Updated: Jan 8, 2021
In the past few months, I have spoken with many attorneys who have told me that business development is not really something they know much about. They have said things like:
“I am so frustrated because I need more clients and more profitable clients and I didn’t learn how to do that in law school.”
“When I interview with good firms, they always ask me what I will do to bring in business and I honestly don’t know.”
“I have a lot of contacts and relationships, but everyone does. How do I get them to choose me?”
“I am feeling resentful of some of my colleagues who inherit business from retiring partners. It always seems to go to the same people! I need my own clients.”
Turns out, you might need to think more about growing your book of business AND you need to do the hard work of actually practicing law. The good news: There are some simple things you can start doing right away to get the ball rolling:
Ask questions and be curious about the people you meet. Let’s face it, we all like to talk about ourselves. When I first started out in my career, at events and trade shows I was so excited about what I did that I couldn’t wait to tell everyone I met all about my company and how we could help them. I would get some new business sometimes but it was rare. So, I started observing the more successful people in my company. They LISTENED. Simple as that. People liked being around my colleagues (they did not sound self-important or overly enthusiastic like I did). But, that is just a small part of it. My colleagues were able to speak to the prospective client’s unique pain points and build trust which led to consistent business and a lot of referrals. Try this: At your next networking event, spend 70% of the time listening and 30% of the time talking. The goal is to learn as much as you possibly can about people. This is NOT the time to ask them for business. It is the time to be thinking strategically about whom you might approach for referrals or business in the near future.
Follow Up. Use a contact management system of some kind- you can use Outlook or something more robust like Copper or Pipedrive (these are relatively inexpensive web-based applications used strictly for business development purposes). Collect business cards and make notes about the things you have learned in your contact management database. Where applicable, reach out immediately for a coffee, phone call or pass along an article you think your contact might like to read. Don’t wait 2 weeks, like I did the last time. The prospect only vaguely remembered me and didn’t think I was a serious business person. Do your follow-up quickly while your encounter is still fresh for both of you.
Begin with the end in mind. This does not have to be a long drawn out process. Take some time and set 3 goals for your law practice. Make sure they are “SMART”. I started doing this every three months in 2014 and I swear by it. It makes me very thoughtful about what I want to achieve balanced with what is truly realistic.
Make sure that your activities align with your goals. If you look at your calendar over the past year, you can see how you have spent the majority of your time. Consider this: Your stated goal for 2019 was to double your income. It didn’t happen and you are trying to figure out why. You look at the past 6 months of your calendar and you see that you have allotted an hour a day to online shopping for the perfect Yves St. Laurent bag (not that I would know about such an activity), meeting friends for Dippin Dots 3 times a week and you have watched all 7 seasons of Friday Night Lights 5 times. Light bulb moment, no? So make it a practice to think about all of your goals daily (even write them down daily) and intentionally plan your activities.
Make reasonable promises to yourself and keep them. One Saturday, last winter I decided I couldn’t tolerate the state of my basement for one more second. I went down there and just threw all of the stuff that I saw into the middle of the floor- legos and ninja turtles, bey blades, fake pancakes - you name it. I got started and about 8 hours later, I came up for air, only to see that I had barely made a dent in all of it. But I was totally done; I shrugged in exasperation, shut the door and went back upstairs. The basement stayed in limbo for weeks. During that time I had a session with my executive coach and I mentioned the problem. I had noticed that I often executed projects that way- I start out like a house on fire and then I lose steam and quit entirely until I absolutely can’t bear it anymore. Then I have all of this self-loathing that I didn’t finish what I had started sooner. So my coach said- “Ok try this- go down to the basement for one hour a day starting tomorrow. And one hour only; even if you feel like you are on a roll, stop after one hour.” It totally worked! By not burning myself out, I got the project finished, I felt productive and accomplished and had faith in myself again. The point is: do what you say you are going to do, but make it manageable! Why should clients trust you if you don’t trust yourself? You will feel like a fraud and it will show. Block out a small chunk of time to DO client outreach and stick to it.
Be accountable. I work for myself. But I make it a point to check in with someone at least once a week to track how I am doing against my weekly goals. I can’t tell you how many times, I say to myself- I better make that one last phone call today because I know that I am talking to my accountability partner the next day, and that last phone call makes all the difference. Find a colleague, friend or coach with whom you can debrief each week. Tell them about your wins and losses. You can also use this time to problem-solve and to get advice on how to handle difficult situations. If you know you are “reporting” to someone every week, you are more likely to do what you know you need to do to have a successful thriving practice.
When you start to employ some of these tactics, you will see results. You will lose a few business cards and you will forget to call your accountability partner. You will put off your phone calls some days and you might search up that occasional accessory. BUT…. do not beat up on yourself if you don’t do all of this all the time. You are a human being. Give yourself a pep talk and get back on track! Good luck and have some fun.
Betsy McPherson is the owner of Notebook Consulting. She helps accredited professionals who might be struggling with business development: finding time to do it, totally overwhelmed thinking about it, or don’t know how to do it. She creates big picture sales and marketing strategic plans as well as nitty-gritty tactical work plans, and she provides training, ongoing support and coaching.