Working from home, telecommuting and video conferencing may have been the key take outs from 2020, but this year it seems that decentralisation and living local are to be the hallmarks of 2021 – and I put it down to karma.
Covid has taught us much more than the importance of washing your hands incessantly and sneezing into your armpit rather than your palm. Covid has instilled in us a sense of responsibility around our family, our neighbours, our colleagues and our community; a fundamental shift back to care and consideration, connection and conscience. In other words, we could summarise the key learnings with a number of C words... and Covid is another C word!
How many of us have reignited a love for our home and our hearth rather than chasing diversions and dalliances? Business owners have become more understanding and flexible in allowing their workers to meet their KPIs with earphones in and whilst lounging in their PJs. Bin night even became a glam affair with neighbours donning their sparkles and sharing a bubbly. Strangers have run errands for those stuck at home and shopping at the local fruiter or farmer's market has become a habit to support our local community.
And the data is telling us that regional areas are thriving whilst cities are dwindling. With international travel off the table and national travel seriously curtailed (who wants to risk lockdown?), there is seemingly a trend towards loving anything local.
Canstar* lists the Sunshine Coast as Australia's top number one area tipped for property growth in 2021, closely followed by Bendigo, Rockhampton, Central Coast – New South Wales and Toowoomba. When it comes to jobs, Toowoomba/South West Queensland have 35.7 percent more job ads, while Brisbane is down almost 8.7 percent. The Sunshine Coast has 24.5 percent more job ads and the Gold Coast 18.8 percent more than this time last year. Certainly indicates the opportunities are there for the taking for the mass exodus to living an affordable lifestyle, away from the city.
Covid is taking us back to our village and what does that mean for professional service firms in the future?
In a recent client satisfaction survey, we were unequivocally told by our clients that they chose us over a Big Law firm not just because of our specialised knowledge and considerably lower fees, but because we're local and because they perceived that we genuinely care about them individually and our community . Relationships matter the most and judging by the survey feedback, values and culture have become more important than ever.
Building trust with your clients begins by building trust with your own people, your internal clients. According to studies on the application of emotional intelligence in the workplace by Sheffield University, when it comes to improving productivity and performance, people management is three times as important as research and development (R&D) and six times more important than business strategy. And, in the oft-quoted (at least by me!) words of Peter Drucker, "Organisational culture eats strategy for breakfast".
When the concept for our fledgling new compensation law practice was hatched, we searched for gaps in the marketplace, identifying that there were plenty of highly competent practitioners, plenty using clever advertising campaigns, others with big and loud brands and some relying on 'clickbait' in the digital world. Yet it struck us that (at least from outward appearances) very few of these firms were actively engaging with their own people and their local community. And we knew that if we had the right people, there was an opportunity to build a professional services firm based on genuine relationships and real engagement.
So we made a point of hiring based on attitude more than aptitude. We believed that if we care for our people that in turn, they will genuinely care for our clients and our community.
And the values we espouse in our Statement of Purpose seem to have rubbed off on new team members as they joined as if by osmosis – they became community-centric and made a point of engaging with their networks. I've been impressed to see so many lawyers volunteer at our local community Legal Service, organise fundraising events, support charities, serve on Boards and become active in local clubs and associations. But they invest in their relationships with each other just as they invest in their neighbourhoods and I reckon that's just as important.
But from the outset it was clear that we needed to share our conscience. We recognised that we had to put our clients' interests before our own and this meant demonstrating our commitment to our clients – such as by having a lower fee structure (even for our Accredited Specialists). We couldn't have imagined a global pandemic and what it might do to values and demographics but there has certainly never been a better time to build a reputable firm based on community and trust.
I'm sure that it won't take long for most professional services firms to adjust their marketing strategy in a post-Covid world. The themes of decentralisation, work from home and tele-commuting, suddenly takes people away from trains, buses and major arterial roads. Businesses pitching products and services can no longer rely solely on yelling loudly from a billboard, a bus stop or a radio ad. Traditional marketing is an important part of the mix, but I suspect that in this new world, meaningful marketing is about empathy, conversation and respect. No longer should we be looking for immediacy of results in terms of ROI for our marketing spend. Are results not more about the quality relationships we have with our team, clients, referrers, colleagues, and our wider community? Relational business development is slow burn and can appear expensive – but I'd argue that in a post-Covid world, it's priceless.
Starting less than three years ago with two lawyers and three support staff, we have already grown to a team of 27 people who all appreciate that people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.
So I reckon we should all believe in Karma; not because our deeds and actions of the past will decide our future fate – but because doing good and giving out positive energy makes us and those around us feel good. And the ideology makes it much easier for firms with values that might not provide a short term return on investment! Given there has to be an agile post-Covid world, may we all professionally and personally live and act with care, conscience and courage knowing that Karma is the ultimate C word.
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