Avoiding a lawyer’s top obstacle

A client recently shared his worry about taking on new marketing approaches, which included an effort to become credibly visible in a variety of marketing channels rather than centering all of his efforts on a single marketing avenue as he had in the past. Nothing especially shocking, but my client (risk-averse, like so many lawyers) was almost paralyzed.

Seth Godin blog post casts light on that client’s situation by untangling risk and uncertainty:

Uncertainty is not the same as risk… Uncertainty implies a range of possible outcomes. But a range of results, all uncertain, does not mean you are exposing yourself to risk.(Emphasis added.)
If you’ve ever found yourself hesitating on doing something new (and who hasn’t), read Godin’s full post. I suspect that you’ll come away with a different view of risk, one that will help you to avoid standing still.

Why you MUST act

Overthinking can ruin your plans. One of the biggest mistakes I see lawyers make is coming up with a good, solid plan and then discarding it before ever giving it a shot. Overthinking takes the oomph out of a strategy, and there’s no better way to short-circuit than to let fear take over and reverse a decision.

This week’s quote is right on point.

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit at home and think about it. Go out and get busy.

– Dale Carnegie

There you have it. Go out and get busy!

Under pressure?

“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. If you aren’t sure where to start, please schedule a complimentary consultation so we can get acquainted and mutually decide whether I can help.

9 Ways to Fail in Sales

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

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

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

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

Make the most of your marketing time

Being busy has become a national obsession, and it certainly affects lawyers. We seem to have two speeds: frantic and fearful. We need to have a discussion about what might lie between these extremes, but an even more pressing question might be how to keep marketing going even when frantic.

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

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

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

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

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

What resources do you have that you can re-purpose now to extend your reach?

Is client loyalty dead?

Simon Sinek has a fantastic book Start with Why. (I’ve mentioned him before in connection with the Good Life Project podcast about purpose. This quote jumped out at me:

There is a big difference between repeat business and loyalty. Repeat business is when people do business with you multiple times. Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you. Loyal customers often don’t even bother to research the competition or entertain other options. Loyalty is not easily won. Repeat business, however, is. All it takes is more manipulations.

Do you have repeat business or loyal clients? Conversation today might suggest that client loyalty is a thing of the past in the face of today’s increased cost pressures and new avenues for getting legal issues addressed, but in my view, that’s a belief that lets practitioners off the hook.

If you build trust and deliver strong work while creating value for your clients, you’ll build loyalty. Where are your areas of opportunity to create client loyalty?

Identify the problem, define the solution.

When you aren’t achieving the results you want to see from your business development activity, you almost certainly have one of three problems. Identify the problem, make a thoughtful shift, and you will likely see your results change. (The difficulty, of course, is in knowing what change to make, but that’s another topic for another day.)

So, what are the three problems?

  1. Not enough quality potential clients (directly or by referral). You may not be having enough conversations that lead to a “getting the business” conversations, or you may be having plenty of conversations, but with the wrong people. For instance, if you’re having numerous business conversations that don’t intersect with your area of practice, you have a “leads” problem. (Unless, that is, those conversations lead to your bringing business to a colleague and getting an origination credit even though you personally aren’t doing the work.)
  1. Not enough sales conversations, or not being able to close the sale. Your connections may stall short of an opportunity to discuss a specific legal problem that your prospective client has and to offer your services, or you may find that you’re unable actually to land the work. You won’t be able to grow a sizeable or a stable book of business until you solve a sales-related problem.
  1. Poor client service. If you don’t serve your clients well (in what you do for them as well as how you provide that service), you’ll have dissatisfied clients. Studies show that unhappy clients often don’t communicate their dissatisfaction but simply take their business elsewhere, leaving the former service provider unclear on what happened. If you’re losing clients often, if you aren’t receiving referrals from your clients, or if your clients have repeat business that doesn’t come to you, you have a problem with client service. Although this problem will initially affect your work with current clients, it will eventually undermine your opportunity to secure new work.

Do you have a problem in one (or more) of these areas?  Identifying the problem gives you an opportunity to identify an appropriate solution.

Evidence-based business development decisions

Have you ever found yourself wondering whether to pursue one or another course of action for business development purposes? Absent a crystal ball, unfortunately, it’s often difficult to know in advance what will get you the maximum reward. But if you track your results, you’ll be able to use the simplest system ever. Here’s how.

  1. Keep a record of your activities. You can make this simple or quite complex, but you’ll probably find simple to be more actionable. The simplest way to do this is to create a spreadsheet with spaces for date, activity, results, next step, and decision. Every time you complete an activity, note it.
  2. As you begin to see results (or the lack thereof), update your spreadsheet. Many activities will get immediate results of one form or another (inviting a contact to lunch, for instance), but some may have a longer gap between action and result (actually having lunch with that contact and waiting to see whether you get work, introductions, or some other next step as a result). Schedule a monthly review to keep track of those longer-term results.
  3. Note your next steps. Assuming you’re going to continue this activity, what would your next step be? Ideally, you’d complete this entry after you see results, but if your activity is more prone to long-term results, you may need to project a next step based on the results you anticipate. If that’s the case, be sure that you go back to confirm whether those results actually came to pass. (If not, all the more reason for you to track your activity carefully and improve your predictions!)
  4. Once a quarter, review your activities and results, and decide whether you should stop or continue the activity based solely on the results you’ve attained. You might choose to overrule that decision (if, for instance, your results represent a promising midpoint toward a meaningful outcome), but this decision should be based purely on the evidence you see.
  5. For each “stop” you note, ask yourself what activity you might start to replace it. Use the evidence you’ve gathered to hone your ideas. If every indication is that attending bar association meetings is not beneficial for you, don’t add another bar group and hope for a different result. Instead, investigate an industry organization or a business group.

Want to get even better results? Ask a mentor or trusted colleague to help you determine what to start, stop, and continue. The benefit of this process (adapted from the performance review context) is that you’ll quit making decisions based on emotions like hope (“but if I keep doing this, I might land an amazing piece of business”) or fear (“I’m really comfortable doing this, and if I start doing that instead, it’s going to be hard and I might fail”). And when you remove emotion, you’ll see clearly what to do.

What should you start, stop, or continue?

Legal business development: You’ve got to stand out.

All lawyers in any given practice area are a dime a dozen, right? Think about your own area. Who stands out in your mind? It’s likely (assuming you’ve been in practice for a while) that you can identify at least a few lawyers who catch attention. Maybe it’s the divorce lawyer who’s known for high-profile divorces. Perhaps it’s the patent lawyer who’s created a curriculum to educate her clients on what to expect in the patenting process and what to be doing to maximize the chances of business success. Or it could be the litigator who’s known for baiting witnesses so effectively that fireworks always erupt.

Every lawyer has some skill, experience, attribute, or approach that distinguishes him or her from others. Those distinguishing factors demonstrate to your potential clients what makes you different and why they should hire you. Equally importantly, they also pave the way for you to market yourself in fresh ways.

The points of distinction that you highlight must be those that matter to your clients. If a client wouldn’t see the value in something that sets you apart from others, you’ve merely identified a distinction, not a real difference. You might have to connect the dots in some instances (for example, some clients might not immediately appreciate the benefit of a lawyer who draws on her background in tax law to support her clients’ licensing needs) but when explained the client must understand why that aspect offers an advantage.

When it comes to marketing, identifying a point of distinction will allow you to a marketing message that answers potential clients’ questions or concerns (some of which they may not even be aware of yet) by highlighting your relevant experience or skill. You are able to speak to something valuable that other lawyers can’t, and you immediately rise above the crowd.

To identify what sets you apart, ask yourself:

  1. What past experience (professional or personal) bears on your practice?
  2. What skill, knowledge, or experience do you bring to your practice that will be helpful for clients?
  3. What kind of practice-related opportunities can you forecast, and how can you position yourself to meet them?

If you’re practicing in a large firm, consider too the advantages that flow from having numerous colleagues in widely divergent practice areas. You may have a leading authority on speed dial, or you might be able to find a resource to meet a client’s need no matter the issue he’s facing. This is especially beneficial for newer lawyers who may not yet have the experience or reputation to stand on their own for marketing but who can market their firm quite effectively.

You might also consider how can you serve your clients in new or innovative ways. In addition to your primary services, for instance, perhaps you could offer ancillary services or products to offer a fuller solution to your clients’ needs. Are there free or reduced-fee services that you might offer as a way of introducing yourself and your skills to a class of potential clients or referral sources?

You might stand apart from others by offering a quarterly free Q&A meeting (ideally in person) during which you present must-know points and respond to potential clients’ questions about topics related to your practice area. For example, if you practice elder law, you might host a monthly gathering to help adult children learn what legal issues they should plan for as they assist their aging parents.  You could offer a fee-based group in which you cover key issues in more depth, and you might have certain forms or templates for sale that the adult children could use to implement your suggestions. Although some clients will get what they need from those free and low-cost offerings, others will want or need your help and will hire you.

If your practice spans geographic areas in such a way that you don’t often have an opportunity to meet face-to-face with your clients, look to technology to bridge the distance. Videoconferencing is one common approach that isn’t used as often as it probably should be. You could craft a marketing message around the personal service you offer and the importance of tailoring legal solutions to each individual (or business); weaving in your enhanced communication opportunities will set you apart from others who merely use the words but don’t actually deliver the value.

How might you create a different approach to client service? Consider these questions:

  1. How can I meet both legal and non-legal needs that my clients frequently present?
  2. How can I build innovative services that will benefit my clients?
  3. What might I do to answer potential client questions, introduce my clients to beneficial resources, or otherwise extend my services in unexpected ways?

Identifying your points of differentiation and using them to craft a marketing message requires analysis, insight, and sometimes even an intuitive leap. Hold a brainstorming session with the proviso that no answer is too wacky to be considered.  Sometimes impractical or unpalatable ideas provide the leap to a truly unique marketing message and practice. And don’t hesitate to seek help with this: sometimes outsider vision reveals what an insider will never see.

How comfortable are you?

I had an awakening recently. You see, a few years ago, I needed a new desk chair. Since I was in a hurry, I couldn’t find one that I really liked. But I found one that was adequate and cheap—$69 or so—and I bought it, figuring that I’d replace it in a few months. I put the chair to hard wear: 10+ hour days on weekdays, at a minimum. The chair was ok, so I wasn’t in a hurry to replace it.

Last fall, I noticed that I was moving like a 100-year old woman when I’d stand up after working at my desk for a few hours. My back hurt all the time, my shoulders were tight, even my legs were painful. And I concluded that I’m getting older… That I should count myself lucky to have no worse complaints.

Last week, my chair started leaning to the right, to the point that I was afraid I’d tip over. Clearly time for a new chair. And this time, I found a chair that suited me perfectly. Ideal back support, a seat that’s just the right depth, great support. So I bought it, assembled it, and plopped myself down to get back to work. When I stood up, I realized….

I felt great. Nothing hurt. It isn’t age: I had been in pain for several months because I’d bought a cheap chair, I used it long past its prime, and I didn’t bother to investigate the reason for my pain. I kept suffering much longer than I should have.

What does this have to do with practicing law? Simple: we all too often get lulled into the familiar, accepting low-grade discomfort. Unless we’re screaming for relief, we put attention elsewhere and get distracted. We don’t fix the problem even when the fix would be simple.

Ask yourself:

  • Is your physical environment comfortable? Is your equipment (computer, printer, lamp, etc.) in working condition and located where it should be?
  • Do you need more support? That support could be a colleague to help with the billable work or administrative decisions, well-trained and enthusiastic staff, a virtual assistant on call, someone to do your bookkeeping and billing, or someone to help you with decisions about your career or your practice, just to name a few possibilities.
  • Are you taking care of yourself well enough? Do you need more sleep, more activity, better nutrition, a long vacation?
  • Are you working toward a goal, or are you operating on autopilot?

  • Would you be happy if your practice continued for the next twenty years on the same trajectory that it’s on now in terms of the substantive practice, the kinds of clients you serve, and the financial rewards that you’re receiving?
  • Are you delaying or avoiding an investment of time or energy even though you’re know that investment would bring significant benefit to your practice or your life?

One business development failure I see among lawyers is the tendency to delay getting started with consistent activity. Unless you’re a sole practitioner or you’ve been told that you must bring in business or find a new job, you could possibly float along for years, saying that you’re focused on building your book of business and delaying any significant activity. You have to make the decision that you’ll do what it takes to grow your practice… And then do it.

Take a moment today to ask yourself whether there’s any aspect of your professional life in which you’re feeling so comfortable that you’re effectively stuck. Stuck in something that’s familiar but not effective? Take an immediate step to get unstuck today. (If your stuck spot has to do with business development, perhaps we should talk. Click here to schedule a complimentary consultation.)