How your holidays can help you grow your practice

We celebrated Memorial Day in the US on Monday, marking the unofficial start of the summer holiday season. Children are out of classes, or will be soon, and many of us are thinking about slowing down a bit to enjoy more family time.

It’s always a challenge to balance billable work with business development work with personal life, and a lot of my clients seem to find that even more challenging over holidays. But here’s the truth: if you drop back on business development activity because of the season, growing your practice will be that much harder.

A friend’s son, a Marine who has just returned from Afghanistan, got a new tattoo with the message, “Your future is created by what you do today.” I don’t do needles, but I’m tattooing that in my memory.

Here are a few ideas to help you keep moving forward during holidays:

  • If you’re traveling, take the opportunity to call or visit someone you know in the area. (A call can be as short and simple as, “I’m passing through with my family and wish I had time to see you, but I couldn’t be here without a quick call to see how you’re doing.”) You might also consider sending a contact a postcard or picking up a small book about the area if there’s some connection. Of course, you must use this idea judiciously. Used well, you’ll build connections; used poorly, you may come off as a bit of a stalker.
  • Doing some vacation reading? Pick up some interesting nonfiction (a business book or biography, for instance) and if the book merits it, send it on to a contact. Think too about any connections with your practice or issues facing your clients.
  • Begin laying plans for fall. For many clients, September through November is an incredibly productive period with that “back to school” feel. You’ll make the most of your time if you think about what you’d like to accomplish now.
  • Practice engaging strangers in conversation to improve your networking skills. If you find small talk challenging, practice when you meet someone while you’re attending a baseball game or traveling. The context is different, but the skills are quite similar. (Check the book The Fine Art of Small Talk for suggestions on how to approach these conversations.)
  • Use your travel time to listen to audio books. It’s often hard to squeeze in time for extra reading, but an audio book or podcast will keep you entertained and learning while you drive or relax. Email me.
  • Get into the flow of something you enjoy, then harness the energy that results. I am at my happiest when walking in the mountains and snapping photos. The creativity required for composing photos makes me think in a fresh way and sparks other kinds of creativity. Maybe you’re a photographer at heart or you could spend hours hiking. When you’re in the flow of the activities you most enjoy, you’re engaged in the truest form of recreation: re-creation. Your energy will increase, and you’ll return to work with a rested mind and fresh perspective. Use that to reenergize your professional self.

As for me, I’m on vacation this week in my favorite Wyoming landmark, Teton National Park. I have a stack of books (a nice combination of fiction and nonfiction), and I’ll be keeping my eyes open for blogging ideas. (Check out this post I wrote 5 years ago while in the Tetons for an example.)

When you’re “too busy” for biz dev

We’ve all been there, when work is so overwhelming that it feels like there’s no time for anything else
. We make promises (it’ll be different when this project is done) and we make excuses (this matter needs my full attention and I couldn’t possibly shortchange my client by spending time elsewhere). Especially for reluctant rainmakers, both are the currency of justification.

If making promises and excuses won’t cut it (and for the serious professional, it won’t), what should you make? Allowances. When busy-ness is real (and often in practice it is), determine what business development activity you will commit to while you’re swamped, and then make that happen. It’ll be less than your ordinary level of activity (that’s why it’s an allowance), but you’ll at least hold your own and most likely progress with your plans. Most importantly, you won’t have the pressure of the constant restart.

I read a terrific quote on this point this week from David Maister’s seminal True Professionalism.

If you ever allow “busy” to knock you off course, I recommend that you place this quote where you’ll see it at least daily:

What you do with your billable time determines your current income but what you do with your non-billable time determines your future.”

 Here’s to your present and your future.

9 ways to fail in sales

I read a terrifically useful article this week titled How You Fail in Sales.  Before you discard its relevance because of the word sales, remember that sales is partly persuasion (of any kind—see Daniel Pink’s To Sell Is Human for more on this) and partly conversation designed to discover a match between a potential client’s need and your ability to help.  Lawyers and other professionals sell every day, for business development and substantive practice purposes.

How You Fail in Sales is a nice checklist that will alert you to critical tasks that you may have let slide. And, of course, if you avoid these 9 mistakes, you’ll make significant headway in your business development efforts. The errors listed include:

  • Failure to gain trust: our society today is suffering from a crisis of trust. When you build trust through your relationships, you pave the way for new business. If your clients feel unable to trust you, you’ll have difficult client relationships, you won’t experience client loyalty, and you won’t get many referrals.
  • Failure to create value: your objective must be to create value for every person who encounters you. One important way to create value is to curate information and to provide commentary and insight in addition to the simple sharing of information.
  • Failure to ask for the business: if you don’t ask for the business, your potential client may think that you don’t want to handle the matter, that you aren’t interested in working with him or her, or that you’re just being nice in talking about a legal issue. You can ask for business in many ways, but you must ask. (See this blog post for some suggestions.)

Don’t let unrecognized mistakes undermine your success in business development. Read How You Fail in Sales now.


Make the most of your marketing time

Being busy has become a national obsession, and it certainly affects lawyers. We seem to have two speeds: frantic and fearful because we aren’t frantic. We need to have a discussion about what might lie between these extremes, but an even more pressing question might be how to keep marketing going even when frantic. If you don’t keep it going, you may find yourself cycling from frantic to fearful before you have an opportunity to restart your marketing and bring in additional business.

You’ve no doubt heard that content is king for marketing, and there’s a simple reason: good content builds trust. Great content is easy to generate when you have plenty of spare time, but how do you keep up the flow of content when you’re frantic?

Repurpose everything. When you do something, look for other ways to use that same content. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • An article can become multiple blog posts
  • Blog posts can be broken down into blurbs suitable for use on LinkedIn or Twitter
  • Any writing you do may yield a question suitable for opening a discussion in a LinkedIn group
  • Any presentation you make may be uploaded via SlideShare (being attentive to potential copyright questions) and you can reuse the presentation points as blog posts
  • Record a blog post, and you have a podcast (and podcasts are hot, hot, hot today—if they’re a good fit for your market)
  • Client questions can spur an article
  • Your reaction to a blog post or news story can yield a comment, which you might then expand into a blog post (as a guest, if you don’t have your own blog), an article, or a podcast 

When it comes to repurposing, the sky is the limit. Make it your habit to ask, how else can I use this?

Even more importantly, ask where you can distribute it. Content won’t help you grow your practice unless it’s consumed by the right audience. Where it’s a fit for your practice, look for ways to appear in the relevant industry and popular media. And look for how you can use what you’ve done to build relationships as well.

What resources do you have that you can repurpose now to extend your reach?