The Lawyer Management Q&A: IBB’s Abby Winkworth

Abby Winkworth is marketing and business development partner at IBB Solicitors. She joined the firm from Deloitte in 2007.

What are the misconceptions of your job?

That I’m the director of pink and fluffy things. As a marketer I see no point in converting new business and then watching it leak out the sides. So whilst I have the great good fortune to have a job that allows me to browse the web for face painters and discuss the best wine to serve at a dinner, it’s mostly a job about creating a market, taking our services to that market, selling them and then getting paid for it.

What’s on your to-do list?

A coffee stain and several indecipherable scribbles that are supposed to help me understand what I meant when I wrote it. But the big things that are just in my head? A) developing the tools to support more confident business developers and B) making sure that there is not even a paper-thin crack between marketing and the operations that help us drive profitability.

What would your advice be to a graduate looking to go into the same field?

My strategy professor on my MBA taught me never to lose sight of the most important, most significant implication of any piece of information put in front of you. Working with highly intelligent but often distracted and time-conflicted people means you must be able to articulate that ’killer point’ early if you are to succeed in building trust and influence. Usually the killer point is profit or cash – most other things are nice but those two count.

What’s the best part of your job?

As an out and proud sales person, it’s the moments when you have somehow helped a team of partners to develop a significant new client, and that is probably why I come to work. As a partner and director it’s when one of my team is recognised for their skills. It’s easy, when looking at brilliant design or fantastic SEO results or happy clients at the end of a congenial evening, to think ’well, I could do that’.  But actually, you couldn’t, and the best part of my job is being proud of those who can.

What are the challenges facing a firm such as IBB?

Thankfully we’ve been financially prudent since the beginning of the recession and spent the past few years repairing our balance sheet and sorting out all the typical professional services issues that get in the way of growth. This year is one of enormous investment for us – new practice management systems, massive training and development programmes, process improvement, measuring and monitoring. So the challenges are these: achieving a good return on that firm-wide investment, balancing growth with maintaining profits within teams, building marketing share (and beating our competition), up-skilling and developing our people so that they continue to be surrounded by people they are proud to be in business with.

How has your job changed since you first joined?

I was brought into IBB five years ago to tilt the firm’s focus from a marketing/brand one to business development. During that time the partners in the firm have taken increasing responsibility for developing new business and we’ve all learnt a great deal about how to build sustainable pipelines of work, build our brand and how to grow but not become too reliant upon any one of our clients. 

Initially it was all about ’heavy lifting’: convincing people that there was another way of generating business, that we could afford to focus on our strategy and that business development is a relentless and sometimes harsh task master, but that it does work. These days it’s more like having a conversation with another professional marketer – we weigh up pros and cons of equally valid marketing and business development strategies and agree on the way forward. It’s satisfying.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given and why?

This is a piece of advice that I always come back to in times of stress, and whilst it’s not career advice specifically, I think that if you’re going to work in professional services you should bear it in mind: ’Everyone is doing their best’.

Their best may not be what I want, or what is right for me. But it is their best and they are doing it just as hard as they can. As an adviser to every level of IBB, I may have very little in common with someone, but as long as I know that they are doing their best, then I will always treat them with the respect that they deserve and inevitably they have always treated me with the respect I deserve.