Five Steps to a Profitable Practice

Most of us didn’t have any law school training about business development.  (Fortunately for today’s students, that’s starting to change.) Law school classes tended to assume that the clients would just be there and that being a good lawyer is all that’s necessary to build a book of business. I’m not convinced that was ever true, but it’s certainly not the case in the post-recession legal economy. 

But wouldn’t it be nice if you could just stay in your office, serve your clients, and still have a great practice?  Lawyers who are reluctant to market may dread the thought of trying to land new business.  You may have absorbed the idea that there’s a special breed of practitioner who can be a rainmaker, and others are destined to struggle. And if you’re worried about appearing to be too “salesy,” you may take on lots of activity with little to show for it.  If this sounds familiar, you’re probably a reluctant rainmaker. 

Here’s the good news: you can develop a sustainable book of business and still feel good when you look yourself in the mirror.  Here’s how to start.

  1. Identify specifically what stands in your way and address that issue. Do you avoid networking even though you know that relationships are at the heart of a successful practice?  Ask yourself why. When you can name your block, you can find your solution, For example, if you dislike big groups, you can build your network by meeting new contacts one-on-one or in smaller groups.  If you dread the thought of asking for business, find a mentor who can show you ethical and effective ways to ask, and then practice.
  2. Identify specifically which clients you serve and what you do for them. When you can describe your target clients clearly, you will know exactly who might be your clients and who will not.  Knowing that distinction will let you stop spending marketing time on those who will never hire you. You’ll also be able to help your referral sources to send you the right kinds of matters for your practice.
  3. Identify specifically what sets you apart from your competitors. You may have a skill, experience, or approach that distinguishes you from other lawyers in your area of practice.  When you identify and highlight that distinction, you make help your potential clients understand why they should hire you. Depending on your area of practice, you may also distinguish yourself from competitors who do not provide legal services but may meet your clients’ needs in some other way.
  4. Create a clear, cohesive description of your practice, build that description into a message that makes sense to your potential clients and referral sources, and then share that message in the right channels. Your message will encompass not just the work that you do, but also your credentials and other points of distinction. Look for ways to enhance your credentials (which evidence your competence) through writing, speaking, and otherwise engaging with audiences composed of your target clients and referral sources so that you can build useful relationships. As you connect with people who are relevant to your practice, look for opportunities to be helpful to them.
  5. Remember to ask for business in ways that fit your practice and your personal style. If you don’t ask for the business, you risk appearing uninterested. One pitfall common for reluctant rainmakers is waiting to ask for the business until some magical point at which the question arises naturally. There is no perfect moment or perfect way to ask for business. you must ask for the business—adhering, of course, to your jurisdiction’s ethics rules.

Using these steps as a guideline, you’ll find that you can be professional, genuine, and successful in securing the work you need to support your practice.  Take one small step each day.  Consistency in activity and in message delivers results, even for reluctant rainmakers.

Procrastinating? What you don’t know can hurt your productivity.

In the fall of 2013, I offered a webinar titled Conquer Procrastination! How to Manage Your Time to Build a Profitable Practice and a Rich Personal Life. It turned out to be one of my most popular offerings yet. I walked through the five root causes of procrastination and what you can do to counteract each of those causes. After all, no matter how good a solution may be, if it isn’t a solution for the problem you’re experiencing, it won’t help.

How comfortable are you with the business of practicing law? Law is a profession that must operate as a business, and failing to act accordingly will eventually sink a practice, whether solo or a large firm. Lawyers often come to me because they realize they don’t know how to market their services so that the right potential clients can find them. Small firm lawyers also struggle with how to charge clients (especially with today’s emphasis on alternative fees) and other back end business. These lawyers often acknowledge that they’ve known they needed to take on business development activity, for example, but that they’ve put it off until they have no choice.

Not surprising. When you don’t know how to start on a task, or when you don’t have any idea how to do the task, it’s easy to procrastinate.

When you procrastinate on figuring out how to do the task, white lies abound. Promises about starting are made and then broken. You guarantee that we’ll figure it out as soon as you finish this project, or the next, or the next. And the dreaded task gets put off while you check email, organize files, clean the office, and do other unnecessary prep work that substitutes for the real work.

Sometimes you’ll even start searching for information about what you don’t know, but the research becomes its own distraction: instead of seeking enough information to start and then learning as you do the work, you research it so thoroughly that you could write a manual. You become the conceptual expert, but because you’re just reading, not doing, you still don’t really know what to do.

And sometimes a task becomes overwhelming because you can’t see a finish line, and so it’s daunting even to start. If you can’t determine what will mark the end of the task or the project as a whole, it may seem to be too big and too overwhelming to begin. A few clients have come to me with great ideas for a book or a client training program, but without breaking down the implementation into small steps, they remain undone.

Lack of clarity about the finish line often comes into play when you confuse tasks, meaning discrete to-do activities, with projects, which are larger activities composed of multiple tasks. Writing an article that addresses an issue relevant to your practice area is a project; tasks include conceiving the idea, offering it to a journal or newsletter, outlining the substance of the article, doing any necessary research, actually writing the article, editing then, and so on. (This same confusion also explains why you may feel that you never make progress on your to-do list. If your list includes projects that will take more than a few hours, you will likely find that the project will linger for a few days before it’s completed, just because it takes that long to put in enough hours to hit completion.)

When you realize that you’re procrastinating because you don’t know how to start or you can’t predict when you’ll finish, here’s how to stop procrastinating and start moving:

  1. Determine specifically what you need to know to get started. Sometimes knowing the first step is enough to get into action; other times you’ll need to have a better understanding of the project as a whole before you can be comfortable beginning. Either way, knowing a specific first step is critical.
  2. Define the actionable steps. If you can’t see a finish line, you probably need to break a project into tasks. (For more on this, read David Allen’s book Getting Things Done as soon as you can.)
  3. Decide on the help you need. Lawyers are especially susceptible to “lone ranger syndrome,” but sometimes deciding to go it alone is a massive mistake. Yes, you’re smart enough to figure out whatever you need to figure out, but the cost in time, energy, and missed opportunities is often too high.

If you’re procrastinating due to a lack of knowledge about how to start a project or when it will end, identify what you need to know to get back into action. The sooner you admit that you don’t know something, the sooner you can solve the problem and get moving again.

Don’t Underplay Yourself

When a law firm hires me to work with a junior associate, very often one part of the engagement centers on the associate’s leadership presence and self-confidence – how he or she presents to others.  (Of course, that focus is not by any means unique to junior associates.)

Although reviewers may use a variety of words such as proactive, poised, assertive, or self-assured, they’re usually looking to see to what extent the lawyer is able to present as a leader, as someone who is sufficiently self-confident to inspire others’ confidence.  Such a person typically contributes to conversations, asks insightful questions, and is willing to express an opinion or espouse a position. 

Interactions with someone who lacks this level of confidence tends to leave others (supervising lawyers and client alike) uncertain of the message being conveyed.  Does a lack of contribution indicate lack of comprehension?  Boredom?  Something else entirely?  It may be difficult to interpret what what’s happening, but the result is a lack of clarity and an unwillingness to rely on the lawyer whose self-presentation is found to be lacking.  The consequences can be significant, including unduly slow career progression (or even being fired) and difficulty in building client relationships. 

For instance, I was working with one client (let’s call him Tom) who was hoping to make partner and entered coaching to strengthen his performance so he’ll be a strong candidate.  He’d picked up on some comments that made him question whether he was viewed as partner material.  I found Tom to be intelligent, personable, and funny.  I also noticed that when I’d ask him a question about his work, he downplayed the role he’d played.

It puzzled me, because I could tell from the kind of work he was describing that he was a heavy lifter on the cases, but to hear him talk he was simply supporting work done by others.  One day, Tom said that a particular concern he held about making partner was that it didn’t seem like anyone regarded his work as being important or notable.  He explained the evidence for his feeling, and then I asked his permission to share an observation.

I told him that when he described his own work, he minimized and understated his contribution.  To hear him tell the story, he contributed little more than hours – and certainly nothing critical in terms of strategy or deep analysis.  But when I asked specifically and pressed, he’d tell me about tasks he’d done and decisions he’d made that were quite high-level.  My assessment was that because he was so careful not to overstate his contribution – and perhaps so uncomfortable being in the spotlight – he didn’t give a fair opportunity for someone to understand the kind and level of work that he was doing. 

We devised a plan for Tom to share more about his work, and he discovered that when he changed his communication style and became more open about what he was doing, people began to appreciate the scope of his work and to understand what he was capable of doing.  He got more and better work, and he felt that others’ perception of him was more accurate. 

Michelle, another client, was upset to receive a review that indicated that some clients didn’t want to talk with her because they felt that she didn’t have a sufficient grasp of the right legal strategy to accomplish their aims.  When pressed for details, a reluctant partner admitted that although he knew Michelle understood exactly what was at stake and how to advance the clients’ interests, her comments were so often peppered with words like maybe and possibly and her inflection was so often questioning that she just didn’t seem to be sure of what she was saying.

The result was that her communications undermined his confidence in her even though he knew she was almost invariably right about what she was saying.  After making a concerted effort to notice the habits that the partner identified, Michelle started speaking with more authority and more clarity, which over time (and along with other changes that Michelle implemented) increased the confidence that others put in what Michelle said. 

How do you know if your presence isn’t as strong as it should be?  Here are three common signs: 

  1. You create “wiggle room” with your word choice or with your vocal inflection.
  1. You feel the urge to speak up or to ask a question but you stop short – and then someone says what you’ve been thinking, and you feel frustrated. (Or you do speak up but your comments aren’t much noted, and then someone says effectively the same thing and gets more attention.)
  2. You find that you generally speak much less often than others in a meeting. (But this can be a sign of strong presence if, when you speak, others give significant weight to your comments.)

If you recognize yourself in these signs or if you’ve received feedback that you need to be more proactive, perhaps we should talk. While learning to project more confidence and a stronger leadership presence requires stepping outside a comfort zone, the impact can be dramatic. Your job and your client relationships may depend on your ability to inspire confidence. Ready to take the first steps?  Click this link to schedule a complimentary consultation.

Top 10 Tips to Overcome Overwhelm

Overwhelm can tank a day faster than just about anything else.  When you have more email than you can handle, an out-of-control task list, and phone calls that just won’t stop, it’s almost impossible to operate effectively.  Even if you manage to limp along, you may find that you’re distracted and that things are falling through the cracks.  Over the years, I’ve honed in on a variety of methods to beat overwhelm, and these are the top 10, based on my own experience and client feedback:

  1. Move.  Overwhelm tends to cause paralysis, and the fastest fix is a quick burst of activity.  Walk around the block or your office floor, dance for 30 seconds (close the door!), or do 10 jumping jacks.  Get your blood pumping.
  2. Lift your mood.  Overwhelm brings a heavy energy.  Use music, fresh flowers, aromas, or whatever works for you to get a lift.  I keep a bottle of orange essential oil at my desk because I find that a drop of two perks me up almost instantly.
  3. Focus intently for a short time.  After my computer a telephone, my most-used piece of office equipment is a digital timer.  When I feel stuck, I’ll set the timer for 45 minutes and power through that time, knowing that I can take a break as soon as the timer beeps.  I also compete against myself using the timer to see how quickly I can sort through papers or complete other dreaded tasks.  The timer gets me going, and I usually keep going (thanks to momentum) after it sounds.
  4. Clean it up.  Clutter reduces productivity and creates overwhelm.  If your desk is messy, set aside 15 minutes to clear it off, even if that means stacking papers and moving them to the floor.  If your email in-box is so full that you feel anxious when you open it, set aside an hour to tame it.  (Don’t know how to accomplish that in an hour?  Help is coming soon.)
  5. Call in the reinforcements.  Find the right help for the source of your overwhelm.  Perhaps your assistant can help your clear your desk, or a colleague may be able to give you feedback to help cut through mental clutter.  When you feel overwhelmed, it’s hard to see outside the bubble of stress.  Get some help.
  6. Dump it.  One common source of overwhelm is the mental task list.  When you’re juggling “must do” items in your head, fighting to remember all of them, you’re pulling energy away from productive activity to simple memory maintenance.  Do a brain dump and get the tasks on paper and free up your mind for more useful work.
  7. Get out of the office and do something else.  Admittedly, you can’t always implement this tip, but it can be very effective.  Have you ever noticed how often brilliant ideas strike while you’re in the shower, running, walking the dog, or doing other activities unrelated to work?  When the body is working and the mind is free to wander, creativity flourishes.
  8. Access a different part of your brain.  One litigator I know uses art to focus himself before trial.  Art allows him to pull back from the logical, analytical side of his brain and bring forward the emotional and creative parts.  What can you do to bring balance?
  9. Mind map.  If you’re searching for an elusive link between facts or trying to form a creative argument, try using a mind map.  Get a clean piece of paper, draw a circle in the middle of the page and label it with the problem or circumstance you’re contemplating.  Think about related subjects, actions you could take, and people who might be helpful in addressing the issue, and draw lines and branches to represent the ideas that come up.  If you’re really stuck, you may find a mind map more useful than an ordinary list.  Click here for a video on this technique.
  10. If you’ve tried several of these approaches unsuccessfully, you may be exhausted.  Think of your energy as a pitcher of water.  If you pour and pour and pour without replenishment, the pitcher will empty and nothing you try (except adding more water) will allow it to pour more.  If a quick break or quick spurt of energy doesn’t refresh you, your pitcher may be dangerously close to empty.  Identifying that spot and taking action is a critical professional competency.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed in your practice and uncertain about how to turn things around, perhaps we should talk.  Whether you’re trapped in the day-to-day minutiae of a subprime practice management approach or looking to improve your practice as a whole, click here to schedule a 30 minute consultation.

Tips to Simplify Legal Newsletters

Newsletters offer a way to stay in contact with a large number of contacts easily, consistently, and productively.   Newsletters focus on substantive information, and assuming you’ve defined your areas of practice carefully enough, your content will be valuable to recipients and therefore welcome.  Better yet, if your topics are timely and if you include an appropriate call to action, you may even receive requests for assistance on matters related to your writing.

Most firms have multiple newsletters tailored to their various areas of practice, often with multiple contributors.  Whether you’re responsible for coordinating the content for your firm’s (or team’s) newsletter or you’re a sole practitioner with soup-to-nuts responsibility for the newsletter, you’ve probably had more than a few hair-raising moments wondering how you can possibly get it all done.  (And if your firm doesn’t have a newsletter, I can virtually guarantee that fear is the top reason why not.)

So, let’s make newsletters simple.  These five tips and resources will reduce the time and angst required to produce a newsletter that delivers results.

  1. Repurpose presentations and articles you have written for publication elsewhere into newsletter content.   Shorter articles tend to be more useful, especially in electronic newsletters, so you can often get several issues of content from a single article.
  2. Keep a list of generic questions your clients ask and turn the responses into newsletter articles.  You must make certain that no one interprets your article as legal advice for them (check your local ethics rules to be sure you’re in compliance) but with appropriate language, you can easily create useful information based on frequently asked questions.
  3. Use social media to “listen” for topics you should cover.  You may find news or op-ed pieces you’d like to address, and by catching hot topics, you’re increasing the chance that your readers will be interested.
  4. Include the “so what” for news.  It’s hard to offer unique breaking news that isn’t being covered by journalists, bloggers, and other newsletters, but you can one-up many of other reporters by including some analysis and commentary of the news.  In other words, let others handle the details of who, what, when, where, and how.  You focus on the why and so what.
  5. Source your content from a good outside vendor.  In the past, I would not have recommended using pre-written articles because they’re generally easy to identify a mile away.  Generic and often not written for the audience to whom they’re sent, bad pre-written articles that are simply dropped into a template will not help your marketing efforts and may indeed inflict terminal damage.But I recently learned about a content provider that offers well-written articles that can (and really should) be edited so that they offer good information with your unique voice and perspective.

Insight in Motion offers articles written by lawyers on topics currently including estate planning, family law, bankruptcy, immigration, and personal injury.  (I’ve urged them to include intellectual property soon – we’ll see!)  I’ve reviewed the articles and I’m impressed with the information presented and the way the content is presented.

Offering two levels of subscriptions based on the number of legal articles you need each month and number of practice areas, Insight in Motion provides a “keep it simple” approach at a reasonable price.  Even better, the company will create a customized newsletter template and send your newsletters if you’d like.  The content can even be published on your firm’s website or blog if you’d like.

I took a thorough tour of the system and asked the same questions you likely would, and I’m impressed.  If your practice falls within the areas that Insight in Motion covers and you’ve been holding off on creating a newsletter, this may be your golden opportunity.  

And in case you’re wondering: no, I will not receive any affiliate fees or other incentives if you enroll in Insight in Motion.

Which of these tips can you use to make your newsletter strategy simpler?

Keep your friends close!

Pop quiz: Who are your best referral sources?  List the top 10 right now.  If you are a more junior lawyer in a law firm and don’t yet have your own clients, list the senior lawyers for whom you do the most work.

How easy did you find it to make this list?  This information should be at the tips of your fingers.  If you don’t know who your top referral sources are, your activity this week is to find out.

How often do you talk with the people who most frequently send you business?  One of my clients recently realized that his top three referral sources send him seven to ten substantial matters a year, resulting in several hundred thousand dollars of business.  And then he realized that as he’d become busier, he spent less time maintaining the connections that had helped to build those referral relationships.

Sure, he sent business to his top referral sources, he attended meetings with them frequently, and he went out of his way to send a nice “thank you” every time one of them sent a new matter to him.  But he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had lunch or played golf one-on-one with these people.  The business relationship was in place with each referral source, but the personal connections underlying it had grown weak.

Relationships, like anything else, are always in flux.  Are yours growing closer or more distant?  If you don’t stay consistently in touch with your contacts, the relationships will grow weaker and you may find that the support that you enjoyed shifts to others who are more attentive.  There are no bad motives in play, but absence in business rarely makes the heart grow fonder.

Take a few minutes now to set times to check with the people who think enough of you to send you work.  Make it a point to reconnect and to find out what’s going on with them.  At the same time, express your appreciation for their referrals.  And then lay your plans so you can be sure to check in with them at least quarterly.

Law as business? You bet.

I ran across an article titled Why Attorneys Hate Marketing and What You Can Do About It.  It’s written for law firm marketers, to help explain why those who encourage lawyers to work on marketing can expect resistance, and how to help lawyers help themselves.  Marketers and marketing-averse lawyers need to work on understanding one another’s foreign mindset if anything is to change.

I used to keep a list of reasons I’d been given by lawyers who dislike business development work, but I quit maintaining it because it got to be so repetitive.  The article lists all the reasons I’d heard in the past, but one surprised me.

  1. “I went to school to practice law and not to run a business.”

Most lawyers who’ve shared some variation of this objection to business development with me have focused on sales: “I went to school to practice law, not to sell something.”  That attitude is difficult enough: the truth is that we all sell all day, every day – just think of the times you “sell” someone on your point of view, on your preferred approach, or even on a product or service you choose for your office.

But distinguishing the practice of law from a business? That’s a fatal mistake.  The practice of law is a profession, certainly, and should be accorded that respect.  However, failing to recognize that it’s also a business is the fastest way I can imagine to destroy a practice.

Law practice as business is perhaps most obvious for sole practitioners and those in small firms, but it’s applicable for every single lawyer.  Even if you’re a brand new associate in a megafirm, you can be sure that someone is watching the business, and your survival depends on your fitting within the business structure.  The lawyers laid off in 2008 and 2009 (and continuing even today, though in much smaller numbers) probably weren’t bad people or bad lawyers, but they were expendable from a business perspective.

What should you be thinking of in terms of the business of law?  Client retention and acquisition is certainly one key aspect of the business of law.  Cash flow, systems and process management, staff management, business strategy, and more come into play when evaluating the success (and even survival) of any kind of business, law practices included.  And sales are central to any business.

Check your own temperature on the business of law.  Do you look at your practice as a business?  Do you check for profit centers, for income streams, for client pipelines?  Are you comfortable (or comfortable with being uncomfortable) when it comes to landing and keeping the business required to keep your practice afloat?

Get in the habit of looking at your practice as a business or as a line of business within the larger business that is your firm.  It’s a non-negotiable in today’s world.  Even if you don’t, someone else is, and you may not like what they see and the decisions they make.

#5 is just one of the top 10 objections lawyers make to marketing, and one that grabbed my attention because the underlying belief is fundamental to the success (or failure) of a law practice.  You may find one or two that sound familiar to you, and even though the solutions are intended for law firm marketers, you may find a perspective shifter there.

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.

Huh?

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.

BUT.

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.