Fatal Mistakes That Doom Rainmaking Efforts

Several potential client consultations over the last few weeks have put me in mind of the old story about the tortoise and the hare. We all know the lesson, that slow and steady wins the race, and the same is true in business development — though consistent is a more accurate word here than slow.  Jumping into rainmaking activity without a solid, strategic plan is like jumping into the deep end of the pool without knowing how to swim:  you may do a few uncoordinated strokes, generating lots of splashing, but you won’t get much of anywhere.  In fact, you may get so tired you drown.

The caveat to the slow and steady approach is that waiting until the plan is perfect is just as fatal as not planning at all — and maybe more so. If you refine and rework your plan to the point that it covers all contingencies, sets up a flawless strategy that takes account of every possibility and leaves no opportunities unexplored, you’ll never move from planning to action.  The fear of making mistakes or overlooking some favorable condition creates inaction or the disjointed, uncoordinated action that tends to accompany having no plan at all.

The answer? Make a plan.  Don’t wait for it to be perfect.  Start implementing, and then refine your plan.  That’s the process you’ll follow for the rest of your rainmaking career, and it’s the only way to start and finish strong.  Want more information?  See Chapter Three of The Reluctant Rainmaker:  A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling.  In the meantime, consider this month’s quotes about hurry, fear, and action.

Quotes of the Month:

Do not fear mistakes.  You will know failure.  Continue to reach out.
~Benjamin Franklin

For a nation which has an almost evil reputation for bustle, bustle, bustle, and rush, rush, rush, we spend an enormous amount of time standing around in line in front of windows, just waiting.
~Robert Benchley

Just be patient.  Let the game come to you.  Don’t rush.  Be quick, but don’t hurry.
~Earl Monroe

We have time, there’s no big rush.
~Jimi Hendrix

Action expresses priorities.
~Mohandas Gandhi

Never confuse motion with action.
~Benjamin Franklin

There are risks and costs to action.  But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.
~John F. Kennedy

When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.

Get action.  Seize the moment.  Man was never intended to become an oyster.
~Theodore Roosevelt

You see, in life, lots of people know what to do, but few people actually do what they know.  Knowing is not enough!  You must take action.
~Tony Robbins

Follow effective action with quiet reflection.  From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.
~Peter Drucker

The time for action is now.  It’s never too late to do something.
~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Billable Time Or Biz Dev…Or Both?

Last week, I delivered a business development workshop for an Atlanta law firm, and gave my recommendations about how much time lawyers should spend on business development. Although the exact number depends on several factors, in general I recommend 1-5 hours a week, with more time suggested for more senior lawyers.  Some participants bristled at the idea of spending that much time on business development.

But here’s the easy-to-miss, critical distinction:  done properly, time spent with clients is business development.

That’s because, “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 why your current clients should be your top priority for business development, followed by former clients and referral sources, then “warm” contacts, and only finally strangers.

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.

Your current clients are your “low hanging fruit”.  Your top priority should be providing excellent client service to your clients. Consider these aspects of client service:

  • Communicate with your clients and observe their preferences for amount and kind of communication 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.
  • When you bill, do so in a comprehensible way that’s explained sufficiently to forestall questions about what was done or why.
  • 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 them.
  • 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.

When you apply these priorities to your business development efforts, you’ll begin to view your billable works 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.

If It Ain’t Broke, Break It

John Kotter, a noted expert on leadership and change management, fervently believes that attachment to the status quo is a silent but deadly killer. In A Sense of Urgency, Kotter demonstrates through numerous examples that organizations stall and atrophy as change fails.  Kotter’s bottom line?

If it ain’t broke, break it.

A Sense of Urgency draws on an earlier Kotter book titled Leading Change, in which he proposed instilling a sense of urgency as the first step of an eight-step process to implement successful transformation.  However, he found that increasing urgency is the most difficult and the least developed of the change process steps, thus prompting him to write A Sense of Urgency.

According to Kotter, change is continuous in nature. Rather than a single enormous change, such as an acquisition, continuous change exists in the form of (for example) new strategies and new projects.  Organizations must adopt a proactive approach to these continuous changes, which requires creation of an appropriate sense of real urgency.

Kotter maintains that carrying out proactive change requires organizations both to diagnose and overcome complacency (which he defines as “a feeling that a person has about his or her behavior, about what needs to be done or not done”) and to avoid false urgency, which creates a flurry of activity that distracts participants from legitimate activity that will produce meaningful change.  Kotter proposes several methods to do just that.

One of the most effective methods that Kotter recommends is to seek out opportunities and hazards coming from inside the organization, perhaps from clients, competitors, or the marketplace at large. This awareness encourages innovation and discourages complacency:  “When you don’t see opportunities or hazards, your sense of urgency drops.  With less urgency, you are even less inclined to look outside for the new possibilities and problems.  Complacency grows.”  Kotter offers a laundry list of approaches to develop this outside awareness, including listening to those who have the most interaction with the customer; using the power of video to bring important issues alive; sharing news — good and bad — with all members of the organization; sending people out as scouts to gather intelligence; and bringing key customers, prospects, new hires and information into the organization.

In addition, organizations should develop “urgent patience,” in which workers reject frenetic busywork in favor of working toward goals with purpose and intention, to avoid the danger of false urgency.  By remaining focused on key goals rather than merely generating activity, energy and attention are reserved for formulating actions that will produce desired movement.

One particularly interesting aspect of Kotter’s work is the marriage of logical, analytical, business-centered goals with an emotional connection to those goals. Bringing emotion to a solid business decision creates engagement, promotes workers to set and achieve higher goals, and prompts them to challenge the status quo and their ordinary comfort zones.  The result?  Meaningful change.

What’s in it for lawyers? There’s no question that the legal profession has undergone a complete sea change over the last several years.  The legal industry has been shaken up, and some lawyers are seizing the opportunities that are emerging.  Others, however, seem to be hunkered down, waiting for the storm to pass.  In my opinion, even when the storm itself has ended, we’re going to be left with a new world — there’s no going “home” anymore, Toto — which makes this a dangerous response.

Kotter’s theses speak to why those who are proactively seeking opportunities will be more successful than those who are just responding to crisis.  Effective change agents, he writes, “take carefully considered action to convert initial anxiety and anger into a determination to act now and win.”  Crises force re-evaluation and improvement, and in the absence of an externally-imposed crisis (a “burning platform”), Kotter urges organizations to torch their own platforms to stay abreast of change.

What has your (or your firm’s) response been to the downturn?  What has your own response been to your business development efforts?  If you or your organization tend to be reactive rather than proactive, I’d urge you to pick up A Sense of Urgency. For most lawyers, the platform has been in flames, and the resulting challenges bring both danger and opportunity. If you’re having trouble finding the opportunity, Kotter’s book provides substantial direction.  While complacency is unlikely to be the risk these days, false urgency (“We’ve got to reduce expenses!  Slash the business development budget, now!”) is running rampant in some circles.  Kotter can help.


Grab The Fruit!

You’ve no doubt heard the advice to track “low-hanging fruit” as a part of your business development efforts. That fruit is easy to identify if you have a hot prospect, someone who has a current unmet need that you can fill, who already knows you, and with whom you’ve already had a conversation about how you might help.  (Did you think of someone in that category?  Stop reading now and contact that person.  Quit delaying.)

But what if you don’t have any low-hanging fruit that’s quite that “ripe” yet?

Low-hanging fruit is equally valuable when it comes to identifying people you want to meet. Most of us have unrecognized connections and introductions that others have offered.  That’s low-hanging fruit of a different kind.  Not as close to income as a potential client on the cusp of hiring you, but a valuable asset a step or two earlier in the process.

Pause of just a minute a list three or four people (or company representatives) who would be strong referral sources for you. To the extent possible, identify people with whom you have some sort of natural affinity, by virtue of mutual business opportunity, affiliation, or something similar.

Next, strategize about how you can meet those people. Who’s in the six degrees of separation between you?  (Have you checked LinkedIn?  Perhaps your separation is even less.)  Where are your natural points of overlap in activity?  Where can you create opportunities?

Alternatively, think about the organizations in which you’re active. Who should you be getting to know better there?  It’s easy to slip into talking with the same people meeting after meeting, but your network will grow only as you find ways to build new connections.

When you can see a natural path to reach someone you want to meet, or a connection that can be developed, you have low-hanging fruit for networking. By looking at your network through these eyes, you have an opportunity to step outside the everyday connections you’ve built to reach low-hanging fruit.

Simple, right?  Get started!