Tend relationships to grow your practice.

I’ve been doing a tremendous amount of business development coaching recently, and I often tell my clients that rainmaking is all about relationships. I also tell clients that good relationships, personal or professional, should be nurtured – even that low-level employee of a corporate client may prove to be a valuable contact one day. This past weekend confirmed that for me.

Clients sometimes question why I suggest maintaining friendships from college and law school, and the weekend offers the explanation.  I recently hosted a reunion for six of my closest friends from college. Although we stay in touch by email and conference calls, we rarely see each other face-to-face. I was struck by a realization as I looked around at my friends: we’ve come a long way since college.

Of the 6 of us, I’m the only lawyer. Two are in high-level corporate positions, working with multiple law firms and (coincidentally) dealing with issues that were at the core of my interest when I was in practice. And three of the women’s husbands (who are invited for co-ed get-togethers) are in corporate positions as well, responsible for hiring or coordinating efforts with lawyers for some aspects of the business.

The other three women are teachers, and each is also active in the community in some way.  One is a community actor and director who serves on several theatre boards in her city, another holds offices in various groups that her sons have joined, and the third is a leader in more community groups than I can count. These women are well-connected.

In the years since college, we have all advanced in responsibility. Through long history together, these friends (and their husbands) know, like, and trust me, as I do each of them.  If I were still in practice, these connections would be ripe for business development – not because I would “use” my friends to bring in clients, but because my friends would feel confident in hiring me (or others I recommend) and referring others to me. The reverse is, of course, true as well.

Multiple referrals have passed among us over the years, and anytime one of us needs to meet someone for business purposes, working through this extended network almost always gets results. If any of us had judged whether these would be professionally fruitful relationships twenty years ago, the answer would probably have been no. We were either poor graduate students or eager but hungry young teachers, hardly ready to refer business to anyone except perhaps a great restaurant. Circumstances have certainly changed over time.  But my friends’ basic attributes have not: they’re sharp, nice, trustworthy, and service-oriented. Those attributes have led them to success in a variety of businesses and relationships, and our connections are now fruitful professionally as well as personally.

This is only one example of how contacts grow.  The same is true of former colleagues, junior employees of corporate clients, and so on. Regardless of where or how you meet, maintain connections with people you like and trust. You cannot possibly know where life will take you and your contacts or how (or whether) connections will shift over time, but solid relationships often yield business or other useful resources.

A client recently told me that he wished he’d learned years ago to keep in touch with clients and friends at his peer level.  As you advance in experience and responsibility, so will your contacts. In our mobile society, today’s low-level employee at one company may be tomorrow’s vice president at a competitor.

Coaching challenge: Think about good contacts (those whom you know, like, and trust) with whom you have not talked recently. Pick up the phone today and reconnect with a few, or perhaps issue an invitation for lunch or coffee. Nurture these relationships and you will likely find that they pay dividends over time.

Plans are important, but nothing happens without action!

It’s obvious that action is required to bring in new business, right? Sometimes, though, you have a great justification for not acting… When everyone is out of town or busy, when you’d like to get started with networking but no available group feels like a good fit, when you just don’t know where or how to get published or to get an opportunity to speak, what then?

Here’s the simple truth: you will hit roadblocks, quagmires of uncertainty or doubt, and even roadblocks in your business development journey. 

A few of my clients have run into this situation, and their response often predicts (or even determines) their level of success. Those who move forward in a helpful direction, even if it isn’t optimal, tend to do well; those who stall out and wait for the “right” conditions tend to flail and eventually fail. The successful ones pursue a common line of analysis, and that’s what I’d like to share with you today.

Step one: determine whether this is an obstacle, meaning a temporary challenge that can be resolved through action or by the passage of time, or a roadblock, meaning a long-lasting or permanent challenge that is due to issues you don’t control. Imagine that you’ve identified an organization that sounds ideal for your practice. If it’s on hiatus for the summer, that’s just an obstacle. If your review of the events calendar shows that activity has dwindled to nothing and that the organization appears to be moribund, that may be a roadblock.

Solve or wait out obstacles; strategize an alternative approach to get around a roadblock. Continuing the organization example, if the group is on hiatus for the summer, you can simply wait for fall to get involved, and perhaps you can consider helping the group find ways to stay active even over the summer. If the group is moribund, however, even though you could try to revive it, it probably wouldn’t be the best use of your resources, so you should look for another activity.

Step two: if you’re waiting out an obstacle, get started with something else in the meantime; if you’ve hit a roadblock, go to plan B. Could you identify some leaders in the group whom you might contact directly? Is there a next best organization you might join? You might choose instead to work on getting an article written and published, or you might track down a speaking opportunity that makes sense for your strategic plan.

There is always a viable Plan B. If you find that you’re tied to a single approach, pull out a piece of paper and brainstorm alternatives, giving yourself permission to list even the silliest ideas in service of finding the right idea.

Whether you adjust your plans to move around an obstacle or a roadblock, you must keep moving. Don’t allow an obstacle to prevent you from launching or continuing your business development plan. There’s always more than one route to a goal. Choosing to wait until you can execute your original plan (or even what feels like the best plan) is analogous to delaying the start of an exercise program because you plan to ride your bike but can’t because it’s monsoon season.

In summary: make your plans, but be ready to adjust them in response to obstacles and roadblocks. Plans are important, but when it comes to business development (and just about everything else, too), nothing happens without activity.

Find Your Weekly Minimum

What happens to your business development activity when you get busy?  If you’re like many others, you may find that it slips. I’ve had more than a handful of clients who hire me to ramp up their rainmaking, and they succeed – right to the point that they’re so busy they pause and start backsliding.

We’ve all been taught that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and there’s truth to that. I’m no hunter, but we all know intuitively that if you focus exclusively on the bird in hand and ignore all the others, you’ll have to start from scratch when you need to find another bird.

“I’m going to pause for a little while, just til I get this work off my desk.” That’s one of the most dangerous statements you can make. Throw that out too often, and I can almost guarantee that you won’t get the results you want from your rainmaking efforts. You’re likely to end up tired, behind the 8-ball, stressed out, and feeling like a failure. And here’s why…

When you “hit pause,” you’re not pausing at all: you’re just stepping into the feast/famine cycle. In this cycle, you need new business so you start business development activity; you grow your practice, only to slack off when you have substantial new business on your desk and you turn to getting the work done, which causes you to drop back on your rainmaking activity; and the result is that the flow of new business drops and at some point you realize you need more business – and the cycle starts again.

Fortunately, there’s a simple way out to interrupt this cycle.  Identify the minimal amount of rainmaker activity you can do and still generate new leads and new referrals.

  • You might find that you get referrals and new business from current clients, and so you might decide that, no matter what, you will make time to take one client to lunch each month and to plan a phone call to check in with others once a week. (And if you get significant additional work from current clients, you’re in a great position, because that means that you have an opportunity to engage in business development activity every time you do billable work.)
  • You might analyze where your clients have been coming from and discover that your blog is generating a lot of calls that lead to business. If so, you should ensure that you post at least weekly, and you might even investigate hiring someone to help with SEO or AdWords, to gain additional visibility.
  • You might discover that you have an effective follow-up system and that you can expect to get measurable new business after speaking. Develop a system that allows you to send out proposals to speak on a regular basis, and ensure that you speak at least quarterly.

As long as you have a reasonable rationale for your minimal level of rainmaking activity and you stick to it, you’re likely to avoid the feast/famine cycle. You’ll continue to see some variation from time to time, but when you’re strategic and consistent, those swings will be much less significant.

Here’s your checklist for determining your MERA (Minimal Effective Rainmaker Activity):

  1. Review the sources of your business over the last two years. What activity generated the most business? What generated the least? Be sure to distinguish activity that’s slow yield from activity that’s low
  2. Set a minimum activity level in the top producers. Calendar whatever it is that you’ve determined you’ll do, and don’t allow yourself to delay, even when you’re busy.
  3. Delete all other rainmaking activity from your calendar… FOR NOW. This approach is not designed to generate the most business possible.  It’s designed to defeat the feast/famine cycle.  It contains the seeds for long-term success, but you’ll need to do more in the long run to produce maximum results.
  4. Set your date for re-evaluation and don’t get complacent. The only downside to MERA is that you can lull yourself into thinking that any activity is adequate for any circumstance, and that just isn’t true. MERA is only for the times when you’re tempted to press pause.

If you don’t know how to determine what activity is most likely to yield results for you, you’ll have trouble with this task. Building a practice requires you to know what produces results so you can do more of that.  If you don’t, we should talk.  Just click this link to schedule a complimentary 30 minute consultation.