Beyond Strengths and Weaknesses

Recently, 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.

What’s your problem?

We all face challenges in the business of a law practice. We were taught in law school that we have to ask the right questions in practice to get the necessary answers for our clients.  (Litigators, you especially know what I mean!) But somehow, we forget what that means for our own businesses.

I recently spoke with a lawyer who was looking for help in landing new business, who told me that she needed to improve the way she asked for business. That’s hardly unusual, but I wanted to be sure that she was presenting the right problem, so I asked about her sales conversations. When we dug into it, I discovered that a very high percentage of would-be clients she met actually hired her. The diagnosis of her sales problem?  None. She needed to have more sales conversations, not better ones.

Another client once told me that he just didn’t have time to get everything done. After checking into his daily activities, I realized that lots of little tasks were eating up his time and he wasn’t effectively using the resources at his disposal. His problem wasn’t a lack of time. His problem was a lack of focus on his top priorities.

Sometimes seeing the right question is as simple from shifting from “why won’t those cheapskates pay my fees?” to “how can I make my fees more affordable and still deliver value?” Or it can be as murky as recognizing that the problem isn’t your elevator pitch but rather that you hate networking so much that you unintentionally send out signals that you want to be somewhere, anywhere else – or perhaps even that you would prefer to practice a different kind of law or to do something else altogether.

What challenges are you facing right now? What have you told yourself about those problems? What are you missing? And, more specifically, who can help you see the truth of your challenges?

And if you’ve been trying to solve a problem, remember Einstein’s observation that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Just like it’s difficult to scratch your own back, it’s difficult to step outside a situation in which you’re intimately involved. It’s critical to have a trusted colleague, a mentor, or a coach (ideally, a full “board of directors”) who can help you to examine your challenges so you know you’re working to answer the right questions.

Personal contacts: the foundation of every successful legal business development plan

I clerked for a federal judge in my first job after law school. Among the many lessons Judge Forrester taught me was to look for the existence of a “Q” case, the source from which the rest of the precedents would flow. In practice, I learned that some questions require the thorough search that would lead to the Q case, while others simply needed “quick and dirty” research to get to the right answer.

When it comes to business development, there’s one “Q” activity: making personal contacts. Although not every activity truly flows from making personal contacts, contacts make every other activity much more effective.

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 service 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 (let’s 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. 

Even discounting the possibility of landing new business, knowing more people increases the chance that you’ll be invited to speak, to join a relevant Board of Directors, to attend events that your ideal clients might attend, and so on. The more people you know, the more you’ll be in the flow of information that may benefit you—and the more you’ll be in contact with people whom you might be able to serve or help in some other way.

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, the “Q” activity for growing your law practice is to work on consistently and strategically increasing your network of contacts.

Consider these questions to kick-start your networking:

  • Are most of your clients referrals, or do clients contact you directly? (Should you look to increase your network of potential clients or potential referral sources –or, more likely, both?)
  • 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?

No matter what your business development plan might be, personal contacts are a foundational activity for any rainmaker.

Creating and Harnessing Momentum in Business Development

When an attorney is focused on business development and is implementing consistently a strategic plan designed to reach clearly identified goals, magic happens.  Often it’s magic that brings in new business, and for practices with longer sales cycles, it’s magic that first brings in connections and opportunities that eventually lead to new business.  The magic that always exists in the presence of consistent activity, though, is momentum.

Momentum is defined by the Macmillan Dictionary as “progress or development that is becoming faster or stronger,” and Merriam Webster adds that momentum is “strength or force gained by motion or by a series of events.”  Momentum is a force that seems to take on a life of its own.  In business development, momentum occurs when opportunities begin to flow from one another, introductions materialize, and all of the work that you’ve done yields a noticeable uptick in rainmaker results.

I’ve identified several steps to create momentum in business development.

  1. Develop a plan that includes activity in several complementary domains.  In other words, when you identify one activity to include in your plan, look for related activities that naturally build on that one.  For example, if you plan to write articles or a blog, look for ways to repurpose that content, perhaps by launching a newsletter (which is a good complement to a blog) or by speaking once or twice a year on themes that you’ve identified through your writing.
  2. As soon as you’ve decided to commit to an activity, put it on your calendar.  Momentum requires action, not just plans.  It’s easy to “decide” to have two lunches a week with good contacts and then to “decide” to start next week.  Or the week after.  Or the week after that… You know, when things slow down enough for you to catch your breath.If a commitment isn’t in your calendar, question whether it’s really a commitment.
  3. Take consistent, concentrated action.  One push may be all it takes to roll a perfect boulder down a perfect hill, but business development doesn’t exist in a perfect world.  Committing to an activity requires committing to consistent engagement.  One lunch isn’t momentum.  Five lunches might start to create momentum.  Twelve lunches in a month may be enough to get some momentum going: not only will you know that you’ll have lunch with strategically selected contacts three times a week, but you’ll be in the habit of mentally sorting your contacts to select the right lunch partners, identifying why you should meet, and planning what you’d like to realize from the lunch.  You’ll also likely get into the groove of offering and asking for assistance.Concentrated action is usually required to create momentum.  Taking action once a month is consistent, but unless the action is massive (such as hosting a seminar and then implementing a follow-up strategy that requires additional action) you’re unlikely to see momentum build.  In today’s world, our attention spans are shorter, and momentum both thrives on and creates attention.  Make business development your top priority for a set amount of time (the length of which will depend on your specific plan and practice) and that concentration may create the right content for momentum to blossom.
  4. Measure your results.  Tracking results quantifies outcomes (even when the only measurement is qualitative, as it often is especially in the beginning stages of business development) and helps to create momentum.  When you see that doing X leads to positive outcome Y, you’re more likely to repeat X.  Measurement also helps to avoid fruitless activity.
  5. Once a quarter, review your activity and results, looking specifically for synergy and complementary opportunities.  For example, if you’ve received several referrals from CPAs, perhaps you should consider how to spend more time with selected CPAs.  If you’ve sponsored a meeting, review the results of the sponsorship and your planned follow-up steps, then think about how you might build on that activity—for example, you might invite attendees to hear you speak on a topic of interest.

We all feel momentum when it happens: the phone starts ringing, one great idea generates another (and both get implemented), and you discover that your network of contacts really is a network that you can access.  Calculated steps can create momentum, but you must also prepare yourself to recognize it and to analyze what specifically created it.  When you’ve identified that what, make sure you build more of that into your plans.

A caveat about momentum, though: when it comes to business development, think of momentum as an accelerator, not as a continuous motion machine.  Remember that we commonly talk about losing momentum at least as often as we discuss gaining it.  Momentum leads to strong results, but it is not an independent force that will continue in perpetuity.

The key to creating momentum is also the key to keeping it going: consistent action. 

Do you have momentum in business development?  What would it take?  If you’re uncertain, a good place to start is by evaluating what activity has delivered the best results over the last six months and then asking yourself how you might create momentum around that activity.

What are you thinking?

How do you regard business development activity? Do you believe you can succeed? Is the wolf at the door, waiting to devour your practice if you fail? Is bringing in new business a “nice to have” activity, or is it a critical stepping stone for you? Are your clients fortunate to have you on their side?

To some lawyers’ surprise, the answers to these questions influence (sometimes heavily) the chances of success.

Attitude or mindset is a “soft” characteristic of rainmakers. It’s easy to ignore or dismiss as touchy-feely mumbo-jumbo. However, I’ve seen lawyers over and over demonstrate how critical it is to have a positive attitude toward business development and NOT because a positive attitude will attract good results to you or will somehow magically predispose clients to your office.

Attitude matters because it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Believe you’re not good at business development? Every setback will prove you right. Believe clients aren’t looking for someone like you? Every cool response will convince you even more.

But if you believe that you bring useful skills and knowledge to your clients, if you believe that you can develop the business you need for a thriving practice, chances are that you will persevere until you prove that correct as well.

Over the many years that I’ve been working with lawyers (and in reflecting on my own experience), I’ve identified three aspects of attitude that may impact rainmaking efforts’ outcome.

  1.  Do you believe you can succeed? I occasionally tell lawyers that the third client they land is the most important.  The first two you might dismiss as mere good luck or being in the right place at the right time, but when you sign the third client, you know that you’re doing something right.Before you have concrete proof of your ability to bring in business, how you measure your results can have significant influence on your future performance. Low volume, higher fee practices tend to take much longer to develop than high volume, lower fee practices. If you measure your results in terms of activity that moves the biz dev ball forward, even if it hasn’t yet led to business, you’ll raise your confidence in your abilities in an appropriate manner.

    As you define your goals, then, bear in mind what makes sense for you to measure.  In some practices, you should start by measuring the influx of business right away. (That applies to, for example, sole practices that need income to survive and those who’ve already developed some business but are now seeking to grow and systemize their activity and client pipeline.) In others, you should start by measuring meetings with potential clients or referral sources, the growth of relationships with current clients, or advancement in leadership in targeted organizations.

  1.  Do you believe you know enough to get started? Because lawyers tend to be risk-averse, we have an inclination to approach important tasks with “read the manual, aim, aim, aim, read the manual again, ready, aim again” — perhaps never getting to fire.

    Assess realistically what you need to know before you start your rainmaker activity.  
    My suggestion is that you know how to define your practice in a way that communicates clearly to your would-be clients and referral sources. Get started with that, and then work in everything else.There are terrific books and programs available on business development, and you should take advantage of those learning opportunities in conjunction with your activity.  But don’t wait until you’ve read all the books and attended all the programs and created a flawless business development plan.   Start now.  
  1.  Why do you do business development?  If your answer is, “because I know I have to,” you need to dig deeper and find a reason that inspires you. Do you want to change your clients’ lives or businesses? Do you want to impact an area of the law or industry? Do you want to become a partner in your firm, to move to another firm, or to start your own practice? Do you want to buy beachfront property? Do you want to pay off your parents’ mortgage?

    When you get tired of business development — and you will — you need to have a reason that will inspire you to keep going.  I recommend you come up with several reasons that hit on several levels. For example, some of my personal goals are to reach the lawyers we as a society need and help them learn to build a successful practice so they don’t give up, to buy a summer house in Wyoming, and to fund a promise to send a class of underprivileged kindergartners to college. On some days, I conclude that I’ll just stay in motels when I visit Wyoming and lawyers will just have to take care of themselves, but the image of those little faces (whom I have yet to meet) keeps me going.Don’t misunderstand: you must have more than a good attitude to succeed in business development. I don’t believe that envisioning something will make it happen without any effort. But I do believe that a positive attitude makes it easier to put in the work and to keep going when it would be easier to stop. I’ve seen it over and over with my clients and myself.

How about you?  Take just a few minutes to check your own attitude. If you find it not as strong as you’d like, work on building a better attitude. Attitude is a soft attribute that can help you to attain real success.

Do you feel pressure about business development?

“Pressure is what you feel when you don’t know what you are doing.”

  • Peyton Manning

This quote stopped me in my tracks. My first inclination was to disagree, because I sometimes feel pressure because of a deadline or because of the importance of some activity, even though I know what I’m doing.  Digging a bit deeper, though, I think Manning has a point.

When it comes to business development, the lawyers most under pressure are those who don’t have a cohesive plan, who aren’t implementing their plan consistently, or who haven’t fully committed to one or more activities that are likely to help them secure work.  Although they know what they’re doing on certain levels, there’s a disconnect between intellectual knowing and buckling down to do the work. If you know that you should request an on-site meeting with a client, for example, and you expect that you might well land more business or receive a referral or even deepen a valuable relationship, but you don’t ask for the meeting, you’re going to feel pressure.

In contrast, if you have a plan that you’re implementing consistently, though you may feel tension until you see results from your plan, that tension is different in nature. When you know what you’re doing, both in terms of the specific activities and the timing, you also know that you can shift your plan as needed to tweak your results.

You know that you have something that’s fundamentally workable. You’ve done your homework and you’ve prepared yourself and your plan.

Do you feel pressure about business development? If you do, take a few minutes today to get to the source of that pressure. You’ll probably find that it’s one of these issues:

  • You don’t know what you’re doing (you don’t have a plan or you don’t know how to implement some aspect of your plan)
  • You don’t know how to make time to implement your plan consistently (so you never have an opportunity to reach momentum)
  • You don’t know how to perform one or more activities incorporated in your plan (and so you haven’t even started)
  • You’re terribly uncomfortable about some aspect of your plan (you aren’t confident that you can engage in business development activity without harming relationships… or your ego)
  • You need to bring in new business now and you don’t yet know that your plan will work (you haven’t implemented your plan and you’re focusing on the need for business rather than on your ability to meet that need)

Which of these issues underlies the pressure you’re feeling?  Once you’ve identified the problem, you’re that much closer to solving it.

How college football offers lessons in business development.

I love college football.  There’s something about the rivalry, the enthusiasm of players (most of whom have to know they’re playing for the love of the game, not for a shot at the pros), and the strategy that’s great fun to watch.

Football also offers lessons for business development, as I noticed recently.  A few of my favorites:

  1. Play to win, not to avoid losing. In 2010, Auburn was the #1 team.  Cam Newton (and other strong players) graduated, and Auburn’s ranking plummeted.  The team suspended one of its strongest players who violated team rules at the tail end of the season.  It would be hard to blame Auburn for coming to the Chik-fil-A Bowl against Virginia with a plan to play it safe and to make a strong enough showing NOT to lose, and better luck next year.

    Instead, Auburn played full-out, even making the unusual play of an onside kick in the second quarter while leading.  (Onside kicks are usually reserved for near-desperation moves late in a game.)  That play has been marked as the game’s turning point, but it’s simply one example of Auburn’s “all in” play.

    In business development, you may find yourself tempted to play it safe or to avoid making a risky move for fear of failure.  Calculated risk that reflects your full commitment will always pay off.  Sometimes it will result in a glorious failure first, but playing to win succeeds far more often than playing not to lose.  Which are you doing now?

  2. Watch your timing. Jittery players get penalized for anticipating the snap, or for delaying the snap and thus the game.  Knowing when to take a time-out and how to control the tempo of the game is a key aspect of football strategy.  Each play calls for careful timing, in knowing when to hold and release a pass, when to power through opponents and when to run out of bounds, and much more.

    Timing is less precise in business development, but it matters.  Consider the stereotypical bad networker who hands out business cards reflexively and doesn’t understand why no one calls.  Promoting oneself before understanding a potential client’s needs rarely succeeds.  (That goes for online and website strategy as well.)  Especially if you’re eager or uncomfortable, it’s easy to jump directly into how you can help a potential client.  Instead, start by exploring the client’s concerns.  In other words, don’t lead with your experience or your skills.  Remember, we all want to know what’s in it for me?

    By the same token, timing comes into play in knowing when to ask for the business.  Too soon, and it may come across as pushy; too late, and you may miss the opportunity.

    What’s your rainmaking rhythm?  If you don’t have a system or at least markers that guide your steps, you may be missing important aspects of timing.

  3. Build a team and treat members with respect. Although we tend to herald individual players in football, it’s the team that wins or loses.  And while the stars are usually a key force, the best player ever will be ineffective without the support and help of other team members.  A brilliant pass is nothing without a receiver, and no play can succeed without blockers.

    That’s true in business as well.  Your team may include other firm attorneys and staff; sole practitioners may count business allies and centers of influence as part of the team.  However you define your team, know that you cannot succeed alone.

Remember that (depending on your area of practice) your former clients may be one of your most important team members.  Happy clients will help your practice expand by referring others and perhaps by bringing you repeat business.  Client service matters deeply.
Who’s on your team now, and what positions must you fill to support your business development effort?

Those are just three of the reminders I picked up while watching bowl games this week.  For you football fans, think about what else you can learn.  How do you respond to “penalties” (setbacks), fair or unfair?  How do you handle it when one of your “players” makes a mistake?  Who helps you to see the big picture, to better coordinate your efforts?  Who pushes you to deliver more than you thought you could?  How many “plays” can you run?  Do you know which are most effective?

How to avoid amassing untouched stacks of business cards that you should use for follow-up (but probably won’t)

Here’s how it happens…

You get back to your office, having met some interesting new contacts, armed with their business cards and good intentions of following up. You take those cards, maybe flip through them to remind yourself of who’s most interesting, and then you put them somewhere safe, so you won’t forget. My “safe spot” was always on a bookcase just behind my desk. Yours might be your credenza or your desk drawer.

You think about following up with your new contacts. You want to find just the right opener. Something personal, to help recall your conversation, or better yet something you can share that brings value and is connected to your conversation.

And then you get distracted by a deadline or a phone call or someone dropping by your office with a quick question. Your thoughts shift to the task in front of you, and you remind yourself that you need to get back to that stack of cards.

The cycle repeats itself over the next few hours or days or even weeks. Having delayed this long to get in touch with your new contacts, you feel a pressure to have a strong follow-up. “Nice to meet you” just doesn’t cut it after two weeks, does it? But the memory of the conversations is getting dimmer, and you’re finding it harder and harder to come up with a good enough follow-up. Plus those distractions just keep coming.

And then, weeks or months later, you look at the stack of cards, sigh, and throw them away, resolving to do better next time. And you rationalize it. The contact wasn’t that interesting. The opportunity wasn’t that promising. Besides, they didn’t contact you either. Networking is a two-way street, and if they didn’t do their part, it’s ok that you never quite got around to the follow-up.

Sound familiar? Here are three steps you can use to shift this experience, follow up consistently, and get better results from your networking.

  1. Make a few notes immediately after networking so you can remember your new contacts. As soon as you leave the meeting, jot a few key words on the back of your new contact’s business card. If you’re a talker, dictate your notes using a service that will email a transcript to you right away. (You can find multiple apps, or use a service like LegalTypist.) Import the notes into a contact management system so you can use them for initial follow-up and to lay the groundwork for future contact.

  2. Have a deadline for your follow-up, with a personal “no extension” policy. Resolve that you will follow up within one to two days at the absolute outside, no matter what. (Nancy Fox suggests using the 30 minutes after a meeting for follow-up.) Set your deadline in advance and make it a part of your follow-up system.

  3. Extra credit: plan “connection time” at least twice a week. Use it for follow-up when you’ve met new contacts, or to connect with someone on your “A list” of contacts if not.
  4. Use a template to make your initial contacts easier. Use a template that you adapt to the circumstances, so your follow-up is always personal but never created from scratch. Having a starting point makes it much more likely you’ll get the initial follow-up done, whether your system calls for follow-up by telephone, email, or handwritten note. 

Once you’ve made your initial follow-up contact, calendar your next contact. You may not get a response to your initial follow-up, so be sure you know when you’ll be back in touch and how you’ll make that contact.

Networking without follow-up is a waste of time. Consistency builds relationships, and successful business development requires relationships, not just contacts. Implement your follow-up system today—especially if you have business cards collecting dust!

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.