Happy New Year!

Best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous new year!

2017 Happy New Year Background for your Seasonal Flyers and Greetings Card.

End-of-year tasks

You probably have a list of tasks you must accomplish before the end of the year. Wrapping up some billable work, making a few final holiday get-togethers, perhaps a few last-ditch but gentle calls to encourage clients to pay their invoices before year’s end.

Adding these two year-end tasks will significantly benefit you as you start the new year: 

  • Revise your biographical sketch to reflect this year’s accomplishments, and
  • Do a simple review of your 2016 business development activities to guide next year’s efforts.

Your biographical sketch is almost certainly the most-viewed page on your website. Updating it isn’t busywork: it’s a way of letting people know that you continue to improve your professional reach and achievements. An out-of-date bio sketch suggests and out-of-date practice. Review this post I wrote in 2009 and Chapter 4 of the The Reluctant Rainmaker to walk through the steps to ensure that your sketch does what it needs to.

End-of-year planning can take many forms. Here are a few questions to consider:

  • What was your objective and top priority this year? You must start with this question, because results are meaningful only in the context of your objectives. For example, my goal this year was business maintenance and writing while caring for a family member who is in home hospice. Achieving maintenance would feel completely different had my objective been to grow the business.
  • What worked? What got you closer to your objectives? What required the least effort while bringing good results?
  • What didn’t work? Which activities either didn’t bring you the desired results or required effort that’s out of measure with the results attained?
  • What’s your objective for this year? I like to boil my objective down to a single word that can act as a litmus test when I’m deciding what to do. As noted, my 2016 word was maintain. It kept me from drawing back too far or pushing forward too strongly. I haven’t yet committed to a word for 2017, but candidates include growth (growth in my business and professional growth), reach (growing my platform), and communicate (building stronger professional relationships and also writing and speaking more).
  • What will you continue, stop, and start doing to meet your objective? Your 2016 analysis will give you the first two answers, then you can brainstorm your new routes to 2017’s objectives.

The key to planning well is to make it a means to an end. In other words, what comes from your planning should be a document that you will refer to and tweak throughout the year, not a “one and done” effort.

Set aside some time to complete these two tasks now so you can enter 2017 with a clean slate and a clear direction. And then, enjoy your holidays!

“Me too” Marketing?

“Me too” marketing refers to virtually indistinguishable marketing messages and offers for products or services from multiple providers. Unless you see a name or logo associated with the marketing, you’d have a tough time knowing which provider issued “ me too” marketing because it all sounds alike.

Attorneys often fall into “me too” marketing for some good reasons: tight ethics rules, wanting to appear professional, and budgeting. Ethics rules may be interpreted to prohibit (or may actually prohibit) anything out of the norm when it comes to marketing by lawyers, and concerns about appearing professional may have exactly the same effect. And budgeting, especially but not exclusively for smaller firms, often leads to a website that’s simply a “customized” template that looks like all the other “customized” templates out there with equally indistinguishable copy.

Take a look at your own website, your biographical sketch, or a recent blog post or article you’ve written (or any other marketing materials you have handy): does it sounds like what everybody else says? If it does, you’ve fallen into “me too” marketing. Here’s an easy test: does your website or bio sketch describe you/your firm as experienced? Client-centric or client-focused? Providers of high-quality work? Collaborative? Innovative? While you and/or your firm may be just that, saying so isn’t proof… Especially when everybody else says the same thing.

So how can you break out of “me too” marketing? Try these ideas.

  1. Make it about your potential client. Marketing is designed to introduce you to a potential client, but if it’s focused too much on you (how experienced, client-focused, and collaborative you are in providing high-quality work, for example) it’s boring, duplicative of others, and not persuasive.

    Start with your potential client’s perspective. What is that person thinking about when they come to your website, read your article, or talk with you? Chances are that they’re wondering if you can solve whatever problem has prompted them to find you. So start there.

    Let your potential client know you understand the issues she’s facing. This is the place to demonstrate knowledge, not just say you’ve got it. If you’re in person, ask questions. If not, use stories to illustrate that you understand. Then you can extend those stories to discuss your experience in solving the problems.
  2. Use your potential client’s language. If he discusses his problem using legal terminology, you should too. But you won’t gain any points for discussing “constructive eviction” if your client is concerned that he’s about to be involved in litigation because a tenant is claiming that conditions make it impossible live or work in the potential client’s rental property. Using legal terminology that a potential client doesn’t understand doesn’t make you look smart or professional: it’s confusing and might even alienate a potential client.
  3. Figure out what makes you different and highlight that. And know it’s ok that some potential clients will be turned off. Good marketing offers a quick “is this for me?” test – The reaction to good marketing is a gut-level “yes, this speaks to me” or “no, thanks,” and then the potential client may engage in further rational inquiry to test that initial reaction. If your marketing is designed to appeal to everyone, it won’t connect deeply with anyone. 

    Points of distinction must matter to your clients and potential clients; otherwise, it’s just a distraction.  And, of course, knowing what matters to your clients and potential clients takes you right back to point #1. 

It takes some courage to escape “me too” marketing. By definition, when you break free from looking like everybody else, you don’t look like everybody else, which can be a bit unnerving. If you give it a try, though, you’ll discover that standing out in ways that are appealing to your ideal clientele will benefit your practice.

(P.S. Were you surprised that I included the biographical sketch in the list of marketing material to review? After all, a bio sketch is, well, just a short statement of your qualifications and experience, right? Nope. I’ll tackle this in next week’s column.)

How do you ask for business?

How do you ask for business?  We all know intuitively (or through training) that those who don’t ask typically don’t get business. However, many lawyers are leery to come out and ask for business explicitly, and rightly so.  Asking can disrupt a relationship if the answer is “no,” and, under some circumstances, asking can even be an ethical violation. Even when those concerns are not in play, some lawyers may feel pushy if they ask for business. And yet, the inner voice cautions, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

When working with clients, I offer many approaches to the “challenge of the ask.”  A few examples are:

  • Listen to your gut.  Very often, if you’re sensing that an explicit request for the business may be too pointed, you’re correct. A more gentle approach (“I’d love to help you with that,” for example) may blunt the approach and yet get the message across.
  • Notice how often your gut tells you not to ask. The flip side of the previous suggestion is that it can offer carte blanche to those who are disinclined to ask for business. If you always feel that asking would be too pushy, it’s time to do some work on your comfort level. What conditions would have to exist for you to feel comfortable in asking for business?
  • Look for the win / win.  Lawyers often use somewhat violent language for business development: “eat what you kill” compensation systems, “killer instinct” in pursuing new work, and “bagging a client,” for instance.  Using that language casts the lawyer as the hunter and the potential client as the victim or the target. Fortunately, few lawyers actually regard their potential clients in that way. The fear of being perceived as a ruthless hunter, however, may prompt a lawyer to hold back in conversation. Sometimes, it even prompts lawyers to ask for business in a way that implies that potential clients would be doing the lawyer a great favor when the truth is that a good representation offers benefits for both parties. Look for that benefit and focus on it, and then weave it into your request.
  • Listen to the concerns and offer some feedback, leading naturally into an offer of further help. If you take this approach, be sure that you don’t stray into giving legal advice without sufficient knowledge of the facts. You can suggest potential avenues or approaches for consideration, though, and offer to help if your contact would like to explore them.

As these approaches suggest, asking for business requires both the right mindset and the right words or technique. Think about your current “low hanging fruit,” or the potential clients most likely to retain you right now.  What approach would be most helpful for them, and what approach will open the possibility of working with you most effectively, without running a danger of damaging your relationship?

If you’re uncomfortable asking for business, you’re not alone. The Reluctant Rainmaker:  A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling includes a full chapter on whether, how, and when to ask for business, with an easy-to-follow step-by-step guide to developing the skills that will support your business development efforts. (Click here for a free sample of Chapter One.)  If you’d like to move even faster with your rainmaking activity, please contact me to arrange a consultation.

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 practices.

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.

Need another head to look at the obstacles ahead of you? I offer a limited number of complimentary consultations each month and would be happy to discuss whether I can help. Email my team to arrange an appointment.

Giving thanks and good reads

If you’re in the US, chances are that you’re either out of the office today or working hard to clear your desk so you can leave the office to celebrate Thanksgiving. So, I’ll be brief. Thank you for the opportunity to share ideas and information with you each week. Our in-boxes are all jammed these days, and I never take it for granted that you’ve allowed me entry into yours. 

Do you have questions or topics you would like me to cover in future issues of this newsletter? Just leave a comment on this post. Your responses go directly to me and I personally read each and every one.

In case you have business development on your mind this week (as I’d imagine many of you do, whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving this week or not), here are a few good articles I found and recommend for your review:

  • 10 Commandments for Better Networking I tend to be wary of articles that promise 10 easy steps to anything, but this one has 10 simple reminders for good networking. You probably won’t find anything earthshaking here, but at the article functions as a good pre-networking checklist. (Holiday parties, anyone?)
  • Linkedin Engagement on the Rise for Lawyers LinkedIn has long been a “must do” for lawyers, and as Kevin O’Keefe argues, the imperative just gets stronger. While supporting his case for increased engagement, O’Keefe offers some good suggestions for initiating engagement. LinkedIn is not a silver bullet, but especially if you take steps to move online relationships offline, you’ll find that it can be quite helpful. (Just please, please don’t make this mistake when you send a request to connect with someone new.)
  • Knock Down Theory Although this post discusses how to “prove we belong at the adult table,” its brief points are quite applicable to how we show up in a business development conversation. Arrogance is unattractive; contribution is appealing.

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate, and to those of you elsewhere in the world, happy Thursday!

Holiday biz dev opportunities

I received my first holiday card this week. You know what that means: the beginning of the slippery slope that will have us all sliding into 2017 before we know it. But we still have some six weeks to go… Six weeks, and a heavy dose of holidays. 

What would you like to accomplish during the holiday season? If that strikes you as an odd question, you’re not alone. This is the time of year when many people begin to work on ensuring that outstanding bills are paid this calendar year, evaluating the results they’ve achieved (or not) since last January, and setting plans for next year. And that’s all important work, certainly, but I’d like to suggest a narrower question for your consideration this week.

What’s the professional benefit of the holidays for you? Three potential benefits to highlight are:

  • Developing and renewing relationships, which is often easier during the holidays thanks to holiday bonhomie. While it might be odd to call someone out of the blue in April, toward the end of the year it seems quite ordinary to get in contact. And meeting people often becomes much easier since the holidays are typically full of gatherings (professional and otherwise) where you might broaden your circle of connections.
  • Thanking your clients and contacts for their contributions to your year.  Gifts are always nice, assuming no organizational policy to the contrary, but look for opportunities for a face-to-face meeting and ensure that you make direct contact (if only by telephone) with your most important allies. Be sure that in addition to thanking your contacts for the ways they’ve helped you this year, you ask how you might help them. Better yet, come to the conversation with an idea or two.
  • Get yourself on your contacts’ radar screen. The holidays are a good time to reestablish contact, especially with your C list of contacts, whom you reach out to once or twice a year. Holiday cards are the classic, and for good reason. Think about how you might avoid being in the onslaught of December cards and e-cards. If everyone is trying to get noticed, no one will succeed. If you’re in the US, Thanksgiving cards are a good option — make a note for next year! You might also consider New Year’s cards, cards or e-cards that are unusually entertaining in some way, or, for a subset of your contacts, “lumpy mail” that encloses some sort of small item (a branded pad of sticky notes or an external battery pack, for example) as a way to get noticed.

The holidays are just around the corner, so take a few minutes today to set your plans. What are your top objectives, and what steps are you willing to commit to so that you are set to achieve them?

How do you choose biz dev strategy?

One of the best things about business development is also one of the worst: you have multiple strategies and tactics at your disposal to grow your practice. Sure, you can boil down all business development to just a few actions: get known for work in your area of practice, meet people who need your help or who know others who do, and communicate and, when and where and how appropriate, ask for business. But how do you get known? Who needs your help, and who is in a position to refer others who do? And how do you get into the kind of conversation that might actually lead to business?

If you answer each of these how questions, you will likely find that you have numerous potential routes to follow. For example, if you do family law, you might market directly to the clients who might hire you by speaking at community gatherings, writing a column in a local blog or newspaper, having a recurring segment on the radio or a podcast, etc. Or you might market to family therapists by sponsoring and speaking at their conferences, by attending events that they attend and building relationships through networking, or by offering useful information that therapists might pass on to their clients. And the list goes on and on and on. You will almost always be able to identify several groups of people who could hire you or refer business to you plus plentiful avenues to reach those groups.

How do you choose what to pursue and what to put on the “maybe later” list? If you have data about what has worked well for you in the past, that’s likely the best guidance. (If you own The Reluctant Rainmaker, check Chapter 5 for a method of collecting that data.) But if you don’t have that data, it’s a tougher decision.

Many lawyers, natural overachievers that we tend to be, try to pursue all or most of those options and end up diluting efforts with equally diluted results. And that tends to feed into the “I’m just not cut out to be a rainmaker” fear or the “I am too busy to do this stuff” resistance, both of which tend to lead to a drop-off in effort and a corresponding drop-off in results.

Instead, look critically at your options and ask these questions:

  • Where are your most natural opportunities? If you’re deciding whether to pursue clients in the aerospace or medical device industries, which most naturally matches your background? Which industry is easier to get into as an outsider? Where do you already have more contacts?
  • What offers the greatest continuity? As a general principle, if you’ve been successful in one area, you’d be wise to expand into related or similar areas rather than to do something completely different.
  • What sounds the most appealing to you? If you’d rather poke out your eyeballs than talk with accountants or if you don’t have the time or interest to follow up with people you meet in connection with a speaking opportunity, those are not your best bets. Choose something that interests you, that you’re willing to pursue. You don’t have to love it, but you have to be open.
  • Where is your competition? Years ago, I looked into joining a biotech-related industry group that offered an associate membership for those outside the industry. As I read through the list of representative members, it was like a directory of firms that competed directly with mine. That isn’t an absolute “no,” but it prompted me to check out other opportunities and to find one with less direct competition.
  • What offers the greatest likelihood of moving into a network that might lead to other opportunities? At the bottom, people are your greatest resource for new business. Look for routes that will allow you to develop a network of people who might hire you or refer business to you, who might introduce you to other opportunities and other groups, and who might function as your champion in some way. The easier that development, the more likely you’ll succeed in the process.

While you’ll want to consider other questions, these five will help you to narrow down the available opportunities. Once you’ve sorted through them in this way, choose one or two and focus on those for a period of six months, then evaluate your results. Sticking to a limited focus for a period gives you the best opportunity to concentrate your efforts and give it your best shot. If you see signs that you’re going down a path that will not be profitable, you can always draw back, but don’t get pulled into wondering if the other strategy you thought of would be even better until you’ve given the one you’re focusing on a fair trial. After six months (or less if you see signs of disaster), evaluate your results and decide how to shift your approach.

How to handle objections

Nobody wants to hear “no” in response to a request for business. Very often, unless you’re participating in a formal RFP process, instead of being told directly that you’re not getting the business, you’ll get either an objection or dead silence. Silence may feel less uncomfortable than an objection that is by definition negative feedback. Unlike silence, however, an objection means that you still have a chance of getting the work. 

Why? Simple: an objection is another step in conversation. Sometimes it’s the final step in closing the door on a business opportunity, but sometimes it’s possible to meet and negate the objection.

An objection might be something like “your fees are much higher than we were expecting” or “I just don’t think you have the experience we need for this.” In essence, an objection (or a surface-level objection that you probe and clarify until you’ve reached the crux of the objection) is a window into your prospective client’s thinking process. When you receive an objective, your goal isn’t necessarily to overcome it but to understand it fully and to respond as well as you can.

To gain insight into how to respond when you receive an objection, read 4 Steps to Overcoming Sales Objections, a quick tutorial in the stages of conversation that should follow an objection.  It’s a short, high-level description of the steps to follow, with the opportunity to download a white paper that goes further into How to Handle Sales Objections.

When you’re confident that you know how to address objections you receive, you’ll be much more prepared for the fundamental tasks of discussing a prospective representation and asking for the business. 

Client service ideas that really work

Three key words in building a strong practice: satisfaction, service, and value. Get these right, and chances are pretty decent that you’ll see repeat business (where feasible) and referrals. Get them wrong, and you may not like what you see.

The blog post 7 Good Customer Service Ideas That Work offers insight into how to get things right when it comes to the service you provide clients and ensuring that they’re satisfied with that service. My favorite points are:

  1. Provide an effortless experience: consider at every step how you can simplify every aspect of working with you so that it’s effortless (or as close to so as possible) for your clients. Examples might include providing checklists and clear directions to help your client gather necessary information or documents relevant to the matter you’re handle or including directions to your office and a link to Google Maps on your website. The less your client has to work to work with you, the better.
  2. Be kind! Inject small, meaningful gestures as you interact with your clients. Imagine the impression you’d make if the CEO of a snack company came to visit your office and found a refreshment station with water, coffee, fruit, and the snacks manufactured by the company. The same station would be nice for other clients as well, especially if you offered a cold bottle of water as they were leaving on a hot day. Grand gestures are not required; thoughtful ones are.
  3. Remember, “you don’t close a sale, you open a relationship.” In other words, “[o]nce your [client] has come on board, make sure you really look after them.” This is, perhaps, nowhere more important than when you have introduced your client to a colleague who will be handling a new matter outside your area of practice.

The post has four other points that are worth checking out. Even more importantly, ask yourself: what can you do to improve your client service in a way that increases your clients’ satisfaction and the value they receive?