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.

Threat or opportunity? It’s all about perspective.

Most businesses do some sort of year-end review and lay plans for the next year.  Many client-based businesses slow down a bit at the end of the year, and you have two choices: coast along, or use the downtime to your advantage.  Surely you can guess which approach I’d advise!

When you sit down with pen and paper or cozy up with your computer, what’s the best way to look at where you’ve been this year and where you’d like to go next?  Or, for those of you who are new in business, what should you be considering as you lay your plans?

You may have heard of a SWOT analysis, which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.  SWOT analysis is taught in business schools and elsewhere as a model to distinguish your business from competitors.  It’s a helpful model, but it’s never felt like a fit to me.

I don’t find “threat” to be a helpful concept – and it isn’t because I’m an overly optimistic Pollyanna who never sees a threat.  Certainly, there are situations and circumstances out there that can pose a challenge to your business, some of which can be fatal if they’re ignored.  But focusing on “threat,” in my experience, tends to call forth a defensive response, which sets up a reactive, rather than a creative, approach.

A more powerful perspective recognizes that where an obstacle exists, there’s almost always an opportunity.  Sometimes it’s exploiting a particular market condition or a news story that’s put negative focus on something you or your clients are doing.  That’s an opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade, meaning that the opportunity isn’t one you would necessarily seek out under other circumstances.

But sometimes spotting an obstacle leads you to recognize an opportunity that you would have dismissed as a problem.  A few months ago, I was talking with a lawyer whose practice centers on family law and who wanted to work with a certain slice of the celebrity market.  She’d identified a big obstacle: she wasn’t a part of the celebrity lawyer crowd.  She described a group of lawyers known to one another and to that market, and even though she had many celebrity contacts, she was an outsider to that world.  And there’s the opportunity.  Much as politicians campaign on having the “outside the beltway” perspective, she could position herself as someone who wouldn’t have the same old, same old approach already known to others in the crowd.  She could use her outsider status as a positive differentiation.  Do you see it?  Obstacle… Opportunity.

Another example: I worked with a consultant whose business was exploding at the seams.  She had a unique process to solve a particular problem, and she had a deep connection to the community of people who were struggling with the problem.  Obstacle: not enough time and energy to work with the clients beating down her door.  Opportunity: she was able to raise her fees so that she could work with fewer clients one-on-one, and she certified some associate consultants in her process, so clients who couldn’t didn’t want to pay her new fees could still work with someone she’d personally trained to apply her unique process.  The result?  She continues to serve a large community and to help them solve their problems, but she now does so in a way that provides more income without draining her energy.

What’s your biggest obstacle?  You know, the one that keeps you up at night.  The one that you find yourself worrying about even when you didn’t intend to think about business.

Turn that obstacle on its head.  Look for the (as yet) unappreciated opportunity that exists within it.  Sometimes it’s difficult to see the opportunity if you’re too close, so ask for help from creative colleagues.

Messaging

I ran across a nice article this week that will help: How Doctors (or Anyone) Can Craft a More Persuasive Message. The article centers on the distinction between the message and the messenger, which is certainly critical, but it also offers three simple factors that you can use to form a more persuasive message.

  1. Expertise. Convey your expertise using “authority cues.” For a doctor, those cues might include a display of medical diplomas or the choice to wear a stethoscope. How does your office cue the perception that you are an authority in your field? What about your presence? Pay attention to both where you choose to have a conversation with a prospective client and how you present yourself.
  2. Trustworthiness. Generally speaking, you won’t be able to present an approach as a 100% ironclad certainty. The article suggests sequencing your message by sharing uncertainty just before delivering your strongest argument. How else might you convey that you’re trustworthy? For a potential client, think about the message you send when you’re on time for an appointment (or not), when you’re able to talk easily about your client’s business and/or legal situation (or not), and when you exhibit strong leadership presence (or not).
  3. Similarity. How can you signal that you and your prospective client are similar, without undermining your expertise? Language is important here: using legal terms of art with sophisticated legal consumers, for example, and more ordinary language with those less accustomed to addressing the legal issues at hand. You might also seek ways to demonstrate shared business values as well as other sources of common ground.

Read the article for insight on how you might communicate more persuasively. And where you have a choice in forming a team approach to a business pitch, consider especially the article’s question about who’s likely to be the most effective messenger.

Create On-the-Spot Systems for Simplifications

Quiz: what’s the task that’s on your list over and over, daily or weekly, that makes you groan every time you think about it?  Maybe it’s keeping your time, filing expense reports, updating your LinkedIn contacts, or reviewing and paying invoices.  Pick the one that nags at you the most, the one that feels like it’s always hanging over your head.

My “oh no, not this again” task is filing.  Even in our electronic age, I produce and receive a ton of paper.  Most of it gets scanned and then filed online, and accomplishing that is my most dreaded task that feels pointless yet necessary.  (Even when I’m able to delegate that to an assistant, the task is still there in some way, since I need to indicate how the filing should be done.)

My first job after law school was clerking for a federal District Court judge, and that’s where my dislike of filing began.  When I started, the senior clerk suggested taking Friday afternoons to update the case files, but I always wanted to crank out a little more “real” work to finish the week instead.  Result?  The senior clerk would face Monday morning with a clear desk and empty in-box, and I’d have a huge stack of papers and a feeling of dread.  After all, Monday is definitely for “real” work.  How and when to cram in the necessary but onerous task of filing?

Unfortunately, I didn’t master the task while I was clerking.  I always played catch-up and hated it, but not enough to change my pattern.  And then, while practicing, I figured it out: create an on-the-spot system to ensure that the necessary but annoying “non-work” tasks get done bit by bit, on a regular basis.  For filing, that means that I now tack on an extra minute or two to scan and save documents after I do the “real” work.  I rarely keep time now, but when I do, I keep a pad by my desk to make running notes and tally it up at the end of the day.  It’s ongoing (just like the annoying tasks) but it makes the irritation easier to handle because things don’t pile up.

How do you spot “on-the-spot system” tasks, and how do you create the system?  Seven steps.

  1. As you do your work, notice what “unthinking” tasks you do and dread over and over.
  2. Determine the central actions of the task.  Is it scan paper, save file, recycle paper, as with filing?  Is it categorizing receipts from a business trip?
  3. Determine how long that central action takes.  Is it something that could be accomplished “in the moment” rather than piling a lot up to handle all at once?  “In the moment” tasks are those than could be handled in one or two minutes, tops.  (Filing correspondence, yes; writing it, no.)  Is there a benefit to doing it all at once?  If so, you need a system, but not an on-the-spot system.
  4. Set aside time to clear yourself of the backlog.  Take an hour and respond to all of those LinkedIn requests or catch up on your billing.  Finish the dreaded task.  Notice the feeling of delight, and notice how quickly the next task of the same kind pops up.
  5. Create your in-the-moment system.  Starting immediately, scan and file each paper as it comes in.  Starting immediately, note your time as you work.  Starting immediately, put your receipts for business trips in envelopes labeled by client or by trip.  Whatever you do, begin it right away.  Otherwise, your system is doomed before it begins.
  6. Do the task as it arises, every time it arises.  Starting work?  Note the time and task.  Reviewing email (in your designated email review time, please) and see a LinkedIn request?  Click accept, then send a “great to connect” message, delete the email, and move on.  Whatever your task, do it without delay, and don’t let it mount up.
  7. When you slip (and you will) go back to step 4 and start over. 

One you get accustomed to your system, you’ll find it much easier to handle the small pieces of that annoying recurring task as they pop up.  You may even discover that someone else can help you and that tasks broken down to the central action are more delegable than you’d imagined.

What makes you special?

Every professional has some skill, opportunity, or attribute that few (if any) others can access. You may have heard the marketing acronym USP, which typically stands for Unique Selling Proposition. A USP refers to those distinguishing factors. Identifying your USP is key not only to letting your potential clients know what makes you different and why they should hire you, but also paves the way for your to market yourself in fresh ways.

For example, a Unique Selling Proposition might be that you draw on your background in tax law to support your clients’ licensing needs.  Perhaps you are a divorced father of two who draws on your own life experience in serving divorcing fathers. In either case, you might use the USP you’ve identified to craft a marketing message that answers potential clients’ questions or concerns (some of which they may not even be aware of yet) by highlighting your USP.

To identify your Unique Selling Proposition, ask yourself:

  1. What past experience (professional or personal) bears on your practice?
  2. What skill, knowledge, or experience do you bring to your practice that will be helpful for clients?
  3. What kind of practice-related opportunities can you forecast, and how can you position yourself to meet them?

Another way to think of a USP is as a Unique Service Proposition. How can you serve your clients in new or innovative ways?  In addition to your primary services, can you offer any ancillary services or products that will better meet your clients’ needs? Are there free or reduced-fee services that you might offer as a way of introducing yourself and your skills to a class of potential clients or referral sources?

A Unique Service Proposition might include offering monthly free Q&A meetings during which you respond to potential clients’ questions about topics related to your practice area. For example, if you practice elder law, you might host a monthly gathering to help adult children learn what legal issues they should plan for as they assist their aging parents. You could offer a fee-based group in which you cover key issues in more depth, and you might have certain forms or templates for sale that the adult children could use to implement your suggestions.

Perhaps your practice spans geographic areas in such a way that you don’t often have an opportunity to meet face-to-face with your clients. You might offer videoconferencing or other technology-based communication and collaboration resources to bridge the distance and interact more directly with clients. Since many lawyers still limit their interactions to telephone, email, and mail, you might craft a marketing message around the personal service you offer, the importance of tailoring legal solutions to each individual (or business) and weave in your enhanced communication opportunities.

To identify your Unique Service Proposition, ask yourself:

  1. How can I meet both legal and non-legal needs that my clients frequently present?
  2. How can I build innovative services that will benefit my clients?
  3. What might I do to answer potential client questions, introduce my clients to beneficial resources, or otherwise extend my services in unexpected ways?

Identifying your USPs and using them to craft a marketing message requires analysis, insight, and sometimes even an intuitive leap. Try brainstorming what can distinguish you and your practice with the proviso that no answer is too wacky to be considered.  Sometimes impractical or unpalatable ideas provide the leap to a truly unique marketing message and practice.

Sometimes it’s hard to gain the 30,000-foot perspective necessary to identify what you can harness to distinguish your practice. If you’re having trouble spotting your opportunities, click this link to set up a time to discuss how I might be able to help.

Why you MUST track your rainmaking results.

How do you track the results you get from your business development efforts? I recently spoke with a potential client and asked that question. Her response? “I don’t need to track my results. I know what’s working.” She had a $25,000 book of business, and based on our conversation, I suspect she could triple that relatively quickly just by getting clear on what was and wasn’t working in her rainmaking.

When you’re working on legal business development, having some sense of which activities are profitable is extremely important as you determine whether to discontinue or to increase your involvement with that activity. Unfortunately, an informal, memory-based, qualitative system for tracking results in not sufficient. 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 should have a client intake routine that includes determining how that client became aware of you and your practice. Consider incorporating into your client intake form a question that asks, “How did you find out about me/this firm?”

If you work in a larger firm that does not use intake forms, consider creating your own form that requests this information and gathers 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 deliver better client service. And if you’d prefer to avoid forms altogether, create an intake checklist so you make certain to ask these questions.

This insight from business performance improvement expert Dr. H. James Harrington applies directly to business development for lawyers:

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. 

How important is it to track your results? According to one consultant, two out of The Ten Most Effective Law Marketing Techniques deals with tracking (numbers 3 and 10). While I might word my top 10 list differently, there’s no doubt that knowing what is and is not working is critical if you want to grow your practice.

Extra tip for law firm marketing: if you’re hoping to increase your firm’s or team’s business development results, one of the first steps you should put into place is tracking what each team member is doing and what results those activities are generating. Not only will you have better information about which activities work, but you’ll also get much-needed information about which team members are putting in the appropriate effort, where their strengths lie, and how you can help them to be more successful.

Tend relationships to grow your practice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plans are important, but nothing happens without action!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find Your Weekly Minimum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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