Even if your business is completely virtual, there are times when you need to take it offline. Customer interactions and professional referral relationships sometimes take a personal touch that the Internet simply cannot offer.

This week’s blog continues a review of the book, Reinventing Professional Services; Building Your Business in the Digital Marketplace, by Ari Kaplan. In Chapter 13, Kaplan warns about some of the pitfalls of modern technology. He warns professionals not to lose sight of their ethical obligations just because there is a technological buffer between them and their contacts.

Taking Professional Relationship Offline

Sometimes, a personal touch can help close a deal or cement a professional relationship. Whether it is a handwritten thank you note, or a face-to-face meeting, taking the time to connect with business contacts offline can help you stand out in their minds. Kaplan says:

“Mastering the balance between technology and the relationships it impacts, however, often contributes to professional success.”

This can be particularly true when you are trying to influence a customer or close the deal. Kaplan quotes Robert L. Goldstein, Managing Director of BlackRock Solutions, Inc., a financial services company with clients worldwide:

“Video conferencing may take off 10 to 20 percent of frequent flyer miles, but by no means replaces the act of meeting.”

Goldstein regularly travels more than 100,000 miles every year to physically engage with current and prospective clients, as well as team members. By using a varied approach to marketing – including online and offline contacts – he cultivates a strong relationship with business contacts they won’t soon forget.

Technology Can Enhance Existing Relationships, Not Replace Them

Even the most tech-savvy professional companies rely on personal relationships to grow and be successful. Kaplan notes:

“It is possible to create complete virtual practices, but those relationships are built on a personal and professional composite.”

Technology can help strengthen your existing relationships, by providing virtual reminders of important life events or engaging with clients in their preferred medium. But it shouldn’t replace the in-person touches that make you a professional friend.

Professional Ethics Don’t Disappear Online.

Lawyers and other professionals have ethical obligations that don’t disappear just because there is a login involved. Kaplan says:

“While the tools change, the guideposts remain the same. Lawyers, doctors, accountants, financial advisors, and other professionals have a similar duty to respect the views of clients and colleagues.”

And that means, sometimes you simply have to take a contact offline. This is particularly important when responding to comments on your blog posts and social media posts. A tech-savvy lawyer is well-served by blogging regularly on issues that meet potential clients’ immediate needs. But when one of those clients reaches out with a specific question, the public forum isn’t the place to fire off a response. Kaplan says:

“When Dr. Anas Younes of MD Anderson Cancer Center . . . receives a query via Twitter from a prospective patient or specific questions from fans on Facebook, he encourages the individual to call his office directly. He is aware that once the discussion becomes specific, taking it offline is probably the most cautious approach.”

A good rule of thumb is that if you could not in good conscious say something on stage or in a crowded room, you shouldn’t say it online. Instead, encourage that potential client to contact you directly so you can give them the personal attention they need, and the privacy they deserve.

Lisa Schmidt is a writer at Legal Linguist in Ferndale, Michigan. She writes blogs and web content for lawyers and small businesses. If you need to make your online presence more professional, contact Legal Linguist today to schedule a meeting.