Alex Barr writes about how your opening gambit at parties can influence your bottom line.
Lots of us who work in professional services struggle with the part of a social or business conversation that starts with "So, what do you do?". This is particularly relevant at the moment - during the party-laden festive season.
Answering it tends to kill the conversation. There's a reason for this; we default to the job title. We worked hard to become qualified, and because it's what everyone else in our profession says to describe what they do, we say it too.
"I’m an intellectual property lawyer."
Wow. Now there’s a statement that kills a conversation. To be clear, I’m not just picking on lawyers - it's the same for accountants, teachers, doctors and most other jobs you can think of. Accepting that very few of us are lucky enough to do something that sounds cool at first glance (dolphin trainer? astronaut?) how should we, as lawyers, address this?
How about mentioning that "Our firm prides itself on customer service and was founded in 1836"?
No. This is worse. Ever met a law firm that doesn’t pride itself on customer service? And by mentioning when the firm was founded, you inevitably come across like your firm has barely moved on from the Georgian era.
What you qualified as is less interesting than the outcome you give your clients.
This isn’t some kind of awful sales pitch, marketing gimmick or mission statement. It’s just a simple way of being proud of what you actually do for your clients, and concisely putting that information across to new people.
How about an example? Compare "I’m an intellectual property lawyer" to "I help clients protect and make money from the things they create". Which of those statements would get more interest at a party (or from a client)?
I used to think this idea applied only to commercial legal services, but I recently had a very dapper criminal defence solicitor prove me wrong. He told me that he got bored of having "the wrong conversations" with people when he said what he did for a living. He now tells people at weddings that he "works to protect civil rights" and tells clients that he "works to stop clients from being abused by the criminal justice system". Both are accurate, both are concise and they are tailored to the target audience.
Think about the outcome you give your clients – it’s all they care about. Using this language will make you more interesting on your website, on email shots, in telemarketing – and at parties too.