Beyond Strengths and Weaknesses

Last week I spoke with a client who was struggling with his business development activity.  Nate (as usual, the name and identifying details have been changed to protect his privacy) had experienced great success in converting acquaintances who heard him talk about the kind of matters he handles into clients, and he decided that if speaking casually to small groups works well, speaking formally to large groups would deliver even better results.

As it turns out, though Nate is a spellbinding speaker in small, informal groups, something happens when he steps onto a stage.  Nate transforms from an assured, confident, knowledgeable lawyer who can chat at length about his clients’ legal issues and possible solutions into a stiff academician who says “therefore” and “whereof” entirely too much.  He becomes (I hate to say it, but I’ve seen it firsthand) dull.  When he speaks to large groups, nothing good comes of it.  The audience gets restless, and no one calls Nate for help afterward.

This isn’t news to Nate.  I gently broached the subject after I saw him speak, and before I got very far, he beat me to the punch – sort of: “I know, I know, I was a terrible speaker last time.  But I’ve figured it out, and the crowd next week is a new group of people, and this time, I’m going to impress them!”  Nate recognizes that speaking to large groups is not his strength, and yet he continues to use that approach, thinking each time that he’ll finally nail the presentation.

The problem is that we tend to talk about strengths and weaknesses as if a weakness is just an undeveloped strength.  Not so.  Sometimes, a weakness is an inability, pure and simple, that can be corrected only by bringing in assistance from another resource.  Here’s what I explained to Nate (with thanks to Don Blohowiak, a coaching colleague who shared this useful framework):

Potential refers to your native capabilities than can be (but have not yet been) developed.

Strengths refer to the capabilities that you execute competently to masterfully.

Limitations refer to the capabilities that you have in short supply.  Some limitations can be developed, and others will require replacement from another source.

Absences refer to the capabilities that you simply don’t have.  There is no shame in lacking capabilities.  No one has all of the capabilities possible.  Instead, the task is to find someone whose capabilities are complementary to your absences.  (If, for instance, you are leading a client service team and complex accounting is an important part of the matter, if you lack masterful accounting skills, you must find someone who can bring that competency to the team.)

Weaknesses refer to the capabilities that you pretend to have but cannot actually execute.

Using this model, Nate’s speaking to a large audience is a weakness (as he recognized) but because he pretended that he could correct it, the weakness could not be eliminated.  Nate was failing at business development because he was leading from a weakness and pretending it was a strength.

Review your business development plan, your professional development plan, your career strategy plan – any plan at all that reflects your goals – and ask these questions:

  • What are my strengths?
  • How are my strengths reflected in my plan?
  • How can I develop my potential so I can deploy those capabilities in my plan?
  • What weaknesses am I denying?
  • Do my priorities coincide with my strengths?

If, like Nate, you lead from weakness, you will produce only frustration.  Spend some time in honest self-reflection and look for opportunities to shift what you’re doing based on your natural and developed capabilities.  And, if (like Nate) you find that you’ve been pretending that you are developing your weaknesses, stop pretending.  Shift your approach.

Forecast calls for rain!

Some readers have noticed the precipitous drop in posts that began early this year.  Perhaps you imagined that I was busy with clients (true!), that I’d lost interest in the blog (not true!), or that I’d run off for a Tahitian vacation (also not true — alas!).  In mid-February, the stars became perfectly aligned and I decided to write the book that’s been rolling around in my head for quite some time.  And less than four months later, The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling was born.
 
If you’ve ever recoiled at the idea of business development . . .
If you fear that you’ll come across as pushy or desperate in rainmaking . . .
If you’ve ever wished that you could just focus on practicing law, and not have to worry about getting clients . . . 
If you’ve ever put off rainmaking activity even though you know you need to do it . . .
If you’ve ever thought, “I’m a good lawyer, my clients like me, and I get good results for them, so why do I have to struggle so much to bring in new business?” . . .
Pull out your umbrella and read the book that I wrote just for you!  
Here’s what one lawyer has said about The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling:
“Fleming has written a definitive guide for lawyers who understand the importance of rainmaking but would prefer to focus their time on performing legal work.  Indeed, I think the book goes to the ‘reluctant rainmaker’ that is in all of us to some degree.  The Reluctant Rainmaker illuminates the connection between practicing law and growing a book of business.  With easy-to-apply recommendations for how to get the most benefit from business building activity, Fleming has offered a guide that every lawyer will be able to use with confidence.”
          – John L. North, Sutherland LLP
 
The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling is available for purchase today.  Get the full scoop and place your order now.

Want to make more rain? Be a better leader.

Leaders are better rainmakers.  Bold statement, isn’t it?  But think about it.  Would you easily place your trust in someone who manages a team of worker bees who didn’t make much individual contribution – knowing that if the manager goes down, the team will at best miss a few beats?  Or would you select someone who is skilled in assembling a strong team and evoking high performance from its members?

A leader is more likely to show up for a meeting with a client or prospective client ready to ask questions.  Which is more impressive, someone who talks nonstop about the cases she’s won and the professional accolades she’s received, or someone who asks questions first to determine what’s needed and then offers how her skill and experience would serve to meet those needs?  Which behavior is more characteristic of a leader?

Clients generally hire lawyers, not firms, but clients count on the lawyers to assemble and run the teams necessary to get the business accomplished.  A leader is more likely to walk into a meeting with a prospective client and present not only his or her own professional experience, but also that of the team, complete with discussion of how the team as a whole would function to meet the client’s needs.  There’s a difference between a team leader who counts on the skill and expertise of team members and a legal hotshot who regards the team as merely a supporting cast.  Clients and potential clients (not to mention the team) will sense that difference.

Leaders have the emotional intelligence to establish strong relationships, even when something goes wrong.  Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, legal matters don’t always go the way they “should.”  Juries are notoriously unpredictable, case law changes, and unforeseeable events happen that derail strategies, no matter how carefully planned or executed.  Leaders tend to have the integrity to take responsibility when appropriate, and they have the discernment to focus on how to make things as right as possible under the circumstances.  By handling problems in this way, leaders tend to become trusted advisors rather than hired guns.

What part of your leadership development path is calling for focus so you can also improve your client service and business development skills?  Perhaps it’s your presence, since the way you hold yourself and the way you communicate both verbally and non-verbally can have a dramatic impact on how you’re perceived.  Perhaps it’s your self-management in the areas of time and energy.  Or perhaps you could be a more effective team leader, whether your team is the whole firm, a practice area team, a client matter team, or a project team.  Make the time to improve your leadership skills, and you’ll see client benefits as well.

Not sure where to start?  Read The Reluctant Rainmaker for an easy-to-follow step-by-step guide to developing the skills that will support your efforts.  If you’d like to move faster and further, please contact me to arrange a consultation.

What are your rainmaking priorities?

“All things being equal, people will do business with – and refer business to – those people they know, like and trust.” This quote, from Bob Burg’s excellent book Endless Referrals, sums up why it is that relationships serve as the basis for rainmaking. It also clarifies what your priorities should be for business development. Focus first on those who already know, like, and trust you, and then seek to expand those sources of business. That order of approach dictates, in turn, the priorities that you should set as you work to develop your book of business.
1.    Priority #1: Current clients. Your current clients are your “low hanging fruit.” Your top priority should be providing them excellent client service. Consider these aspects of client service:
  • Communicate with your clients and observe their preferences for amount and kind of communication that they want.
  • Be responsive. Manage your clients’ expectations and ensure that your clients always know how to contact you or someone in your office.
  • Share bad news appropriately. Deliver the news as soon as possible. Explain the news, what it means, and advise the client about next steps.
  • Be reliable with cost estimates and billing.
  • Facilitate your work with your clients. Anything you can do to make it easier for your clients to do business with you is likely to be well received by your clients.
  • Spend time with your clients. Consider spending time with clients in a social setting or (where appropriate) by visiting their place of business to develop a more full understanding of their business.
  • Deliver extra value to your clients. By providing some assistance, promotion, or service to your client that is over and above the legal services you’ve agreed to provide, you demonstrate the importance you place on your client relationships generally and on that client specifically.
  • Conduct client satisfaction interviews or surveys. Unless you ask, your clients are unlikely to volunteer their level of satisfaction unless they’re dissatisfied to the point of considering terminating the relationship or effusive in praise.
2.    Priority #2: Former Clients and Referral Sources. The second priority for business development efforts is former clients and referral sources. These contacts already know and, presumably, like and trust you.
 
3.    Priority #3: “Warm” Potential Clients and Referral Sources.If you have some connection to a potential client or a contact who might be in a likely position to refer business to you, consider these individuals to be “warm” contacts. They don’t yet know, like, or trust you, but if you’re introduced by someone in whom they have confidence, you’re more likely to be able to develop a relationship with greater speed than without such an introduction.
 
4.    Priority #4: Strangers. Converting complete strangers into clients is by far the most arduous form of business development. It’s necessary to determine the potential client’s needs and to match your abilities to those needs – assuming that those needs aren’t currently being met by another lawyer – and, raising the level of difficulty yet further, the process of getting to be known, liked, and trusted begins at ground zero. While strangers do become clients, the path is typically longer and less direct that the path from warm contact to client. Wooing strangers should be the lowest priority task in business development activity because it has the lowest potential of yielding new business at any given time.

When you apply these priorities to your business development efforts, something surprising will happen. You’ll begin to view your billable work as a rainmaking activity as well as the heart of your practice. You’ll also begin to see relationships as the “must do” meat of your business development plan, and you’ll understand why you shouldn’t expect to move a new contact quickly from stranger to client. As a result, you’ll be able to stage the rainmaking work you do so that you put time in where it’s most effective. And over time, you’ll find that your business development work yields much better results.

Book Review

The 29% Solution:  52 Weekly Networking Success Strategies
by Ivan Misner by Greenleaf Book Group Press

I heard a lot of response to last week’s suggestion that networking is the most important thing a lawyer can do to grow a practice.  A few disagreed with my assessment, but most responded by asking how to network well.  Some introverts mentioned their discomfort in walking into a room of strangers.  Others said that they’d tried networking but didn’t see good results, and wondered what went wrong.  And a few said they worried about being obnoxious or being cornered by pushy or mercenary people.

Although legal rainmaking is different in many respects from other kinds of sales, good networking encompasses a universally applicable system of skills and strategies.  This week’s book review, The 29% Solution, presents those must-take approaches and ideas in a simple, easy-to-apply yearlong program in which you take on one new skill each week through the year.  Do so successfully, and at the end of the year, you’ll join the estimated 29% of people who are separated from the rest of the world by just six degrees.

Section One sets out foundational steps such as setting goals for networking, blocking out time for networking, and creating a network relationship database to help you track the connections among your contacts.  By week seven, you begin to get into the meat of networking strategies with the “Top 10 Traits” of master networkers:

  1. Timely follow-up on referrals
  2. Positive attitude
  3. Enthusiasm/motivation
  4. Trustworthiness
  5. Good listening skills
  6. Commitment to networking 24/7
  7. Gratitude
  8. Helpfulness
  9. Sincerity
  10. Dedication to working one’s network

Section Two recommends ways to grow a network of contacts and points out in week 12 the danger that many lawyers face:  being a “cave dweller.”  Many reasons surely exist not to network:  discomfort, the press of business, desire to do other activities instead.  To succeed in networking, however, you will have to step out of your cave and into the wide world, where you can practice the steps presented in the previous subsequent chapters.

Section Three presents advanced strategies.  While not especially unusual, these tips are commonly practiced only by highly skilled networkers, and they tend to produce excellent results because most people don’t use them.  For instance, Week 19 recommends sending a handwritten thank-you card following a meeting, and Week 20 exhorts readers to follow up “TODAY.”

The “how to” tips of great networkers are the focus on Section Four.  Touching on topics such as event sponsorship and looking constantly for opportunities to develop relationships, these chapters reinforce helpful approaches that go above and beyond the typicaly networking tips.

Section Five focuses on how to communicate while networking and offers a golden tip:  ask others the questions you’d like to answer, because people will generally turn the question around to you after answering.  If you apply the chapters in Sections One through Five, you will become an effective networker.

If you want to become a masterful networker, continue on to Sections Six (which encourages you to become an expert, through writing and speaking), Seven (which offers some approaches for promoting yourself using client feedback and success stories), and Eight (which encourages the reader to do what others won’t do).

The 29% Solution offers the eminently practical (some might say obvious) reoommendation that you engage in smart networking, which is defined as focused, strategic, and delivering a high return on investment of time, money, and energy.  While this recommendation borders on being so obvious as to be a turn-off, it can be forgiven since it serves as a valid reminder not to strike out and flail about in a thoughtless flurry of networking activity.

If you’re uncomfortable in networking settings, pick up The 29% Solution and browse its ideas.  I would not recommend adhering to the weekly schedule, because you might delay or miss helpful ideas.  For instance, week 43 offers the helpful suggestion that you adopt the mindset of a host; this is one of the top tips I recommend to introverts, and I hate to think that someone might suffer through 42 weeks without finding the suggestion that, with a simple shift in attitude, can transform networking.

If you’re looking for information specific to networking in a legal setting, check out The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling.  You’ll find step-by-step recommendations on how to begin networking and how to become a master at growing connections with the right people to advance your law practice.  Visit TheReluctantRainmaker.com to learn more and to pick up your copy today.

The Reluctant Rainmaker video

I’ve received terrific feedback about my new book The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling, and people have asked what made me decide to write this book now.  Here’s a short video with my personal story about why helping lawyers learn to excel in business development (especially helping the lawyers who think they don’t have the “magic touch” necessary to bring in new clients) is so important to me.

TRR LA June 25

What’s the best way to grow your practice?

One of the keys to success is efficient and effective action.  We all know that’s true in billable work, and we study time management and time mastery to find ways to optimize daily activity.

Nowhere is this principle truer than in business development.  Most lawyers don’t get excited at the prospect of undertaking rainmaking activity, and thrashing about aimlessly (meaning, inconsistenly and without a solid strategy) is almost guaranteed to produce poor results.  And poor results tend to produce a heavy sigh and a, “See, I knew I’m not destined to be a rainmaker” attitude – which tends to doom future action.  It’s a nasty cycle, and avoiding that cycle entirely is much easier than breaking it once it’s started.

So, it follows that the best way to grow your practice is by taking consistent, strategically determined steps toward your goals for you practice.  Once you become aware of the importance of consistency and strategy in rainmaking, you’ve unlocked the first key to business development success.

However, you still have to know what to do, and that’s the source of the popular question, “What’s the best way to grow my practice?”  It isn’t possible to give a blanket answer for every lawyer and every practice.  Advertising, for example, is a good tactic for some practices, especially those that depend on immediate and urgent need and a high volume of matters.  It’s less likely to pay off for practices that center on more complex matters that are ilkely to generate high fees.

One rainmaking tactic, however, tends to perform well no matter the practice area:  making personal contacts.

As Bob Burg, author of Endless Referrals, wrote, “All things being equal, people will do business with and refer business to those people they know, like and trust.”  In other words, the more people who know you and think well of you, the more likely you are to receive business and referrals.

While you might argue about whether all things are ever equal, think about how you select any servicee professional you hire.  Whether you’re looking for a dentist, a house painter, a baby sitter, or a lawyer, chances are that you check with at least one or two or your contacts to get a referral, and a significant number of clients who seek your services will do the same.  Knowing more people increases the chance that someone in need of your services will find out about you.

Likewise, your current and former clients know and, one would hope, like and trust you.  They also have had the experience of working with you, so they know how you serve clients and may be able to evaluate, to some extent, your legal ability.  As a result, current and former clients may be even more likely to refer business to you and, where your practice is amenable, bring you additional work themselves.

So, the bottom line is that the more people you know, the more likely you are to bring in new business.  And it follows naturally that, without knowing any information about your specific practice or your strengths, my top recommendation for growing your law practice is to work on increasing your network of contacts, consistently and strategically.

Consider these questions to kick-start your networking:

  • Are most of your clients referrals, or do clients contact you directly?
  • Where do your ideal clients congregate?
  • Where do your ideal referral sources congregate?
  • What organizations offer a natural fit for your practice, by virtue of subject area or membership, and how can you get involved?

If you’d like to learn more about where and how to network, you may want to investigate The Reluctant Rainmaker: Business Development for Lawyers Who Hate Selling.  You’ll find step-by-step recommendations on how to begin networking and how to become a master at growing connections with the right people to advance your law practice.  Visit TheReluctantRainmaker.com to learn more and to pick up your copy today.