“Study the past, if you would divine the future” (Confucius)
Predicting the future is notoriously difficult, but as Confucius pointed out 2,500 years ago, what’s happened in the past can certainly help point us in the right direction.
The Past: A Foreign Country
“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there” (author L.P. Hartley)
Think back to 2000. What did you do differently back then? What new technologies have been the game-changers? Consider these –
- Exponentially increased computing power and ease/speed/ubiquity of Internet access giving professional firms –
- Instant, up to date, easy and free access to legal and accounting information resources online, with paid-for services supplementing these free resources.
- Online, instant access to other sources of information relevant to professionals like news services, legal/accounting and other blogs, Social Media information and online communities etc.
- Online interaction with other role-players in legal and accounting processes like SARS, municipalities, Cipro etc.
- Online immediacy (often real time) and low cost of interaction with clients and colleagues via email, instant messaging platforms, Skype, web based conferencing services, website portals, Social Media etc.
- Opportunities, where enabled by new legislation, for using electronic communication to record correspondence, to contract, to serve/file documents, and the like.
- Cost-effective, secure online storage of documentation.
- Powerful online marketing opportunities, at a fraction of the cost of print, via e-newsletters, Social Media etc.
- Increased availability of software (increasingly in the Cloud) for practice and data management, document creation, CRM, and automation of office, legal and accounting processes. Combined, they have boosted efficiency, lowered operating costs and increased the time available to attorneys and accountants for billable activities.
- The rise in power and ubiquity of cell phones and other mobile devices giving firms and their clients instant accessibility to each other both within and outside office hours.
The Future: Threats and Opportunities
“Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity – not a threat” (Steve Jobs)
Prepare now for 2025. Expect rampant growth in all the technologies listed above, hopefully boosted by a quantum leap in South African broadband speeds. Plan for some significant opportunities and threats –
- Trends like the “Web of Things”, hands-free interfacing, the moves to mobile and the Cloud, and increasingly versatile voice recognition suggest that smart offices, homes and cars – and perhaps most importantly your new smartwatch and other wearable tech – will connect you, your colleagues and your clients in cyberspace anywhere, anytime.
- These and other vastly expanded opportunities for real time, online collaboration mean that smaller firms will increasingly communicate and work with each other in ways similar to their large-firm competitors. Referral networks between small specialised practices will mushroom and they will succeed in presenting themselves to the public as matching larger firms in both depth and range of specialties, but at lower fee rates and with more personalised service.
- Similarly, the location of your office will become less and less important as your ability to service clients regardless of where they are, opens up a whole new opportunity – a national (even an international) footprint, all without getting up from your desk or opening up a branch office. Of course down the line our concept of office-based practices may give way to networks of home-based individuals, able to work, consult, meet and collaborate from wherever they happen to be at any time. In 20 years the very concept of “firms” may be obsolete. Lower (or zero) office expenses, staff and travel costs will follow.
- Automation of staff functions, virtual assistants, and an increase in online, freelancing professionals will boost this trend.
- Rapid growth in Big Data suggests that the resources of information and data analysis, available on demand and instantly to even the smallest firm, will increase sharply.
- Expect increased competition from online services of the sort that give subscribers instant and low cost access to standardised services, documents and tutorials, underpinned by access to online advice from a range of participating professional firms.
- Rapid evolution in Artificial Intelligence systems has given rise to much speculation that many professional service functions will be replaced by much cheaper software options. Whether the threats and opportunities inherent in this scenario could manifest as early as 2025 is debatable, but it is certainly a consideration that lawyers and accountants should start working into their longer-term planning. Science Fiction’s RoboLawyer and RoboAccountant may take 5 years to reach us or 25 – but they are coming!
Marketing: A New Frontier
“Be quickest on the draw, or be dead” (Anon)
Last but certainly not least, expect to concentrate more of your resources on pro-active marketing as these trends accelerate –
- Increasing competition, both from existing firms, and from nimble and hungry newcomers who will, enabled by cutting-edge technology, offer low fees and prompt, efficient service.
- Increasing competition from online services, offering even lower fees and quite possibly also a greater service range than any single real-world firm is capable of producing.
- More and more of your competitors – online and off – will be marketing their services aggressively via low-cost, easy-to-use marketing channels.
- “Relationship marketing” – concentrating on building and strengthening long term relationships rather than short term client acquisition – will grow in importance. Interaction with target markets is likely to increase dramatically, although an overload tipping point may be reached sooner rather than later.
- Other trends to watch for in the marketing space include marketing automation, “augmented reality”, virtual reality headsets and advanced Internet search options – the list goes on.
- Your success or failure in retaining existing clients, and in acquiring new ones, will be increasingly proportional to your ability to market your firm and services successfully in a rapidly-changing environment.
Contact us now for a free brand consultation – we’ll show you how to stay ahead of the curve with all your marketing needs.