As much as the pandemic has been a crushing weight on the economy, not to mention the terrible health consequences, it has also accelerated change that had previously been underway.
Online shopping has gone through the roof and the trend towards just about every kind of digital commerce has sped up.
For instance, the Winnipeg-based online professional matchmaking service, Vexxit, which launched just two months before the pandemic hit Canada, found it became relevant overnight.
Designed as a platform that uses machine-learned algorithms to match people with the best lawyer, accountant, financial adviser or consultant who fits their needs, company officials also found that a more proactive approach suited these times.
Since the company was just starting it had nothing to compare, but it did have early subscription of more than 200 professionals and realized there could be a way to leverage that large pool of expertise to make it that much easier for professionals to get the word out and for those stuck at home to get the help they needed.
Julie Rempel, Vexxit’s vice-president of marketing and partnerships, said, "When you don’t have the ability to meet clients in the way you always did, we thought we have to be more, we have to do more, we have to be more present for the people who need professional services."
For one thing, that meant being more proactive in marketing the professionals on its platform. For several months now it has populated its websites with all sorts of content produced by its professional members that not only provide pertinent and timely information, but it creates a new opportunity to market the individual professionals.
Right off the bat Vexxit had aligned itself with chambers of commerce across the country. Since chambers exist for the physical networking events, they had to transition to virtual meet-ups which made Vexxit’s connection even more valuable.
For instance, this week Vexxit is putting on a free webinar on behalf of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce to answer questions and provide advice on pandemic financial assistance programs after a chamber survey found that the biggest issue for 40 per cent of business was not the lack of government support but that the programs were too complicated.
Leilani Kagan, a business lawyer with TDS whose practice focuses on tax, trust and estate, is one of the presenters.
She had already done Vexxit webinars and had been on the platform. She believes the time is right for such a modern approach.
"It may not be for everyone but the way it modernizes the way people can connect with professionals is very relatable to today," she said.
The dozens of webinars Vexxit has produced are not just thrown out there into cyberspace with the hopes that the right people see them. Rempel said her growing cross-country marketing team works hard at qualifying the audience so that the people attending these virtual events are engaged to varying degrees in the subject matter making them that much more likely to actually require professional assistance in the future.
Matthew Burgoyne, a former Winnipegger who is a partner in the Calgary law firm, McLeod Law, may have the largest cryptocurrency law practice in the country. With rising interest — and valuations — in cryptocurrency the general interest level is on the rise.
He did a Vexxit presentation in December that resulted in calls, referrals and a potential client.
"I got all kinds of positive feedback,’ said Burgoyne. "They did a really good job getting the right audience on the webinar. I don’t know of any other service in Canada that offers that kind of depth. It definitely helped to grow my personal network."
So far the preponderance of professionals on the Vexxit platform is in Western Canada. (Rempel said the company is just starting a big push to sign up more in Eastern Canada). In its first year of operation it has facilitated about 400 matches for a match rate of 68 per cent and has engaged about 3.2 million people. Many professionals have already been matched numerous times including one family lawyer in Calgary who has had 14 matches.
Vexxit was at the right place at the right time, and its pivot to organizing virtual events has proven to be particularly well timed.
In addition to making it easier for individuals to actually take the leap and talk to a lawyer about a will or an accountant about a particular tax issue, it also provides a marketing platform for professionals which is sometimes not their strong suit.
"Vexxit has been excellent delivering programming," Kagan said. "A lot of professionals are not great at organizing themselves."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.