Weekly Rainmaker Activity 10/25/09: The holidays are coming!

The holidays are just around the corner, and today’s WRA calls for you to begin planning ahead.

Do you send cards or gifts to your clients to mark the holidays?  As you no doubt know, current clients and referral sources are your most immediate route to more business.  Because business development is all about growing and maintaining relationships, recognizing those relationships in an appropriate way may further your rainmaking goals.

More importantly, it’s gracious to thank your clients for putting their trust in you and allowing you to serve their legal needs.  Failing to do so probably won’t rupture a healthy relationship (nor will it repair a relationship on the rocks), but it’s a nicety that reminds your clients that you view them as more than a source of income.

So, what is an “appropriate way” to recognize your clients and referral sources?  The answers are as varied as givers.  A few guidelines for you to consider as we move toward the holiday season:

  • If you send cards, write a short note (even just a few words) and sign the card yourself.  A preprinted card with a preprinted message has all of the personal charm of spam.  And don’t even get me started on e-cards.  (I’m sure this will offend some, and I’m sorry for causing offense, but I assure you that I’m not the only person who feels this way about impersonal greeting cards.)
  • If you send a gift, don’t send an over-the-top gift.  Some corporate clients have policies that forbid employee acceptance of gifts over $X in value.  Even if such policies aren’t in place, clients who receive expensive gifts are likely to think that they’ve overpaid if you can afford to send something expensive.  Aim for nice and relatively modest, except in unusual circumstances.
  • Select gifts that are selected for your specific recipient…
  • Or gifts that are universally well-received or easily passed along.  If you know your client or referral source well enough to send a book or CD set you know they’d enjoy, perfect.  If not, don’t go out on a limb or send something that reflects your own tastes or brand.

Explaining a tragedy

Back in April, a much-respected lawyer in Washington, DC committed suicide after being laid off.  I didn’t post the story at the time because, quite simply, I couldn’t figure out what to say.

Friends and colleagues remember Mark Levy as a true professional who had little use for the business of law.  The article suggests that Levy lacked the ability to bring in business and that he was never able to match his legal successes with financial ones.

I still don’t know quite what to say about this story, but it seems to me that the profession needs to pay attention.  It’s a tragedy.  I believe that suicide is never the answer, and I have deep compassion for those who feel that it’s the only answer. I’ve written previously about depression and suicide prevention among lawyers.  It seems clear to me that the pressures of the current economy and layoffs contribute to an even higher level of stress and unhappiness, and perhaps — though I’m not a mental health professional — leading to more depression.

Every state has a Lawyers Assistance Program (LAP) that works to help lawyers who are depressed or dealing with substance abuse.  The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs maintains a referral hotline for lawyers in crisis: 1-866-LAW-LAPS.

4 Steps to Growing Your Leadership Presence

When you talk, you want others to listen, right? Whether it’s a now-or-never event (making a key point in an oral argument, for instance) or one in a long stream of communications (talking with a colleague about some aspect of a representation), getting your point across and making an advance in what you’re doing is probably at the top of your list every time you open your mouth.

How you present yourself, how you communicate, how you listen, how you connect, and how you respond to the feedback you receive creates leadership presence. Think about stage presence, that indefinable “something” that makes magic as soon as an actor steps onto a stage.  Leadership presence is the business version of stage presence.

Leadership presence can be cultivated. Belle Linda Halpern and Kathe Lubar of The Ariel Group wrote a book titled Leadership Presence, in which they outline the PRES model. To develop your own presence, consider these aspects:

P – Being Present. Being “present” means being fully focused on what’s going on in the time and space you’re occupying so that you’re able to respond to whatever happens, however unexpected it may be.

R – Reaching Out. Leaders must listen to others and build authentic relationships. Emotional intelligence plays a significant role in reaching out to others in a genuine and effective way.

E – Expressiveness.  Use your words, your body language, and the tone and rate of your speech to express your message, and ensure that each of these routes for communication is congruent with the others. We’ve probably all seen someone who shakes his head in a “no” gesture while saying, “What a great idea,” or an office leader who stands in front of a group to announce an “exciting new initiative with lots of opportunities for us to do well,” while her body is slumped and her voice is halting and quiet. Harness the power of communication and express your message clearly.

S – Self-knowing. Effective leaders tend to be self-aware, authentic regardless of situation or circumstance, and guided by core values and priorities. Bill George uses the analogy of “True North” in his book of the same title. A leader who knows her “True North” and acts accordingly will exhibit a stronger presence than one who shifts based on context.

Practice using “PRES” when you speak over the next few days or weeks. Notice how you feel and how others respond to you.  Notice where you feel comfortable and where perhaps you need additional practice. And notice, most importantly, the effect your presence has on your leadership.

Weekly Rainmaker Activity 10/19/09

Today’s rainmaker activity is a quick one.

You are on LinkedIn, right?  If not, your activity is obvious: get your profile up right away.  LinkedIn has over 38 million users, most of whom are professionals of some sort, and because of the site’s popularity, there’s a decent chance that your LinkedIn profile could land at or near the top of the search results for your name.  If you aren’t on LinkedIn yet, go.  Now.  Get at least a bare bones profile so you have a presence on LinkedIn, and do it now.

Assuming you are already  a member of LinkedIn, what do you do with it?  Have your requested or offered recommendations?  Have you joined groups — to listen, if not to participate?  Do you update your status with a note about something you’re working on?  Do you regularly seek to increase your network?  Do you connect people who should know each other?

If the answer to all of these questions is no, choose one task and implement it today.  Your activity need not take long at all, but it will be a step in the right direction.

Weekly Rainmaker Activity 10/12/09

One-on-one meetings with individuals offers one of the best opportunities for business development, and attending organizational meetings and networking opportunities gives you the chance to meet a lot of people in a short time.  That’s ideal — if you’re meeting the right people.

How can you identify the right organizations for your purposes?  First, refresh your recollection of your ideal clients and referral sources, and then check the strategy that you’ve devised for meeting those people.  Chances are good that your plan will include a specific description of the people you want to meet.  Do (or better yet, delegate) a bit of research to find the groups that those people might attend.

If your business development plan does not provide clear guidance as to where you should network to find your ideal clients and referral sources, answer the following questions to help specify the best groups for you to attend.

  • What are the common features of my ideal clients and referral sources?
  • What are their common interests?
  • What business circumstances concern them?
  • What kind of educational opportunities might they seek?
  • What are their professions likely to be?
  • Will they likely attend national or local meetings?

These questions will help you to focus on where you might be able to find the kind of people with whom you should be networking.

You might also consider working backward based on substantive area of practice.  For example, if you are an estate planner, think about where large numbers of people who might hire estate planners or refer clients to estate planners would congregate.

This week’s activity: take another look at the organizations whose meetings you’re attending.  Is the fit good?  Are you meeting enough of the right people?  If not, run through this exercise and locate a few more groups to investigate.

Do you have the right rainmaking mix?

Before engaging in any rainmaking activity, you must determine the investment to payoff ratio.  Simply put, what results will your investment of time and energy buy you?  Is there another activity that likely has a better yield?  Your goal is to determine whether a given activity is likely to move you closer to your rainmaking goals in proportion to its expense in time, energy, and money, recognizing that your estimate is only an estimate.

Although each business development plan is unique, the most successful plans tend to have a distribution of high, medium, and low investment/result ratios.  High-yield activities tend to indicate low-hanging fruit, meaning opportunities that will likely result in new business reasonably certainly and reasonably quickly.  Medium-yield activities are more uncertain and take longer to show good results, and low-yield activities tend to be experimental or subject to removal from your list.

Some general guidelines are useful here:

  • Activities with clients are the most valuable activities you can do.  The more you can do to develop a client relationship, the more likely you are to retain that client’s business and to receive more business and referrals from that client.
  • Activities with “warm contacts” (those with whom you already have some relationship) have a higher yield than activities with strangers.  Developing relationships with others and enhancing the “know, like, and trust” factors is almost always more valuable than one-time meetings with complete strangers.
  • Writing and speaking tend to be time-intensive activities with low immediate payoff.  If you are looking to generate business quickly, writing and speaking rank as a low-yield activity.  If, however, your goal is to enhance your credentials, writing and speaking can be high-yield activities.
  • One-to-one activity generally has a higher value yield than one-to-many.
  • But group participation is more valuable if you hold a leadership position.  If you hold a leadership role in an organization, you will become known to more people more quickly than you will if you meet other one-on-one.
  • Sometimes an activity’s value cannot be measured in purely financial terms.  For example, a client may request that you speak at a conference, and doing so would be a favor to that client.  While you are unlikely to see any financial value directly traced to delivering the favor and the presentation, the client’s gratitude may be equally valuable.

Look at your business development plan and begin making an estimate of the investment/result value of each activity that you have planned to incorporate.  If you’re not certain how to estimate that value, no worries.  The Reluctant Rainmaker includes a chapter that will teach you how to track your activities so you can make an estimate of the dollar-value of each hour you spend.  Learn more and purchase The Reluctant Rainmaker by visiting TheReluctantRainmaker.com.

Weekly Rainmaker Activity 10/05/09

One of the comments to last week’s WRA post about checking written materials for client-centric language requested an example of a “good” paragraph and a “bad” paragraph.  Because of my travel schedule, I knew I wouldn’t be able to respond until today, so today’s WRA offers the requested examples.

Please note: these examples are drawn from my own imagination – written while sitting, to be completely transparent, without Internet access at the San Francisco airport.

A “good” paragraph might look something like this:

“As a small business owner, you know that your employees are critical to your business.  What they know and do (and what they don’t do) can make a substantial difference in your bottom line.  Especially if you have previous experience in a larger company, you are probably aware of the value of documents like employee manuals and specific employee policies that speak to the rights and responsibilities of yourself and your employees.  And if you’ve ever had a problem from an employee who claimed that you discriminated against him or her in a hiring, promotion, or termination decision, you know that such claims can pose a threat even to the most solid companies’ operation, pulling time, money, and attention away from your business operations.

At Smith, Jones, and Richards, we understand your concerns and provide the full range of employment law solutions to small businesses.”

A “bad” paragraph speaking to the same area of law:

“The attorneys of Smith, Jones, and Richards have extensive experience in drafting employee manuals and associated documentation, as well as in defending employers against discrimination claims.  Our approach is to deliver the same services to small businesses that other firms offer big businesses, but we do so at a reasonable fee and with an understanding of small business concerns.  The partners of Smith, Jones, and Richards have a total of over seventy-five years in practice and are graduates of the nation’s top law schools.  Our lawyers have been recognized in merit-based directories such as Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers of America, Who’s Who in American Law, and Who’s Who in the World.  You’re in capable hands with Smith, Jones, and Richards.”

Do you see the difference between these two examples?  While the basic operating principle is the same in both (serving the employment law needs of small businesses), the first paragraph discusses those needs from the clients’ point of view.  The second simply references the clients’ point of view but focuses on the firm’s and its lawyers’ credentials.  Credentials are important, but clients are often pulled toward a lawyer who demonstrates an understanding of their concerns and has credentials that indicate competence as opposed to one who “markets” on credentials alone.

So, with these examples, take another look at the written marketing material you selected last week.  Is it written from a client-centric point of view?  If not, spend some time revising it.

If you’re uncertain about the point of view or about how to make client-centric revisions, we should talk.  You can also find more information in Chapters 4 and 6 of The Reluctant Rainmaker (also available on Amazon.com).