I did the work… Now what?

You’ve put in your dues.  You’ve worked hard to become the accomplished professional you are now, and you have all manner of credentials that demonstrate your expertise.  You’ve worked with (and probably even held leadership roles with) a variety of organizations, you’ve written articles and book chapters, and you may even have served a turn teaching.

How can you leverage all of that activity to build relationships so you can bring in more business?  The answers to that question are as varied as the number of people who might ask.  The four ideas I share here will form the springboard for what you decide to do.

  1. Be sure you have all of that activity listed in your biographical sketch. I’m always surprised when a new client tells me about past activity that I can’t find anywhere in his or her sketch.  You did the work, so be sure you get credit for it.

    What’s more, listing the work you’ve done will help to build a bridge with contacts who review your sketch.  How so?  Your activity shows your involvement with various groups, and if you and a new contact have both taught at your local community college or law school, you’ll have a connection that can form the basis of conversation.  You can get relationships off to a firm footing by having a well-rounded bio sketch.

  2. Reach out to the people you’ve met while doing your credential-building activity. Most often, you’ll build working relationships while building your credentials, and it’s up to you to take the next step and to move those relationships outside of their initial context.  So, let’s say you’ve been working on a project with a committee of colleagues who may serve as referral sources.  Reach out to those people, let them know how much you enjoyed getting to know them in the committee, and invite them to coffee or lunch (or, if you aren’t local, a scheduled telephone conversation) to talk about your mutual professional interests.  They already know you, and if you’ve done your work well, they probably like and trust you.  Build on that.

    (What?  The others with whom you’ve been working are in your field and aren’t good referral sources?  Get thee into a new group, where your professional strengths compliment, not duplicate, the strengths of others.  Get started today.  And remember this going forward: it isn’t business development activity if you’re marketing to people who do exactly the same thing you do.)

  3. Leverage your credential-building activity by bringing it to contacts who don’t know about it. So, let’s say you wrote an article that was published recently.  Send it to your clients, your former clients, your referral sources, and your warm contacts who will find it interesting.  Nothing fancy, here: just a copy with a quick note, perhaps offering to chat if the article raises a topic they’ve been concerned or thinking about.

    Sending your article out offers the personal touch, can lead to a further conversation, and shows that you have in mind the people to whom you send it.  And that’s ideal for relationship-building: by showing that they’re at the top of your mind and sharing something useful, you bring yourself to the top of their mind.  (Worried they already received the article through its original publication?  Don’t be.  You’re offering the personal touch, and even if it’s a duplicate, they’re likely to appreciate your effort.)

    You can also use what you’ve created to build relationships with new contacts, and to invite them to receive your useful article and your newsletter.
      (You don’t have a newsletter or some other mechanism for providing regular, substantive contact?  We need to talk.  Click here to schedule a 30 minute consultation.)

  4. Take the expertise you’ve developed to a new forum. Once you’ve written or spoken on a topic for one group, look for ways to expand your reach.  Take your presentation to a business networking group, to a specialty association, or to a different educational organization.

    More importantly, for the purposes of this discussion, broaden your exposure in a strategic way with a focus on relationship-building.  If you speak, consider whether you (or your firm or business) might sponsor a reception following your presentation.  Assuming the timing is right, people typically enjoy a meet’n’greet with a featured speaker, and you’ll have opportunities to follow up with the people you meet.

So, what can you do to leverage your credential-building activity for relationship-building purposes?  The basic point here is to think about how you can bring the credentials you worked so hard to acquire to people who can benefit from your expertise and to use the products of that activity to build relationships.  (And, incidentally, this conversation should illuminate for any doubters why the minimum professional credentials won’t cut it.)

Is this all you need to do to build relationships?  No, absolutely not.  The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling offers many relationship-building suggestions for lawyers. But these steps are a beginning point for leveraging your past work for relationship benefits.

Trivial Pursuits… Again?

In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it. — Robert Heinlein

You may be wondering how this relates to the law. Practice keeps you busy.  Really busy. Aside from the rare (and, frankly, frightening) slow times that crop up occasionally, there’s always something to do, whether it’s advancing a particular case, wooing a potential client, or putting out an administrative fire. There’s a great deal of urgency to practice. The danger, though, is that urgency can overwhelm what’s important, creating irreversible delay.


I’ve posted at some length about Stephen Covey’s four quadrant time management system on my blog, and I’d encourage you to review that post or one of the other descriptions of the system. Today’s quote leans into that urgent/important distinction, because daily trivia is often urgent, it often draws us in, and we can easily become ensnared in the urgent and lose sight of the important.

The clearest way to keep in touch with what’s important is to have, as the quotation says, clearly-defined goals. I recommend you set SMART goals.  SMART Iis an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based, and SMART goals thoughtfully set function as a declaration of what is important to you.

When you declare what’s important and what you intend to accomplish, and when you create a strategy for reaching your goal (because goals without strategy are just dreams), you’re well on the way to knowing how to function in Covey’s Quadrant II.

Staying in Quadrant II takes determination, of course, especially in the face of urgencies that threaten to pull you off task. But commitment to a goal and a vision of how that goal will serve you can draw you forward.

Let’s get real.  What about those times when the “urgent and important” necessarily crowds out the “non-urgent but important”?  It happens to all of us, and I’d even venture to guess that it happens more often to lawyers than those engaged in other kinds of work.  What then?

I recommend you have a back-up plan, or a maintenance strategy.  If you’ve been working on business development activities and you get swamped with a closing or a trial, decide where to set your minimum weekly requirements.  Will you take a half-hour to connect with contacts by phone?  Will you send a helpful article to a potential client?

As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter so much what you do as it matters that you do something.  Whether your focus is rainmaking, professional development, or looking for a new position, you need to persevere even in the busy times.  Far too often, putting activity on hold means putting it on the backburner until it’s cold, and then you have to start again, with no momentum to help you.

Take a look at your calendar.  What busy-ness might derail you in the next three months?  Decide now how you’ll handle it.  Planning ahead is planning for success.

And to close with another quotation: If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

You failed? Congratulations!

I don’t encourage failure… Mostly.  It’s helpful to assess and mitigate the risks of failure when you’re stepping out with a new activity.  There’s no glory in the “ready, fire, aim” approach when you have the time and the ability to do some (but not too much) preparatory  work that increases the odds of success.


If you’re not failing despite doing some prep work, you’re probably not taking big enough steps.  Please, don’t fail because of laziness, intellectual or otherwise. But recognize that if everything is going so swimmingly that you’re not failing at all, you’re leaving something on the table.

You cannot succeed unless you’re willing to fail.  Be willing to take a risk.  The more you do, the higher the risk of failure – and the higher the chances of success.

This video (which happens to be an advertisement for Nike) brings it all home.  Take 31 seconds to watch.  Yes, now.

By nature and by nurture, we’ve been trained to avoid taking risks.  Sure, it’s safer to do only what you know will work (even though sometimes you’ll be wrong about that, too, especially where people are concerned) but you’ll also miss a lot of opportunity.

An example for your consideration.  Referrals and introductions often come by email – “Bob, meet Susan, I think she may be able to help with your blah blah blah question.”  If you’re Susan, an email is the safe response to that introduction.  But a telephone call is often a more engaging and helpful response.  There’s risk involved: what if Bob doesn’t want the introduction or the help?  What if Bob is too busy and a call is an interruption?  That’s a risk I’d suggest you take almost every single time.  Sometimes you’ll fail, but (if you handle the calls well) the successes will outweigh the failures.

So, this week, ask yourself where you’re stopping yourself because you might fail even if you prepare as well as you can.  Specifically with business development and client service, what might you do differently if you were willing to fail?

Don’t aim to fail.  Do take some risks and accept that you may fail before you succeed.

When life throws you a curveball…

Life has a way of throwing curve-balls.  Sometimes they come in the form of emergencies that demand attention, sometimes they’re staff departures (planned or otherwise), and sometimes they’re opportunities that you just can’t pass up, even though jumping in will eat every bit of time and energy you have.

How do you cope with those curve-balls?  You can implement three strategies now so that you can deal with curve-balls as they come your way.

  1. Create an “operations manual”.  Those of you working in large firms may have access to some sort of manual that defines how certain tasks are to be completed.  However, whether you’re in a large firm or working as a sole practitioner, you must have a document that explains how we do things around here.  How should an assistant answer your telephone, when should he schedule appointments for you, and what should he tell callers who need to reach you urgently?  What needs to be accomplished every day without fail?  It’s daunting to imagine creating such a document from scratch.  Start today.  Document every task that you complete and request your assistant to do the same.  (No assistant?  No excuse!  If everything is in your head, the need is even greater.)  The manual that you build will allow you to cut down on the time necessary to train a new employee, and if you are called out of the office without notice, the manual gives a roadmap to keep things running without you.
  2. Use technology well. Most lawyers now use some sort of electronic calendar and docketing system.  Who else has access to your professional calendar?  Even if you choose not to allow anyone access to that information on a day-to-day basis, you should consider creating a login that you can provide on an as needed basis to an assistant.  If you are currently working without an assistant, you should create a way for a temporary assistant to have access to your calendar so that she can contact your clients and reschedule appointments if necessary.  (In fact, it may be incumbent upon you to do so, depending on the ethics rules in place in your jurisdiction.)  Let’s hope than you’re reachable in the case of curveball – but if you’re hit by a bus, some mechanism must exist to meet your clients’ needs.
  3. Maintain a comprehensive “to do” list. Many of us go through our days tucking “to do” items into our memory.  This approach creates stress, as you’ve experienced if you’ve ever been lying in bed, just about to drift off, when you’re suddenly jolted to full consciousness with the question, did I send that email/make that call??  For purposes of the “what if” conversation, however, if you maintain your task list in your head and get pulled away by a curveball, there’s little chance that you’ll be able to sort tasks effectively to be sure every task is covered.  If the curveball should take you suddenly out of commission, you’ll have no opportunity to pause and download all of the tasks in your head onto paper.  Instead, use a Word document, a spreadsheet, or task management application to keep track of every task (of any magnitude), and be sure you can sort those tasks by due date, importance, client, and project.

If you use these strategies, you’ll be able to handle the curve-balls that come your way.   Remember that curve-balls generally come with no notice, so assess your preparations today and begin to fill the holes you discover now.

Or maybe your brain is working against you.

In recent weeks, this newsletter has asked how committed you are to business development and how being busy does and should affect your business development activity. Both important questions, but…
What if your brain is working against you? Prompting you to focus on urgent but less important tasks while shelving important but not urgent tasks — those with no concrete deadline, like most business development activity? I’ve discussed important vs. urgent in the context of productivity, but here’s a new article that takes a fresh look at this phenomenon.
Whether you’re facing low commitment, being “too busy,” or letting unproductive brain habits run the show, knowing what’s getting in the way of your business development efforts is step one to solving it. If you need help, let’s talk. In August, I’ll be offering just a few limited engagements designed to identify what’s getting in your way (whether it’s behavioral, a skills deficit, or poor strategy) and get you back on the right road. To see if I can help you, please click this link to schedule a complimentary consultation.

“But I don’t have time!”

Have you ever complained about business development activity because you just don’t have the time?  Might as well admit it: this is one of the top objections I hear and observe. I’ve even had this complaint myself.

But here’s the sad truth: it doesn’t matter. You know that already. If you don’t have time to develop business, it hurts no one but you. And make no mistake: it will hurt you.

Sometimes a lack of time is a legitimate objection. If you’re working on a discovery deadline or deep in negotiations to close a deal—in other words, if your lack of time has a clear horizon—then your complaint has both validity and an end in sight. What do you have in place to carry you through the busy period? While far short of full activity, having a newsletter (remember, you can recycle evergreen content) or even sending email check-ins to keep in touch with high-priority contacts can get you through until you can resume your normal business development work.

But what if you’re always busy? On the one hand, it’s a good problem to have if your busy-ness is due to billable work. You (or someone else who’s feeding you work) are busy serving clients, which is the goal. However, without a reliable pipeline of new work, your busy period might lead you into the feast/famine cycle.

Ask first whether you’re genuinely busy or whether something else is going on. I don’t like balancing my checkbook, and it’s amazing how often I find that I’m “too busy” to do it. Do you dislike business development activity? Do you resent that you can’t just focus your time on practicing? If so, you may find that you’re not as busy as you think, but that you’re great at rationalizing why other tasks take priority.

If you’re truly always busy, check out this article to figure out how to find your minimum effective business development activity. 

If it feels like you can’t even hit the minimum you identify, it’s time for more drastic action. Try one of these pattern-interrupts.

  • Drop something that isn’t a high priority. Take a critical look at your schedule and see where you might eliminate a time suck or how you might be more effective. If you tend to record your time on a weekly or monthly basis rather than daily, that’s a good place to start. Reconstructing your time is far slower (and less accurate, leading to potential financial loss and even ethical problems) than recording it as you work.
  • Consider how you might combine activities. This isn’t a slam-dunk, but check to see if you could combine non-billables in some way. For example, could you do necessary reading while you’re on the treadmill? Could you create your task list while you’re commuting?
  • Look for pockets of time. Yes, you might be more effective with big chunks of time. You might prefer to work a task to completion. If that isn’t happening, though, it’s time to look for an alternative. Find and use pockets of time, leaving trails so that you know where to pick up next time. If you can find 5 or 10 minutes a day and you use that time both consistently and effectively, you’ll make more headway than you will if you wait until conditions are ideal.
  • Not as in “retreat from your objectives,” but plan your own business development retreat. If you’re always busy, you may need to take massive action to get tasks done. Try taking one day (or even a half-day) a month to make real progress on your biz dev work, and you may be surprised what you can accomplish. This may mean giving up something else that’s valuable to you, so it might be a quarterly action rather than weekly or monthly. 

Finally, check your goals. In a very (very) few instances, you may not need to focus on business development after all. If you’re the beneficiary of a rainmaker’s new work, and if you’re willing to accept the gamble that nothing will change, so be it. If you decide that you want to leave practice, it may not make sense to spend your time building a book of business. Just be careful as you make this evaluation, since things can change on a dime and deciding not to build your own practice could come back to bite you. Hard.


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How committed are you?

Be committed.  What’s the first thing you think when you think of commitment in the context of your business?  Without commitment in three particular areas of business, success is unlikely.

  • Commitment to succeeding in the business. What’s your backup plan if your business doesn’t prosper?  Some professionals (especially the risk-averse, like lawyers) need to have a backup plan to feel secure, but having an acceptable fallback can in some instances be a sign of serious trouble.I recently spoke with a lawyer who commented that she was excited about opening her own practice and determined to make it work, but that if things didn’t go well, she was could always go back to the job she’d left.  Plan B so permeated our conversation that I virtually guarantee she’ll be back at the job within a year.  And that’s ok, except that she’ll return with a feeling of failure if she doesn’t recognize that she was never really committed to building her own business.

    I don’t know a single person (especially over the last couple of years) who hasn’t wondered at least occasionally what if this doesn’t work… But having a clear fallback position makes it too easy to put that plan into action instead of executing the plan to make the business work.  The reason is often simple: Plan B is familiar and safe, which may not be the case with one’s own business or practice, especially during the start-up phase.

    Let me be clear: sometimes a business doesn’t work or a practice lacks the clients to survive, and you still have to pay the mortgage.  If that happens, adjust course.  You may need to take on some part-time work or even throw in the towel on the business.  But if you’re starting every week (or every day or every project) with Plan B in mind, you’ll end up with Plan B before you know it.

  • Commitment to business development. To get consistent results, you must be consistent with your business development efforts.When I consult with a potential client who wants to bring in more business, I always ask questions to uncover not just what business development activities they’ve tried, but how consistently – and when a business is underperforming, consistency is always lacking.

    Create a schedule of your activities, divided into daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly activity.  Otherwise, you’re leaving it up to chance.  Even when you’ve developed a habit, a change in outside circumstances can undermine that habit, and you’ll never even notice unless you have a system in place.

    One client wrote articles for publication every other month, but when the journal that published those articles went out of business, he neglected to put writing for publication on his task list, and guess what?  It just didn’t happen.  He searched out a couple of journals eager to publish his articles and added writing to his quarterly task list so it wouldn’t slip through the cracks again, and his stalled list of publications began growing again.  Checklists and schedules will help to keep activity consistent.

  • Commitment to clients. I have observed professionals who are so committed to growing their businesses that they focus almost solely on getting the next new client, leaving behind current clients.  Some professions mandate a minimum level of client service, but when’s the last time you felt good about receiving adequate service?To succeed in business, make it part of your habit to deliver exceptional client service.  That means providing the substantive service the client needs, plus providing it in a way that surpasses need.  For example, one of the top complaints about lawyers is that telephone calls go unreturned.  (I haven’t seen statistics, but I imagine unanswered emails are a growing area of dissatisfaction as well.)  Of course, you must respond in some way to your clients’ communications to provide adequate service.  Take adequate to excellent by setting a policy that you or someone on your staff will respond to every client communication within X amount of time, and then stick to that policy.

    For ideas on crafting service that will delight your clients, read Seth Godin’s excellent book Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable. 

How committed are you?  Are you willing to do what it takes to grow your business or your practice, applying a “no excuses” approach?    

The art of the ask: how to ask for business (and when not to ask)

How do you ask for business?  We all know intuitively (or through training) that those who don’t ask typically don’t get business.  However, many lawyers are reluctant to ask explicitly for business, and rightly so.  A flat request can disrupt a relationship if the answer is “no,” and, under some circumstances, asking can even be an ethical violation.  Even when those concerns are not in play, some lawyers may feel pushy if they ask for business.  And yet, the inner voice cautions (or should caution!), if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Know whether and how to ask for business requires you to check several considerations. A few examples are:

  • Listen to your gut… If you’re sensing that an explicit request for the business may be too pointed, you could be correct.  Try a gentler approach (something like “I’d be happy to suggest an approach for that”) may blunt the approach and yet get the message across.
  • …But notice how often your gut tells you not to ask. If your gut almost always tells you that asking would be too pushy, it’s time to do some work on your comfort level.  What conditions would have to exist for you to feel comfortable in asking for business?
  • Look for the win / win. Lawyers often use rather violent language for business development:  “eat what you kill” compensation systems, “killer instinct” in pursuing new work, and “bagging a client,” for instance.  This language casts the lawyer as the hunter and the potential client as the victim or the target.  Although few lawyers actually regard their potential clients in that way, the fear of being perceived as a ruthless hunter may prompt a lawyer to hold back. It may even prompt lawyers to ask for business so tentatively that the request implies that the potential client would be doing the lawyer a great favor by hiring him. When you issue a good request for business, you know the benefit and value you’re bringing, and you can weave it into your request.
  • Listen to the potential client’s concerns and offer some feedback, leading naturally into an offer of further help. If you take this approach, be sure that you don’t stray into giving legal advice without sufficient knowledge of the facts.  You can suggest potential avenues or approaches for consideration, though, and offer to help if your contact would like to explore them.
  • Invite a potential client to your office for a consultation, and specifically mention that you’ll discuss your engagement letter and answer any questions they may have. If you know enough about the client and the matter to be sure that you would be willing to accept it, this can be a natural way to move the conversation forward.

Asking for business requires both the right mindset and the right words or technique.  You might get hired without asking for the business, but until you master this skill, you can’t count on growing your book.

Think about your current “low hanging fruit,” or the potential clients most likely to retain you right now.  What approach would be most helpful for them? What approach will open the possibility of working with you most effectively? When have you held back from a request, and how might you recover and adjust your habits going forward?




Track Your Results, Grow Your Practice

My clients often tell me that they don’t need to track rainmaking results, that they just know what’s working and what isn’t. Keeping records may seem inconvenient and unnecessary. In reality, though, simple tracking will help you to get better results in business development. 

If you’re getting new business, you know something is working, but you may not know what. If you don’t track your rainmaking activity and results, you risk three problems:

  • You may find it difficult to make a rational decision about whether to continue an activity. Without data on whether a particular effort is paying off, how can you know whether your investment is worthwhile?
  • You may overlook a valuable source of new business. For example, one of my clients reported that an acquaintance sent him three potential clients in a ten-month period, yielding income of close to $30,000. If he hadn’t tracked where that business came from, he might not have been able to express his appreciation and further develop the relationship, which in turn led to even more business.
  • You may mistake luck for skill. Beginner’s luck isn’t limited to card games, nor is it limited to beginners. Sometimes new business comes flooding in for coincidental reasons. Without tracking the source of the business, there’s a risk of overlooking the coincidence, focusing on the results, and reducing activity. The consequence? A drop in business when luck dries up and skill has not taken its place.

Many lawyers believe that having a sense of how new business comes to them is good enough. And for a handful of lawyers, that may be true. In most cases, though, an informal, memory-based, qualitative system for tracking results is not dependable.

Memories fade and may be inaccurate. Just as mental tracking is unreliable for balancing a checkbook, it is insufficient for making decisions about business development activity. Every lawyer must have a client intake routine that includes determining how that client became aware of you and your practice.

Remember this insight from business performance improvement expert Dr. H. James Harrington:

Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.

If you aren’t tracking the sources of your business, start today. Here’s how: 

  • When a potential client contacts you, make sure you or your staff asks how she found you. When getting this information becomes habit, you’ll start to build useful data.

  • Incorporate questions about how the client came to contact you or your firm into your client intake form. You may find that you get clearer results if you offer check boxes for the activities you’re engaged in (speaking, a blog, or referral, for example) rather than leaving a blank for the client to complete.
  • If you are working in a larger firm that does not use intake forms, consider creating your own form. Request sourcing information as well as information about how and when a client wants to be contacted, who else should be kept apprised of the matter’s progress, and other information that will help you to deliver better client service.

Recognize too that your data probably will not be 100% accurate. Depending on your practice area, some clients may not know how they found you, and some may be unwilling to tell you. Nevertheless, any information you get will be more useful than a baseless guess.

What records will you keep to track the sources of your new business?

Productivity thrives in a clear mind

Have you ever had one of those nights, when you doze off only to be jolted awake with worry about something you need to do? Or caught yourself thinking “as soon as I get back to the office, I’ll send that email to the client,” only to realize hours later that you didn’t do it?

When you have a lot going on, things tend to get dropped or otherwise fouled up. Especially if you’re worried about something or you’re facing a difficult decision, your thoughts may be agitated by the “noise” of life. To-do items blend with ideas and interruptions into one big fog of mental chaos.

One recent example from: I was preparing for a major client meeting in between meeting with my mother’s doctors and hospice aides. On the way home, I stopped the grocery store.  By some miracle, I had a list of the items I needed to buy.  But I was so distracted that I returned to my car to find the keys in the ignition and the car engine running!  Just today, I passed by an empty car parked in a garage with the engine running, and I wondered what stress caused the driver to make that mistake.

Maybe you’ve never left a car running, but almost everyone has a story of errors, omissions, and just plain dumb moves that come from an overfull brain. An oldie-but-goodie post by Zen Habits titled 15 Can’t-Miss Ways to Declutter Your Mind can help you get clarity and focus so you can get things done.  The tactics (with clarification available in the Zen Habits post):

  1. Breathe
  2. Write it down.
  3. Identify the essential.
  4. Eliminate
  5. Journal
  6. Rethink your sleep.
  7. Take a walk.
  8. Watch less TV.
  9. Get in touch with nature.
  10. Do less.

Does this seem soft? It’s just another step to reach the focused mind described in David Allen’s Getting Things Done. If what you’re doing isn’t working as well as you’d like, maybe it’s time to try another tactic.