that my transplanted trees flourish.

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