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?


I often enjoy the 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… 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.