Evaluate the cost/benefit ratio before agreeing to write or speak.

Before you decide to speak or to write an article concerning your area of practice, you must ensure that your time will be well invested.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Will this reach the right audience? Writing for or speaking to the wrong audience (meaning, an audience composed of people whom you do not serve) will not bring enough benefit to justify the investment of time, so ask this foundational question before you begin. Your business development plan will define the right audience.
  2. How much time will this require? Short, practical articles (done well) will deliver good results in a reasonable time. Longer articles can be valuable in building your credibility, but they take a greater investment of time. Speaking always requires preparation, especially if you’re delivering a new presentation. Be realistic in your estimate of the time required — before you begin.
  3. What results would make the expenditure of time worthwhile? As with any business development activity, you must measure the results that you get from writing or speaking. What’s more, you must know, before you begin, what results would make it worthwhile for you to have taken on the activity. You may find that writing an article will pay off significant dividends for credibility enhancement, for example, but if you’re hoping to bring in new business in the near future as a direct result of the time you put in, writing almost certainly isn’t your best bet.
  4. How does this opportunity to write or speak compare to more immediate high-yield activity? Regardless of how terrific your article is, and regardless of the subject matter and the kind of results that you achieve, writing is a slow-yield opportunity. It is incredibly unlikely that you will write an article, have it published, and have your phone ring with a potential client calling you only because they saw that article. So, you must consider, before you begin, whether you would be better advised to invest your time in something that is a higher-yield activity. 

Writing and speaking can be an effective way to increase your professional reach, or it can be a time-consuming approach that delivers disappointing results. Going through these questions will help you to make foundational decisions that will get you on the right track — before you begin.

Will you clients and contacts think of you first when they need help?

Jon, a midcareer lawyer working in a boutique law firm, handles white-collar criminal defense matters. Most of his clients come through referrals from other lawyers. Far too often, those lawyers fail to appreciate that they need someone who practices in the area every day. Instead, they try to handle a matter themselves. After doing the best they can and finding that their best is insufficient, they discover that they need someone who knows the government prosecutors and who can read the subtle signals in government requests.  That’s where Jon comes into the picture.

Jon can only get referrals early in the process—early enough to be of maximum assistance to the client—if the lawyers who send those referrals, think of him as soon as a white collar issue arises. A prevalent myth holds that simply being a great lawyer who gets great results is enough to bring in business. Unfortunately, if you are not top-of-mind for your clients and contacts, they won’t think to call you even if they do need you. What’s more, especially if you deal with clients who are not legally sophisticated, they may need you and not even know it. 

In an ideal world, your contacts will always think to call you when there’s a matter with which you might be able to help. In the real world, your contacts are likely to be so preoccupied with their own concerns that they won’t think of you unless you have taken steps to ensure that they know your skills and that you regularly engage with them.

What’s the solution? Deliver interesting and useful information to your clients (including former clients) and contacts on a regular basis, and use that delivery of information to build and maintain relationships with them.  When you engage in a useful way with your contacts, you raise your profile with those contacts. You may become the go-to person in a particular area of practice by virtue of the relationships you build over time.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Create a clear description of your practice, including examples. Test it to be sure that a wide variety of people understand what you do and what kind of work you handle.
  • Share that description (in a natural way) when you talk with others, and share the stories that will root that description in their memory. We’d all like to believe that a single explanation of the work we do is sufficient, but chances are that it isn’t.
  • Look for opportunities to deliver useful information. That delivery can come in the form of widely distributed newsletters or client alerts, or you can send interesting articles or thought snippets one-by-one. Just be sure the information you share is relevant and adds value for the recipient.
  • Whenever you get in touch with someone in your network, create opportunities to build the relationship just a little more. Relationship-building doesn’t have to mean a 3-hour lunch. It can be as simple as, “Did you catch the game last night? Do you follow [seasonal sport]? Who’s your team?” When you keep in touch, you’ll have plenty of chances to have a short exchange that will grow your relationship.

Everyone is operating inside his or her own bubble, and it’s your job to reach into the bubble (in a welcomed, non-intrusive way) as a reminder that you’re a likeable person who’s ready to help. Done properly, that message will be exemplified in everything you do, and you’ll feel much less pressure to make a plea for business.

Legal Business Development: How do I choose the right differentiators?

A reader sent in a question following this article about finding ways to stand out from other practitioners in your field. After outlining several potential points of differentiation, this general litigator asked, “I just can’t figure out how to make myself stand out in a town with thousands of attorneys.  I write, I speak, I’m involved – but I am not really generating any traction. How do I choose the right way to differentiate myself from everybody else?” 

My Answer: 

Distinctions come to be in one of three ways:

  1. By virtue of the practice area, such as Hatch-Waxman Act work or doing special needs trusts.
  2. Due to some particular experience or skill developed in the past, such as a patent licensing lawyer who has a background in tax issues and can therefore address at least some tax issues without having to resort to a tax lawyer.
  3. As the result of experience gained over time in one or two specific subcategories of a practice — which is what you describe with the concentrations you mentioned and (to a lesser degree) the classes you’ve taught as an adjunct professor.

When it comes to building your own practice (as distinct from looking to introduce potential clients to other firm lawyers in other areas of practice, for example), #3 is probably the most common way to set up a point of distinction.

When you’re deciding what to pursue to set yourself apart, think about whether the areas of practice you might pursue are ones you enjoy and could envision as the scope of your practice, the likelihood that those areas will hold steady and preferably expand over time, and the accessibility of a viable category of potential clients who would need help in those areas. If one of the substantive areas you’re considering tends to be cyclical, consider whether there’s a related practice area that is counter-cyclical. There’s nothing wrong with a cyclical practice area as long as the same factors that would drive business down in one area would drive it up in another.

Given that you’re in general litigation, I think you’ll end up with two avenues of distinction: one is substantive, as you’ve outlined above, and the second may be in terms of how you serve your clients. Think about what you can do to make it easy for your clients to do business with you, how you can provide a “value add” for them, and so on. Those take time to figure out, but keep it in the back of your mind and notice what you see that works well (or not) and what clients seem to value.

Most importantly, recognize that even though a distinction may sometimes occur organically, it more often is something that you will select and them bring to fruition. That means that you can choose your area(s) of focus and work to increase your experience and build your reputation in those areas, but it also means that you need to make your decision now and get moving.

The Disciplined Mind… with Safeguards

Before I left for vacation, I’d settled into a nice routine with my workouts.  Up at 5, at the gym around 5:30, and done around 6:30.  It wasn’t easy (especially since I’m not at all a morning person) but it had become habit and I’d maintained the effort for months.

One of the first things I remember learning about working out (years ago!) is that the mind will give up before the body does.  That’s a mantra I use most days in the gym, especially when I’m pushing myself, when my legs or arms hurt, I’m out of breath, I feel like I can’t keep going, and I want nothing more than to stop.

I’ve learned, after a lot of work, that I can pay attention to the discomfort and doubts, or I can crank up the music and keep on going until I achieve what I know I can do.  Even though Lance Armstrong is operating under a shadow these days, he nailed it with this quote:

Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever. That surrender, even the smallest act of giving up, stays with me. So when I feel like quitting, I ask myself, which would I rather live with?

There’s a confidence that comes with completing the designated task on a consistent basis.  It’s a confidence born of experience, and there’s no substitute for or shortcut to developing it. I haven’t hit my overall goals yet, but because I keep hitting the interim goals as planned, I know that I will reach that ultimate success. 

Even though I usually don’t let temporary discomfort derail me, I’ve learned that I need safeguards on some occasions.  Most recently, I knew I’d be facing a challenge to get back to the gym after being away for more than two weeks.  I wanted to be sure that I’d manage that challenge, so I booked an appointment with my trainer for the first day I planned to return to the gym.  No excuses on the time.  And, in fact, I booked a double appointment, for help with cardio as well as weight training.  No wiggle room on leaving out part of my planned workout.

And sure enough, the workout was not pleasant.  And my trainer encouraged me and pushed me, giving me the support and push that I needed so that I could do what I’d planned – and, in fact, to stretch a little bit further.  The next workout was much easier (mentally, if not physically), and my confidence continues to grow.

Questions for Reflection

The message here is pretty obvious.  Give some thought to these questions.

  • How developed is your determination when it comes to business development?
  • Are you making the most of your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses in rainmaking activities?
  • Do you have a solid business development plan in place?
  • Are you confident in your ability to put that plan into action and reach the goals you’ve set?
  • Have you identified danger zones, when you may be likely to slide backwards?
  • What support do you need to get through those danger zones and to stretch you beyond your comfort zone?  Do you need to line up additional help?

Consistency

I often enjoy the EarlyToRise.com newsletter, which recently included an excerpt from Sharon LaBelle’s book The Art of Living, which distilled Epictetus’s The Virtuous Are Consistent as follows:

To live a life of virtue, you have to become consistent, even when it isn’t convenient, comfortable, or easy. 

It is incumbent that your thoughts, words, and deeds match up. This is a higher standard than that held by the mob. . . When your thoughts, words, and deeds form a seamless fabric, you streamline your efforts and thus eliminate worry and dread. In this way, it is easier to seek goodness than to conduct yourself in a haphazard fashion or according to the feelings of the moment. . . 

It’s so simple really: If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you start something, finish it.” 

(Emphasis added.)

Consistency in any field builds on itself and builds momentum. And momentum creates at least part of the streamlining referred to in LaBelle’s summary of The Virtuous Are Consistent.

So here’s this week’s question: when it comes to business development, how consistent are you? Do you yield when it isn’t convenient, comfortable, or easy to carry through with the plans you’ve set for yourself? If so, what’s one step you could take today to shift that pattern? Can you…

  • Make the follow-up call?
  • Start the article and lay plans so you’ll also finish it?
  • Finally launch that blog or video blog or podcast you’ve been thinking about?
  • Figure out what you’ll say when you introduce yourself, or when someone asks who your ideal client is?
  • Draft (or revise) your bio sketch so that it reflects not just what you’ve done, but also what sets you apart from others in your field?

Chances are that you have a list (at least a mental list) of those nagging tasks that you’ve allowed to slide through the cracks. A lot of mental and emotional energy goes into avoiding what has to be done, so stop dropping the ball. Here’s how:

  1. Develop a list of your must-do activities. They may include repetition or they may be one-offs, but you have to be clear about what’s included. Maintain the list in a form that allows you to add and remove tasks as necessary.
  2. Set a specific time for your business development activity. I recommend daily activity so that you won’t be thrown too far off track if you miss one appointment. Consistency, however, is the key.
  3. Keep your appointments with yourself. Even (maybe especially) when you don’t want to.
  4. Design accountability for yourself. You can buddy up with a colleague, share your promises with your mentor, use an app, or just use the Seinfeld “don’t break the chain” method on a calendar. How you do it is much less important than that you do it.
  5. Start small. Don’t decide that you’ll do everything on your list if you’ve been letting things slide. Pick one key action and do that consistently, then add on. Just like deciding to jump off the sofa and hit the gym for two hours every day when you haven’t done any meaningful exercise in three years is destined to fail, grandiose business development plans tend not to stick. 

What can you do today to develop consistency in actions that will build your practice? What are you waiting for?

Catching attention, building connections

I recently spent nearly two hours sitting at an airport gate, sitting about 5 feet behind a stand with Delta American Express card representatives.  You’ve probably seen these stands: a table to the side of a concourse, with various promotional freebies, application forms neatly stacked, and one or two hawkers, trying desperately to get people to pause and fill out an application.

Annoying, right?  I drowned out the hawker’s calls.  But as I sat reading, I noticed that more people than usual were coming up to this table, and they were staying longer than usual to talk with the card rep.  So I started listening. And I re-learned something useful.

The average hawker bombards passersby with the “great offer” they simply “can’t pass up.” But this rep focused on individuals and engaged them: “You, miss, in the red shirt!  Where are you headed today?”

Some people ignored him, but over and over, people paused, walked to the stand, and talked with the rep.  Some told him about their travel delays.  Others told him about the jobs they were traveling for or the family they were leaving behind.  Several soldiers told him what it’s like to be on leave from duty in the Middle East.  And the marketer listened.  He asked questions and empathized.  He was genuinely present with the people who were talking with him.

After he’d heard some part of their travel story, he’d weave in his offer: “Man, wouldn’t you like to get an extra 10,000 miles so you can get back to see her more often?”  Sure, the rep was trying to get people to apply for a credit card, but he was doing it by connecting with people, by building a relationship, albeit a brief one.  And almost without exception, the people who stopped in front of the display filled out something, whether a credit card application or a Delta mileage program application.

Observing this guy reminded me of a Maya Angelou quote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  What I saw was the power of listening and genuine, though brief and superficial, connection.

The contrast was clear when he went on break and another pusher took his place.  This hawker didn’t engage people.  He threw out half-hearted, “Sir, don’t you want extra some SkyMiles today?  It’s a great offer!  You can’t pass it up!  Sir, you flyin’ Delta today?  We’re giving away 10,000 SkyMiles free — for nuthin’!”  But the busy passengers did pass it by the table over and over without stopping.   Those who did stop received only the sales pitch, and I’d guess this vendor’s application completion rate was much less than half of the other man’s.

Small sale or large, connection really does pay.  And it doesn’t require a tremendous amount of effort.  It simply requires genuine presence.  Not a bad reminder while waiting in an airport.

How can you apply this insight? Write your website copy or the introduction to an article from your target read’s point of view. When talking with a potential client or referral source, ask questions before you talk about your experience and qualifications. Make it your practice to seek to understand before you seek to be understood.

 

Ya Gotta Say NO to Grow!

When you think about business development, do you think more of “yes” or “no”?  Most people seem to think “yes.”

  • YES, I’ll attend that networking meeting
  • YES, I’ll write that article or blog post or newsletter
  • YES, I’ll meet with that potential referral source
  • YES, I’ll get another certification or specialists’ certificate
  • YES, I’ll speak at that seminar
  • YES, I’ll serve on that board
  • YES, I’m on Twitter… And Facebook… And LinkedIn… And App.net… And Pinterest… And Google+… And YouTube… And….
  • YES, I can take a call at 9 PM
  • YES, I’d love to meet for breakfast

And so on, until there’s a shift to… Yes, I’m spread too thin.  Yes, I’m feeling stressed.  Yes, things are slipping through the cracks.  YES, I’m burned out. 

“Yes” is undoubtedly a crucial word for business development.  Saying yes to strategic, carefully selected activities creates more opportunities that open the door for results.

But time and energy are finite.  That means you need to choose wisely how and where to spend your time and energy.

Every “yes” is in effect a “no” to one or more other opportunities.  You can’t be in two places at one time, you can’t invest your business development hours on all the activities you might like if you’d also like to have time available for your clients, your professional activities, and your personal life.

Rather than saying “yes” to everything that seems like it might possibly be a good opportunity, pause and critically evaluate the openings that come your way.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • What’s the cost of doing this?  Consider time, money, and political or relationship costs.
  • Does this opportunity move me closer to what I want to accomplish?  A strategic lunch will move you toward your goals.  A “random act of lunch” will feed nothing but your stomach.
  • What’s the potential upside?  What might you get from doing this activity?  Getting business is a significant upside, of course, but don’t overlook other potential such as developing relationships, creating exposure for yourself and your practice, or learning something that will support your practice.  Launching a blog can help you to get business.  It may also lead to referrals, collegial conversations, other writing opportunities, speaking engagements, enhanced insight into issues in your practice area, and even friendship.
  • How valuable is the potential upside?  In the blogging example above, the potential includes not just new business but also increased substantive knowledge, new and enhanced relationships, and a higher professional profile.  That’s rather valuable.
  • What’s the likelihood of realizing that upside?  You may not be able to answer this in detail, especially if the activity you’re considering is new to you, but you should have some qualitative sense of the likelihood of success. If you take up blogging, your deeper knowledge of the subject area is entirely within your control; put in the time, you’ll develop the knowledge.  That means acquiring more substantive expertise has a high likelihood of realization if you’re committed to blogging.  Landing a speaking gig is less certain, simply because it will take time for you to meet the right people through your blog, to develop the requisite perceived expertise, and for the speaking opportunity to exist before you’ll be offered the chance to speak.
  • What must you say no to, if you say yes to this opportunity?  You might give up other business development opportunities, billable time, or sleep.  You might have to give up cash.  This is another way of looking at the cost, but it puts the issue into sharp focus.  If you decide to commit two hours a week to blogging, you will be unable to spend that time in face-to-face meetings.  That may be a deal breaker or no big deal – but you’ll know only if you ask the question.

It’s easy to see positive potential and to overlook the costs.  Doing so may keep you from making strategic choices, however.  Especially if you’re newer to business development, take the time to evaluate before you accept an opportunity.  By necessity, you’ll always give up something.  They key is to make sure you’re saying yes to the right opportunities, no just every one that comes your way.

Sometimes, you’ve gotta say NO so your practice can grow.

What do you say when you ask for business?

A client recently confided that he had never actually asked for business from a potential client.  Surprised (since I knew that his $275,000 book of business hadn’t just happened), I asked what he meant, and he responded that asking for the business means saying something like, “I’d like to handle that for you.”

A flat, bold statement is one way to ask for business, but as my client and I discussed, it’s just one of a wide variety of “asks” that he could make.  Asking for business isn’t a nice way of describing demanding business, and it doesn’t have to be a show-stopper request that sticks out as an “ask.”  Instead, asking can be a gentle statement or question that affirms your interest and ability to help.

I’ve previously written about what to bear in mind when preparing to ask for business – or when you notice that you’re shying away from making a direct request.  As a foundational piece, you must be clear that discussing a potential matter is beneficial for a client (if you ask helpful questions and/or provide useful insights) and that asking for the business is a natural continuation in which you’re offering bring your skill to meet a need that you and the potential client have identified together.

In other words, there is no magic formula, you don’t have to craft a single “right” way to make your request, and you should not feel that you’re trying to put one over on your potential client.  Instead, you should listen to the potential client, ask questions to clarify the situation and your potential client’s goals and concerns, and discuss relevant experience or ideas that you have.  And then you should offer to take the next step.

With the caveat that no two attorneys will likely ask for business in the same way, consider language along these lines: 

  • Would you like me to outline an approach based on our conversation?
  • Based on what we’ve talked about today, would you be interested in moving forward? (Optional: when?)
  • Please let me know if I can help you in any way with this issue.
  • I can help you with [summarize issue]. (Optional: I’d be happy to do that.)

How many ways can you ask for business?  Limitless.  But the only effective way is to engage in productive conversation with a potential client who has a current, unmet need and to offer your assistance in a way that genuinely reflects who you are and how you relate to others.

July Reading

Let’s close July with some articles and posts you should not miss.

Every lawyer knows something about the pressures that surround the practice of law. And because business development is meaningless unless it moves you closer to a future you actually want to live, here are two articles and posts you should not miss about being a lawyer.

  • The Lawyer, the Addict This article about one lawyer who, like so many others, fell to drug and alcohol addiction, has been making the rounds. If you haven’t read it yet, stop and do so now. Your practice and life, or that of a friend or colleague, could depend on it.
  • Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Lawyers. A brief post by Cliff Tuttle, on the right reason to be a lawyer.

On the business development side…

  • Still using LinkedIn like a virtual Rolodex? That’s a mistake. Check this article for a better approach: 10 Reasons to Share Articles to LinkedIn:
  • Read Consistency and Sustainability in Selling for a refresher on some fundamentals of business development. Don’t be thrown by the “sales” language: recast this brief post into the language of business development plus client service and retention, and you’ll get the benefit. My favorite tip? “ABP” or “Always Be meeting People” – I revised the acronym’s expansion. 

What did you read this month that made you sit up and take notice? I’d love to hear!

 

How can you revive a neglected professional relationship?

Despite the best of intentions, it’s easy to let a relationship slide. You get busy, you lose track of your contact schedule, you run out of ideas for keeping in touch… And next thing you know, your relationship has atrophied.

But, like muscle, an atrophied relationship can be rebuilt. By focusing time and attention on your relationship and maintaining consistent effort, you’ll often be able to revive a good relationship more easily than you built it in the first place.

But you might feel awkward trying to re-energize a stagnant relationship, especially if you aren’t sure that the relationship can be reinvigorated. If you find yourself about to write off a relationship, you need to be sure that the relationship can’t be resurrected. It’s easy to allow discomfort to lead you into turning a neglected but viable relationship into a dead one, and lawyers far too often write off relationships before they’re truly finished. But how do you know? Or, as someone often inquires when I’m presenting a business development workshop, Is it ever too late to rebuild professional relationships that have languished?

The short answer is that it depends on the relationship. The deeper the relationship, the more likely it can be resurrected.  If, however, you meet once and fail to follow up, or if you follow up only once or twice, the relationship will lack the firm footing necessary to allow it to flourish following a period of silence.  That said, it never hurts to try to rebuild a relationship, particularly if your sole reason for reconnecting is to re-establish communication and not to seek a favor

So, what can you do to rebuild a connection that has faded? The simplest, and often the most effective, approach is to do precisely what you would do with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time: pick up the phone and say, “I realized it’s been a while since we’ve spoken, and you’ve been on my mind.  Is this a good time to talk for a few minutes? How are things with you?  What’s new?”  If several months have passed since you were in touch with this contact, you may even begin the conversation by re-introducing yourself.  (This is where my recommendation to maintain a database of contacts proves especially helpful: you don’t have to try to remember when and where you met.)  You may experience a few awkward moments as your contact gets back into the connection, but most people will pick up relatively quickly.

If, like many lawyers, you’d rather do nine hours of painstaking document review without a coffee break than pick up with phone, you do have other options. For example, you might consider the following:

  • Send an email to reconnect. You might suggest talking by telephone and either arrange a time or let your contact know you’ll be calling.  While you’ll still have to pick up the phone, you’ve created an expectation that you will call, and chances are good that you’ll avoid an awkward beginning.  If you suggest that you’ll call, though, you absolutely must do so – or run the risk of looking like a flake.
  • Send an article or other resource that will interest your contact. The resource may address a legal or non-legal issue, but it must be tied in some way to a conversation you’ve had with the contact.  Attach a note that says, “I remember talking with you about [topic of resource] at [wherever you had the conversation] and thought of you when I saw this [resource].  Hope it’s useful!”  By doing so, you not only reconnect by offering assistance, but you do so in a way that will bring your conversation back to your contact’s mind and refresh the relationship.
  • Issue an invitation. You might invite your contact to an open house or to attend a CLE or other seminar of interest with you.  If you deliver an invitation by mail or email, be sure to attach a note saying that you look forward to reconnecting. This personal touch will indicate to your contact that your interest is genuine.
  • Seek out news about your contact. This may be a more challenging approach if you’re seeking to reconnect than to maintain a relationship, but it’s worth a quick search to see whether your contact has been in the news recently.  You may find news of a professional event (an honor awarded, a trial won, a leadership position attained) or a personal event (a new marriage, a new baby, a recreational or community activity).  Such news offers an ideal reason to get in touch again.

Take a few minutes this week to review your list of contacts. With whom should you reconnect?  Choose three to five people and reach out to them.  Building and maintaining your network is always a valuable activity, and keeping relationships alive will often pay off (often in unexpected ways) over time.