What Are You Thinking?

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Do you believe you can succeed? I occasionally tell lawyers that the third client they land is the most important. The first two you might dismiss as mere good luck or being in the right place at the right time, but when you sign the third client, you know that you’re doing something right.

Before you have concrete proof of your ability to bring in business, how you measure your results can have significant influence on your future performance. Low volume, higher fee practices tend to take much longer to develop than high volume, lower fee practices. If you measure your results in terms of activity that moves the biz dev ball forward, even if it hasn’t yet led to business, you’ll raise your confidence in your abilities in an appropriate manner.

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

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

Assess realistically what you need to know before you start your rainmaker activity. My suggestion is that you know how to define your practice in a way that communicates clearly to your would-be clients and referral sources. Get started with that, and then work in everything else.

There are terrific books and programs available on business development and you should take advantage of those learning opportunities in conjunction with your activity. But don’t wait until you’ve read all the books and attended all the programs and created a flawless business development program. Start now.

3. Why do you do business development? If your answer is “because I know I have to”, you need to dig deeper and find a reason that inspires you. Do you want to change your clients’ lives or businesses? Do you want to impact an area of the law or industry? Do you want to become a partner in your firm, to move to another firm, or to start your own practice? Do you want to buy beachfront property? Do you want to pay off your parents’ mortgage?

When you get tired of business development — and you will — you need to have a reason that will inspire you to keep going. I recommend you come up with several reasons that hit on several levels. For example, some of my personal goals are to reach the lawyers we as a society need and help them learn to build a successful practice so they don’t give up, to buy a summer house in Wyoming, and to fund a promise to send a class of underprivileged kindergartners to college. On some days, I conclude that I’ll just stay in motels when I visit Wyoming and lawyers will just have to take care of themselves, but the image of those little faces (whom I have yet to meet) keeps me going.

Don’t misunderstand: you must have more than a good attitude to succeed in business development. I don’t believe that envisioning something will make it happen without any effort.  But I do believe that a positive attitude makes it easier to put in the work and to keep going when it would be easier to stop.  I’ve seen it over and over with my clients and myself.

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

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