There is a consensus that the coronavirus has brought on permanent shifts in work patterns away from working in an office to remote working, and a potential outcome from it could be a more equitable environment for women In fact, it was one of 13 predictions on the future of work in this cnbc.com article.
Remote working enables the permanence of long-term flexibility offering women the opportunity to remain in the workforce when they have children. Moreover, men will desire greater flexibility in how they work based on the assumption that they will enjoy spending more time with their kids, the article cites.
In addition, increased workplace flexibility means long-term changes in how relationships are built both internally and externally, cornerstones for advancing in professional services firms within the tax and legal industries.
In fact, Lucy Bassli in her recent article indicates that these shifts create opportunities for women because they are expanding pathways of success for women lawyers beyond the traditional advancement paths of young attorneys forging relationship internally with senior partners in the office via in-person coffee chats or impromptu stop-by-the-office to set themselves up for getting good work assignments. Externally, the options for successful advancement increase because business development is no longer limited to the normalized expectations of how it gets done on the golf course or dinners after work, Bassli notes.
The approach to business development for women partners in the tax and legal industries by and large has not changed, but the way that they have been doing it has been normalized. It is no secret that women were challenged by the pre-COVID-19, “old normal” ways of client development where they found it difficult to balance evening and networking activities with family obligations. However, according to Jennifer Wilson, Partner & Co-Founder, ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, “the new normal, remote networking and business development levels the playing field for all.”
In addition, women partners in the tax and accounting industry have been building their books using tactics for initial outreach to prospective contacts virtually via social media for a while, but because in part, men dominate the most senior ranks of the accounting and legal industries—women make up only 24 percent of partners and principals at CPA firms and 20 percent at law firms in the US, according to this article—men’s ways of operating for client development have been the norm. Wilson explains,
“ConvergenceCoaching is not advising women to do anything differently in their post-COVID business development approach. Their more-remote initial outreach steps we’ve always encouraged, which can be more efficient than in-person, are now more accepted as the norm than they were before social distancing began. After the crisis passes, this remote networking technique will be seen as a more accepted approach.” Jennifer Wilson, Partner & Co-Founder, ConvergenceCoaching, LLC
Because COVID-19 has brought on extreme difficulties for small and large businesses, the majority of CPA firms’ clients, proactively picking up the phone to check in with clients has been a critical relationship-building technique for both women and men.
At the same time, a difference in how its done has come to light. Women with natural traits to create deep relationships have reported leading these conversations with humanity to ask their clients how they are coping with the uncertainty of COVID-19 both professionally and personally. In fact, Lori Morales, a partner at PrimeGlobal member CPA firm Calvetti Ferguson, shared how she spent almost an entire week of unbillable work where her “main focus was on touching base with my clients, seeing how they were doing and checking on their efforts to gain access to the Paycheck Protection Program,” which the US Government passed to assist small business with cash loans to keep their employees on the payroll when the stay at home orders were initially given. “It was literally, reaching out and making sure that people were okay,” she says.
Deepening relationships with existing clients. Most women CPAs and lawyers have a long client list, and keeping up with whom you have contacted to check in with increased frequency can be overwhelming post COVID-19.
Developing a tracking system is highly recommended. Wilson recommends dividing your clients into three categories—A, B, and C. “Make sure you touch the ‘A’ clients live every 2-3 weeks, and when news is breaking, reach back out via email every week or so with an update on your side and to request one from them.” When major news that would impact them occurs, offer to have a phone or video call to discuss the client’s matters live. For the clients in the “B” and “C” categories, Wilson advises invite them to live, group webinars, communicate with them via group emails, and the frequency of live phone calls and individual email may be less frequent, depending on your client volume.
Another way of deepening relationships with existing clients is to contact them casually. According to Wilson, you don’t always need a “business reason” to reach out; in fact, a good tactic for showing humanity and creating opportunities to let go of your “all-business persona,” Wilson suggests is to “offer to meet for drinks or lunch via video from home, just as you would if you could connect in person.”
Forging relationships with potential clients. To work on building your book with new clients, many of the same tactics are advised. Lead with humanity in developing these connections by revealing your “at home” persona. Get to know them as people and find out how they are doing in the crisis, Wilson suggests. Listen intently and be curious about their current state to look for ways to add value. During
the process of getting to know them as a person via video chat, if possible, offer information that would be helpful to their business, such as “what you are hearing from others and what strategies your firm is employing to help other clients with the same challenges,” Wilson notes.
No matter whether you are reaching out to existing or potential clients, checking in to make sure they are healthy, safe and discussing their challenges and opportunities to see if you can help are the most important communications to have during this time. Above all, be yourself. “There is nothing longer-lasting than a business relationship based on mutual appreciation for each other’s authentic selves,” Wilson says.
This article was written by Natalie Runyon, Content Strategist at Thomson Reuters. You can hear more from Natalie at the upcoming Women's Leadership Conference in partnership with Thomson Reuters.
PrimeGlobal and Thomson Reuters are joining forces to address inclusivity and diversity in the tax and accounting industry. Together we will host global events and provide member firms with valuable resources challenging them to increase the percentage of female leaders within their firms. Women represent only 22% of partners in CPA firms.