I Did The Work… Now What?

You’ve put in your dues. You’ve worked hard to become the accomplished lawyer you are now, and you have all manner of credentials that demonstrate your expertise.  You’ve worked with a variety of organizations and individuals, 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 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 the 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.  Seriously.  Drop me a note, and let’s set a time.)
  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, as will my forthcoming book, tentatively titled The Reluctant Marketer:  A Guide to Igniting Your Client-Based Business.  But these steps are a beginning point for leveraging your past work for relationship benefits.

The Rainmaker’s Trail

Last week, I visited the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center in Casper, Wyoming. This multimedia-focused tourist/educational center presented stories about the emigrant trails that passed through Wyoming:  the Oregon Trail, the California Trail, and the Mormon Trail.  The primary focus was on life on the trails, of course, but the exhibit started with an examination of why the emigrants left home.

Some left in search of adventure, some for the promise of great fortune, and some for the hope of freedom. Whatever the pull, it had to be strong, because success on the trail was by no means certain.  Most travelers walked the entire 2000ish mile journey, and graves littered the route.  Boredom and exhaustion were constant companions, and accident, disease, and attack threatened with every step.  What would be enough motivation to make you leave home under those circumstances?

As I walked through the center, I realized that the impetus to get on the emigrant trail isn’t so different from the motivation to begin business development activity. Whenever I have a consultation with a potential client, one of the first things I want to know is, why do you want more clients? Answers vary.  Some senior lawyers have built a practice as a service partner and then discovered that the new economy demands that everyone bring in new business — or else.   Others are setting out on their own to launch a new practice or a new business and they need clients to survive.  Generally speaking, a strong motivation is apparent, something that’s drawing this person to embark seriously on the rainmaker road.

But occasionally, I’ll talk with someone who seems so lackadaisical that I suspect they won’t make it. Without a strong pull forward, the effort required may be too much.  The pain of learning new approaches and new ways of being can easily overwhelm someone who isn’t truly committed to bringing in new business.  I won’t coach those who lack commitment, because I know they’ll probably see lackluster results (at best) because they’ll be too quick to throw in the towel — and we’ll both end up frustrated.

So, before we embark on the trail (even though you’ll view the tips from the safety of your office or your home), consider these questions:

  • Why do you want to get new business?
  • What are your goals?  (Think both immediate and long-term.)
  • How important is it to you to meet those goals?  (Are they your goals?  If not, are you willing to adopt them as your own?  If not, I can virtually guarantee that you’re going to struggle.)
  • What will stop you?  Lack of time?  Lack of money?  Hearing “no” from a potential client?  Be honest with yourself here.

I insist that my clients be clear on why they want new clients and what they want to achieve. That kind of clarity offers something to hang onto when the road gets difficult and long — and it will get difficult and long.  Knowing what you’re moving toward and why is one of the best insurance policies you can have for business development — in fact, it’s the only one you can have.

Your assignment:  make a list of at least 20 reasons why you want to land new business, and post it in a place where you’ll see it often. If anyone asks why you have that list, just tell them… this is your insurance to guard against failure.