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 App.net… 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.

Working Your Practice

A business seminar, I attended recently, focused on hiring and managing employees. I was surprised that the program started by asking us attendees to identify our business vision and what we stand for. I was even more surprised to find how difficult that was to do!

You may have heard the distinction between working in your business as opposed to working on your business, popularized by Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth. The former is what you do to earn money, and the latter is what you do to design and build your business.

Marketing lives and thrives, however, when you’re working on your business. That’s when you come up with a new way to talk about what you do and identify an under-served client sector that needs your services. That’s when you come up with a great idea for an article, you write that article, and you consider who might help you land a speaking opportunity to develop further and share what you wrote in the article.

So, here’s today’s question: how much time are you spending on your practice? And is the time you’re spending effective?

Effectiveness is driven by not just the degree to which you’re able to raise your professional profile and the business you bring in, but also by the number of smart ideas you have and implement. As Seth Godin writes, “Pretty good ideas are easy. The guts and persistence and talent to create, ship and stick it out are what’s hard.”

Take some time today to work on your business. If you don’t know where to start, start with asking what is your vision for your practice. Consider your practice area, your sub-niche within that area, the clients with whom you work, how you serve those clients, and your practice setting, for starters.