How can you revive a neglected professional relationship?

Despite the best of intentions, it’s easy to let a relationship slide. You get busy, you lose track of your contact schedule, you run out of ideas for keeping in touch… And next thing you know, your relationship has atrophied.

But, like muscle, an atrophied relationship can be rebuilt. By focusing time and attention on your relationship and maintaining consistent effort, you’ll often be able to revive a good relationship more easily than you built it in the first place.

But you might feel awkward trying to reenergize a stagnant relationship, especially if you aren’t sure that the relationship can be reinvigorated. If you find yourself about to write off a relationship, you need to be sure that the relationship can’t be resurrected. It’s easy to allow discomfort to lead you into turning a neglected but viable relationship into a dead one, and lawyers far too often write off relationships before they’re truly finished. But how do you know? Or, as someone often inquires when I’m presenting a business development workshop, Is it ever too late to rebuild professional relationships that have languished?

The short answer is that it depends on the relationship. The deeper the relationship, the more likely it can be resurrected.  If, however, you meet once and fail to follow up, or if you follow up only once or twice, the relationship will lack the firm footing necessary to allow it to flourish following a period of silence.  That said, it never hurts to try to rebuild a relationship, particularly if your sole reason for reconnecting is to re-establish communication and not to seek a favor.

So, what can you do to rebuild a connection that has faded? The simplest, and often the most effective, approach is to do precisely what you would do with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time: pick up the phone and say, “I realized it’s been a while since we’ve spoken, and you’ve been on my mind.  Is this a good time to talk for a few minutes? How are things with you?  What’s new?”  If several months have passed since you were in touch with this contact, you may even begin the conversation by re-introducing yourself.  (This is where my recommendation to maintain a database of contacts proves especially helpful: you don’t have to try to remember when and where you met.)  You may experience a few awkward moments as your contact gets back into the connection, but most people will pick up relatively quickly.

If, like many lawyers, you’d rather do nine hours of painstaking document review without a coffee break than pick up with phone, you do have other options. For example, you might consider the following:

  • Send an email to reconnect. You might suggest talking by telephone and either arrange a time or let your contact know you’ll be calling.  While you’ll still have to pick up the phone, you’ve created an expectation that you will call, and chances are good that you’ll avoid an awkward beginning.  If you suggest that you’ll call, though, you absolutely must do so – or run the risk of looking like a flake.
  • Send an article or other resource that will interest your contact. The resource may address a legal or non-legal issue, but it must be tied in some way to a conversation you’ve had with the contact.  Attach a note that says, “I remember talking with you about [topic of resource] at [wherever you had the conversation] and thought of you when I saw this [resource].  Hope it’s useful!”  By doing so, you not only reconnect by offering assistance, but you do so in a way that will bring your conversation back to your contact’s mind and refresh the relationship.
  • Issue an invitation. You might invite your contact to an open house or to attend a CLE or other seminar of interest with you.  If you deliver an invitation by mail or email, be sure to attach a note saying that you look forward to reconnecting. This personal touch will indicate to your contact that your interest is genuine.
  • Seek out news about your contact. This may be a more challenging approach if you’re seeking to reconnect than to maintain a relationship, but it’s worth a quick search to see whether your contact has been in the news recently.  You may find news of a professional event (an honor awarded, a trial won, a leadership position attained) or a personal event (a new marriage, a new baby, a recreational or community activity).  Such news offers an ideal reason to get in touch again.

Take a few minutes this week to review your list of contacts. With whom should you reconnect?  Choose three to five people and reach out to them.  Building and maintaining your network is always a valuable activity, and keeping relationships alive will often pay off (often in unexpected ways) over time.

Why isn’t it working?!

A potential client called to discuss how I might help her with her business development activities, and I asked what she’d tried. As I often discover in those conversations, she’d tried a number of approaches, all to no avail. On her list: writing articles, teaching seminars, advertising, attending networking events, posting her profile on various social networking sites, and so on. But she had no results to report.  Not surprisingly, she was ready to conclude that she wasn’t meant to be a rainmaker.

If you see no results, it’s easy to conclude that it’s time to throw in the towel. It’s discouraging to work at something — especially something as important as business development — and get poor results.

This inclination to accept failure is even more common for those who believe that rainmaking is a skill reserved for a few special lawyers.  (As a sidenote, ponder this: not every lawyer will be a superstar rainmaker. But every lawyer can be a “mist-maker,” and depending on your practice setting, that may be all you need to shoot for.) But should you accept failure as permanent and give up business development activity?  No.

Three mistakes are often responsible when a lawyer has worked hard at rainmaking without generating meaningful results:

  1. The lawyer is measuring the wrong thing. New business is the clearest measurement of rainmaking success, but that’s like starting a diet and measuring success only by reaching goal weight. There are all sorts of midpoints that indicate success: making new contacts, developing relationships, building a strong reputation in your field, and so on. These “interim successes” indicate forward movement — assuming, of course, they’re measured as progress toward the ultimate goal of bringing in new business and not as an end in themselves.
  2. The lawyer hasn’t brought in new business. . . Yet. “Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish,” John Quincy Adams observed. In other words, don’t give up before an activity has had time to produce results. Networking is a key place where lawyers fall short.  A single conversation is incredibly unlikely to generate new business, and mere membership in a group without any real involvement is equally unlikely to be successful using any measure. Whether it’s networking or another activity, hopping from one activity to another generates a lot of motion but very little forward movement. Choosing one or two marketing tactics is almost certain to bring better results — unless. . .
  3. The lawyer is doing the wrong things, or doing them in the wrong way. No matter how persistently the task is undertaken, if it’s fundamentally flawed, it won’t work. Let’s take networking again. If your idea of networking is attending meetings, talking incessantly about yourself, your skills, your qualifications, and your experience, plus pressing your business card on anyone who happens within an arms’ length, you are destined to fail. That’s networking at its worst and it’s unattractive to just about everyone. Similarly, well-performing activities that don’t involve talking directly with potential clients and referral sources likely won’t produce business. Bottom line: good activity done wrong doesn’t work.

Your task this week: are you making any of these mistakes? Check especially to see how you’re measuring your success. Because lawyers are trained to focus on the end game (here, landing the new business), this is one of the key mistakes that I often see among new clients.

How to determine whether a rainmaking expense is a cost or an investment (and why it matters).

I once talked with a client who was upset at the prospect of paying nearly $1,000 for equipment required for making a presentation to a group of her ideal clients.  She confirmed my expectation that she’d be able to use the equipment again for similar presentations, and I suggested that she view the financial outlay as an investment rather than a cost.

“What’s the difference,” she sighed, “call it cost or investment, that money is just plain gone.”  You spend cash for both costs and investments, true, but the distinction is critical in making smart decisions about rainmaking expenses.

A cost is defined as “the amount or equivalent paid or charged for something;” an investment is “the outlay of money, usually for income or profit.”  The difference?  No matter how beneficial, a cost is money paid or time spent that doesn’t produce further profit or income.  An investment, however, is intended to be recouped and, if the investment is well chosen, to bring in more money than you originally paid. Big difference!

You must understand this distinction so that you can evaluate opportunities that come your way.  When you are presented with a chance to do something, whether it’s sponsoring some sort of event, speaking to a group, or enhancing your own professional development through training or coaching, you need to be able to discern whether you’ll be paying a cost or making an investment. Both have their place, but you have to budget differently for each kind of expense.

For example, in the last few years, I’ve made an annual 5-figure investment in working with business mentors, and those investments have paid off handsomely.  The feedback I’ve received and the ideas generated have brought in substantially more than the sums I paid.  I decided to make those investments after following the mentors and carefully evaluating what was offered.  I would not pay the same amount as a cost that I didn’t expect to recover—but I’ll happily invest any amount of money when I know that it will produce a multiplied return in new income.

When you’re making a decision about spending (including whether the opportunity is an investment and whether it’s the right one for you), consider these questions:

  1. What benefit can I reasonably expect from taking part in this opportunity?  Consider not just financial or business benefit but also the ancillary relationship benefits that may accrue.  For example, if attending a meeting holds little direct benefit to you, but one of your best clients has asked that you attend, you might find that the benefit of meeting your client’s request will merit the investment of time.  If the only benefit is emotional and unlikely to lead to a business benefit—your own enjoyment or development of a social relationship—then you should consider the opportunity to be a cost rather than an investment and make your decision accordingly.
  2. What’s the likelihood of reaping the anticipated benefit?  You may not be able to predict with mathematical certainty the probability of attaining the benefit that you’re seeking, so a qualitative estimate is all you need here.
  3. What’s the magnitude of the anticipated benefit? I look for at least a 2-to-1 payoff for financial investments. For instance, when I had the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles a few years ago to speak at a conference, I weighed the $2000 travel and hotel bill against the lifetime value of getting at least one additional client.
  4. What will I need to put into this opportunity to increase the likelihood of getting the benefit?  Especially when an investment is primarily financial, it’s important to recognize that you may need to put in additional time and energy — and perhaps additional money — to get the results that you want.  That isn’t necessarily an indication that you shouldn’t make the investment, but you need to know what you’ll need to do before you commit. To continue the previous example, in addition to the financial expenditure, I knew it would take several days to craft and practice my presentation.
  5. Am I able to make the necessary investment of money, time, and energy?  When’ve defined the scope of expenditure you’ll need to make to get the benefit you’re seeking, determine whether you can make that investment.
  6. Am I willing to make that investment?  As I often tell my coaching clients, if you want things to change, you will need to change.  Even if an opportunity carries no financial cost, be sure you’re willing to invest your time and energy, since no benefit flows without some sort of investment.

Use these questions in making your own decisions, and use them to help your clients see the benefits of investing in working with you on financial and other levels.  In many substantive areas of practice, a clear need often precedes an engagement, and convincing is unnecessary.  When your work is characterized as planning or arranging something (estate planning, for example), you may get more business when you’re able to demonstrate how investing will pay off, in reduced taxes for your client’s estate (financial benefit) and in reduced stress for your client’s survivors (emotional benefit).

How do you use the language of cost vs. investment in your own business and in making your own decisions?  Your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to notice the ways you think about the outlay of money, time, and energy.  Are you making the right investments?

Beyond Strengths and Weaknesses

Recently, I spoke with a client who was struggling with his business development activity.  Nate (as usual, the name and identifying details have been changed to protect his privacy) had experienced great success in converting acquaintances who heard him talk about the kind of matters he handles into clients, and he decided that if speaking casually to small groups works well, speaking formally to large groups would deliver even better results.

As it turns out, though Nate is a spellbinding speaker in small, informal groups, something happens when he steps onto a stage.  Nate transforms from an assured, confident, knowledgeable lawyer who can chat at length about his clients’ legal issues and possible solutions into a stiff academician who says “therefore” and “whereof” entirely too much.  He becomes (I hate to say it, but I’ve seen it firsthand) dull.  When he speaks to large groups, nothing good comes of it.  The audience gets restless, and no one calls Nate for help afterward.

This isn’t news to Nate.  I gently broached the subject after I saw him speak, and before I got very far, he beat me to the punch – sort of: “I know, I know, I was a terrible speaker last time.  But I’ve figured it out, and the crowd next week is a new group of people, and this time, I’m going to impress them!”  Nate recognizes that speaking to large groups is not his strength, and yet he continues to use that approach, thinking each time that he’ll finally nail the presentation.

The problem is that we tend to talk about strengths and weaknesses as if a weakness is just an undeveloped strength.  Not so.  Sometimes, a weakness is an inability, pure and simple, that can be corrected only by bringing in assistance from another resource.  Here’s what I explained to Nate (with thanks to Don Blohowiak, a coaching colleague who shared this useful framework):

Potential refers to your native capabilities than can be (but have not yet been) developed.

Strengths refer to the capabilities that you execute competently to masterfully.

Limitations refer to the capabilities that you have in short supply.  Some limitations can be developed, and others will require replacement from another source.

Absences refer to the capabilities that you simply don’t have.  There is no shame in lacking capabilities.  No one has all of the capabilities possible.  Instead, the task is to find someone whose capabilities are complementary to your absences.  (If, for instance, you are leading a client service team and complex accounting is an important part of the matter, if you lack masterful accounting skills, you must find someone who can bring that competency to the team.)

Weaknesses refer to the capabilities that you pretend to have but cannot actually execute.

Using this model, Nate’s speaking to a large audience is a weakness (as he recognized) but because he pretended that he could correct it, the weakness could not be eliminated.  Nate was failing at business development because he was leading from a weakness and pretending it was a strength.

Review your business development plan, your professional development plan, your career strategy plan – any plan at all that reflects your goals – and ask these questions:

  • What are my strengths?
  • How are my strengths reflected in my plan?
  • How can I develop my potential so I can deploy those capabilities in my plan?
  • What weaknesses am I denying?
  • Do my priorities coincide with my strengths?

If, like Nate, you lead from weakness, you will produce only frustration.  Spend some time in honest self-reflection and look for opportunities to shift what you’re doing based on your natural and developed capabilities.  And, if (like Nate) you find that you’ve been pretending that you are developing your weaknesses, stop pretending.  Shift your approach.

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 businesses.

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.

Personal contacts: the foundation of every successful legal business development plan

I clerked for a federal judge in my first job after law school. Among the many lessons Judge Forrester taught me was to look for the existence of a “Q” case, the source from which the rest of the precedents would flow. In practice, I learned that some questions require the thorough search that would lead to the Q case, while others simply needed “quick and dirty” research to get to the right answer.

When it comes to business development, there’s one “Q” activity: making personal contacts. Although not every activity truly flows from making personal contacts, contacts make every other activity much more effective.

As Bob Burg, author of Endless Referrals, wrote, “All things being equal, people will do business with and refer business to those people they know, like and trust.” In other words, the more people who know you and think well of you, the more likely you are to receive business and referrals.

While you might argue about whether all things are ever equal, think about how you select any service professional you hire. Whether you’re looking for a dentist, a house painter, a baby sitter, or a lawyer, chances are that you check with at least one or two or your contacts to get a referral, and a significant number of clients who seek your services will do the same. Knowing more people increases the chance that someone in need of your services will find out about you.

Likewise, your current and former clients know and (let’s hope) like and trust you. They also have had the experience of working with you, so they know how you serve clients and may be able to evaluate, to some extent, your legal ability. As a result, current and former clients may be even more likely to refer business to you and, where your practice is amenable, bring you additional work themselves. 

Even discounting the possibility of landing new business, knowing more people increases the chance that you’ll be invited to speak, to join a relevant Board of Directors, to attend events that your ideal clients might attend, and so on. The more people you know, the more you’ll be in the flow of information that may benefit you—and the more you’ll be in contact with people whom you might be able to serve or help in some other way.

So, the bottom line is that the more people you know, the more likely you are to bring in new business. And it follows naturally that, without knowing any information about your specific practice or your strengths, the “Q” activity for growing your law practice is to work on consistently and strategically increasing your network of contacts.

Consider these questions to kick-start your networking:

  • Are most of your clients referrals, or do clients contact you directly? (Should you look to increase your network of potential clients or potential referral sources –or, more likely, both?)
  • Where do your ideal clients congregate?
  • Where do your ideal referral sources congregate?
  • What organizations offer a natural fit for your practice, by virtue of subject area or membership, and how can you get involved?

No matter what your business development plan might be, personal contacts are a foundational activity for any rainmaker.

Creating and Harnessing Momentum in Business Development

When an attorney is focused on business development and is implementing consistently a strategic plan designed to reach clearly identified goals, magic happens.  Often it’s magic that brings in new business, and for practices with longer sales cycles, it’s magic that first brings in connections and opportunities that eventually lead to new business.  The magic that always exists in the presence of consistent activity, though, is momentum.

Momentum is defined by the Macmillan Dictionary as “progress or development that is becoming faster or stronger,” and Merriam Webster adds that momentum is “strength or force gained by motion or by a series of events.”  Momentum is a force that seems to take on a life of its own.  In business development, momentum occurs when opportunities begin to flow from one another, introductions materialize, and all of the work that you’ve done yields a noticeable uptick in rainmaker results.

I’ve identified several steps to create momentum in business development.

  1. Develop a plan that includes activity in several complementary domains.  In other words, when you identify one activity to include in your plan, look for related activities that naturally build on that one.  For example, if you plan to write articles or a blog, look for ways to repurpose that content, perhaps by launching a newsletter (which is a good complement to a blog) or by speaking once or twice a year on themes that you’ve identified through your writing.
  2. As soon as you’ve decided to commit to an activity, put it on your calendar.  Momentum requires action, not just plans.  It’s easy to “decide” to have two lunches a week with good contacts and then to “decide” to start next week.  Or the week after.  Or the week after that… You know, when things slow down enough for you to catch your breath.If a commitment isn’t in your calendar, question whether it’s really a commitment.
  3. Take consistent, concentrated action.  One push may be all it takes to roll a perfect boulder down a perfect hill, but business development doesn’t exist in a perfect world.  Committing to an activity requires committing to consistent engagement.  One lunch isn’t momentum.  Five lunches might start to create momentum.  Twelve lunches in a month may be enough to get some momentum going: not only will you know that you’ll have lunch with strategically selected contacts three times a week, but you’ll be in the habit of mentally sorting your contacts to select the right lunch partners, identifying why you should meet, and planning what you’d like to realize from the lunch.  You’ll also likely get into the groove of offering and asking for assistance.Concentrated action is usually required to create momentum.  Taking action once a month is consistent, but unless the action is massive (such as hosting a seminar and then implementing a follow-up strategy that requires additional action) you’re unlikely to see momentum build.  In today’s world, our attention spans are shorter, and momentum both thrives on and creates attention.  Make business development your top priority for a set amount of time (the length of which will depend on your specific plan and practice) and that concentration may create the right content for momentum to blossom.
  4. Measure your results.  Tracking results quantifies outcomes (even when the only measurement is qualitative, as it often is especially in the beginning stages of business development) and helps to create momentum.  When you see that doing X leads to positive outcome Y, you’re more likely to repeat X.  Measurement also helps to avoid fruitless activity.
  5. Once a quarter, review your activity and results, looking specifically for synergy and complementary opportunities.  For example, if you’ve received several referrals from CPAs, perhaps you should consider how to spend more time with selected CPAs.  If you’ve sponsored a meeting, review the results of the sponsorship and your planned follow-up steps, then think about how you might build on that activity—for example, you might invite attendees to hear you speak on a topic of interest.

We all feel momentum when it happens: the phone starts ringing, one great idea generates another (and both get implemented), and you discover that your network of contacts really is a network that you can access.  Calculated steps can create momentum, but you must also prepare yourself to recognize it and to analyze what specifically created it.  When you’ve identified that what, make sure you build more of that into your plans.

A caveat about momentum, though: when it comes to business development, think of momentum as an accelerator, not as a continuous motion machine.  Remember that we commonly talk about losing momentum at least as often as we discuss gaining it.  Momentum leads to strong results, but it is not an independent force that will continue in perpetuity.

The key to creating momentum is also the key to keeping it going: consistent action. 

Do you have momentum in business development?  What would it take?  If you’re uncertain, a good place to start is by evaluating what activity has delivered the best results over the last six months and then asking yourself how you might create momentum around that activity.

What are you thinking?

How do you regard business development activity? Do you believe you can succeed? Is the wolf at the door, waiting to devour your practice if you fail? Is bringing in new business a “nice to have” activity, or is it a critical stepping stone for you? Are your clients fortunate to have you on their side?

To some lawyers’ surprise, the answers to these questions influence (sometimes heavily) the chances of success.

Attitude or mindset is a “soft” characteristic of rainmakers. It’s easy to ignore or dismiss as touchy-feely mumbo-jumbo. However, I’ve seen lawyers over and over demonstrate how critical it is to have a positive attitude toward business development and NOT because a positive attitude will attract good results to you or will somehow magically predispose clients to your office.

Attitude matters because it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Believe you’re not good at business development? Every setback will prove you right. Believe clients aren’t looking for someone like you? Every cool response will convince you even more.

But if you believe that you bring useful skills and knowledge to your clients, if you believe that you can develop the business you need for a thriving practice, chances are that you will persevere until you prove that correct as well.

Over the many years that I’ve been working with lawyers (and in reflecting on my own experience), I’ve identified three aspects of attitude that may impact rainmaking efforts’ outcome.

  1.  Do you believe you can succeed? I occasionally tell lawyers that the third client they land is the most important.  The first two you might dismiss as mere good luck or being in the right place at the right time, but when you sign the third client, you know that you’re doing something right.Before you have concrete proof of your ability to bring in business, how you measure your results can have significant influence on your future performance. Low volume, higher fee practices tend to take much longer to develop than high volume, lower fee practices. If you measure your results in terms of activity that moves the biz dev ball forward, even if it hasn’t yet led to business, you’ll raise your confidence in your abilities in an appropriate manner.

    As you define your goals, then, bear in mind what makes sense for you to measure.  In some practices, you should start by measuring the influx of business right away. (That applies to, for example, sole practices that need income to survive and those who’ve already developed some business but are now seeking to grow and systemize their activity and client pipeline.) In others, you should start by measuring meetings with potential clients or referral sources, the growth of relationships with current clients, or advancement in leadership in targeted organizations.

  1.  Do you believe you know enough to get started? Because lawyers tend to be risk-averse, we have an inclination to approach important tasks with “read the manual, aim, aim, aim, read the manual again, ready, aim again” — perhaps never getting to fire.

    Assess realistically what you need to know before you start your rainmaker activity.  
    My suggestion is that you know how to define your practice in a way that communicates clearly to your would-be clients and referral sources. Get started with that, and then work in everything else.There are terrific books and programs available on business development, and you should take advantage of those learning opportunities in conjunction with your activity.  But don’t wait until you’ve read all the books and attended all the programs and created a flawless business development plan.   Start now.  
  1.  Why do you do business development?  If your answer is, “because I know I have to,” you need to dig deeper and find a reason that inspires you. Do you want to change your clients’ lives or businesses? Do you want to impact an area of the law or industry? Do you want to become a partner in your firm, to move to another firm, or to start your own practice? Do you want to buy beachfront property? Do you want to pay off your parents’ mortgage?

    When you get tired of business development — and you will — you need to have a reason that will inspire you to keep going.  I recommend you come up with several reasons that hit on several levels. For example, some of my personal goals are to reach the lawyers we as a society need and help them learn to build a successful practice so they don’t give up, to buy a summer house in Wyoming, and to fund a promise to send a class of underprivileged kindergartners to college. On some days, I conclude that I’ll just stay in motels when I visit Wyoming and lawyers will just have to take care of themselves, but the image of those little faces (whom I have yet to meet) keeps me going.Don’t misunderstand: you must have more than a good attitude to succeed in business development. I don’t believe that envisioning something will make it happen without any effort. But I do believe that a positive attitude makes it easier to put in the work and to keep going when it would be easier to stop. I’ve seen it over and over with my clients and myself.

How about you?  Take just a few minutes to check your own attitude. If you find it not as strong as you’d like, work on building a better attitude. Attitude is a soft attribute that can help you to attain real success.

Do you feel pressure about business development?

“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.

How college football offers lessons in business development.

I love college football.  There’s something about the rivalry, the enthusiasm of players (most of whom have to know they’re playing for the love of the game, not for a shot at the pros), and the strategy that’s great fun to watch.

Football also offers lessons for business development, as I noticed recently.  A few of my favorites:

  1. Play to win, not to avoid losing. In 2010, Auburn was the #1 team.  Cam Newton (and other strong players) graduated, and Auburn’s ranking plummeted.  The team suspended one of its strongest players who violated team rules at the tail end of the season.  It would be hard to blame Auburn for coming to the Chik-fil-A Bowl against Virginia with a plan to play it safe and to make a strong enough showing NOT to lose, and better luck next year.

    Instead, Auburn played full-out, even making the unusual play of an onside kick in the second quarter while leading.  (Onside kicks are usually reserved for near-desperation moves late in a game.)  That play has been marked as the game’s turning point, but it’s simply one example of Auburn’s “all in” play.

    In business development, you may find yourself tempted to play it safe or to avoid making a risky move for fear of failure.  Calculated risk that reflects your full commitment will always pay off.  Sometimes it will result in a glorious failure first, but playing to win succeeds far more often than playing not to lose.  Which are you doing now?

  2. Watch your timing. Jittery players get penalized for anticipating the snap, or for delaying the snap and thus the game.  Knowing when to take a time-out and how to control the tempo of the game is a key aspect of football strategy.  Each play calls for careful timing, in knowing when to hold and release a pass, when to power through opponents and when to run out of bounds, and much more.

    Timing is less precise in business development, but it matters.  Consider the stereotypical bad networker who hands out business cards reflexively and doesn’t understand why no one calls.  Promoting oneself before understanding a potential client’s needs rarely succeeds.  (That goes for online and website strategy as well.)  Especially if you’re eager or uncomfortable, it’s easy to jump directly into how you can help a potential client.  Instead, start by exploring the client’s concerns.  In other words, don’t lead with your experience or your skills.  Remember, we all want to know what’s in it for me?

    By the same token, timing comes into play in knowing when to ask for the business.  Too soon, and it may come across as pushy; too late, and you may miss the opportunity.

    What’s your rainmaking rhythm?  If you don’t have a system or at least markers that guide your steps, you may be missing important aspects of timing.

  3. Build a team and treat members with respect. Although we tend to herald individual players in football, it’s the team that wins or loses.  And while the stars are usually a key force, the best player ever will be ineffective without the support and help of other team members.  A brilliant pass is nothing without a receiver, and no play can succeed without blockers.

    That’s true in business as well.  Your team may include other firm attorneys and staff; sole practitioners may count business allies and centers of influence as part of the team.  However you define your team, know that you cannot succeed alone.

Remember that (depending on your area of practice) your former clients may be one of your most important team members.  Happy clients will help your practice expand by referring others and perhaps by bringing you repeat business.  Client service matters deeply.
Who’s on your team now, and what positions must you fill to support your business development effort?

Those are just three of the reminders I picked up while watching bowl games this week.  For you football fans, think about what else you can learn.  How do you respond to “penalties” (setbacks), fair or unfair?  How do you handle it when one of your “players” makes a mistake?  Who helps you to see the big picture, to better coordinate your efforts?  Who pushes you to deliver more than you thought you could?  How many “plays” can you run?  Do you know which are most effective?