You are invisible. Go visible.

I spend a great deal of time helping my clients find ways to showcase their expertise and to raise their profile within their communities. My clients love the charge that comes from sharing useful information through writing or speaking and building a reputation as a highly-skilled practitioner in the field.  Even better, they learn how to create business rewards so that their clientele grows.

But sometimes, it isn’t that easy. Clients come to me never having written an article, never having presented anywhere.  Especially when a new client has been trying to have an article published or to find a forum to speak but he’s been thwarted in that goal, discouragement hangs like a dense, dark fog.  Being invisible hurts.

Invisible lawyers don’t get as many clients. (And in our economy, in which the number of legal jobs continues to shrink and client demands continue to rise, that’s an ugly reality.)  They don’t advance in their firms or their communities.  It becomes all too easy to question why things are so difficult.

I talked with a potential client recently who was feeling the pain of being a “best kept secret” in his community. I offered some suggestions and projections of the likely result.  He could see the opportunity to shift his experience right away, and I could feel the fog lift.  After we talked, I turned to send an email to another client, and I saw this message in my Google Chat account:

You are invisible.  Go visible.

I chuckled:  that summarizes exactly what I’d said to my new client. Google offers a handy link to “go visible”, but the good news is that it isn’t really that much more difficult for an attorney to go visible — but you will have to invest more time than just clicking a link.  Maybe.

If you’re ready to go visible, consider these five ideas of steps that will raise your profile:

  1. Use LinkedIn to ask and answer questions. Depending on how you phrase your question, even asking can position you as an expert, and answering allows you to showcase your knowledge and experience.  Other forums exist for similar activity, including Quora, a newer site populated by key high-tech players (among others) focused entirely on Q&A.
  2. Join a substantive committee of a local bar association or industry group. Think carefully about whether working with lawyers will advance business development goals, but if your objective is to develop your reputation by speaking or writing, bar association groups are an ideal first step.
  3. Host your own seminar. Select a topic that would generate substantial interest and could be covered in an hour or ninety minutes.  Invite your contact, your clients and former clients, and your clients’ contacts.  I recommend you consider a breakfast seminar for reasons of convenience and cost; whatever time you select, be sure that you’re working with traffic flow and at a time likely to be convenient to the bulk of your potential attendees.  Start with a free seminar and allow time for networking.  Whether you speak or simply host/moderate, you’ll raise your profile.
  4. Research local radio or television shows that speak to your audience and pitch an idea for a segment or a show. Don’t expect to start on the hottest show, but if you establish your usefulness as a resource and make a good showing, you’ll likely be able to leverage one appearance to future benefit.
  5. Use the power of video. You can create your own video series (effectively an Internet-based television channel) to give you a forum for discussing whatever is new and important in your field of practice.  If you create a descriptive name for your channel, you can create a go-to resource for a small group of people who will be passionately interested in what you’re sharing.

These are just five examples of how you might go from invisible to having a significant platform that helps to establish your expertise in your field. If you’ve been hungering for a way to raise your profile quickly, try one of these.  The results may amaze you.

Book Review

Improv Wisdom:  Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up
By Patricia Ryan Madson

One of my mentors recommends that her clients invest in an improv class to help with sales conversations. When she made that recommendation, I broke into a cold sweat, but I also started to notice how frequently I was hearing that recommendation.  If you’d like a touch of improv training without going to a class, read Improv Wisdom:  Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up.

For many of us who’ve built a life on out-preparing our competition, the title alone is revolutionary and deeply confrontational. When I was in practice, preparation was the fundamental, non-negotiable step necessary for any shot at prevailing in litigation, and I’d never encourage anyone to skip that.  Know your facts cold, develop your arguments and your persuasive analysis, and anticipate what may come up in the course of conversation.  To advise otherwise is, in my opinion, catastrophically unwise.

Yes, you must prepare, and…

Prepare, and prepare to go with the flow of what happens once you’re in the act, whether that’s a business meeting, a hearing, or a meeting with a potential client.
In my view, preparation and improvisation are two inseparable sides of a coin.  Madson writes:

The habit of excessive planning impedes our ability to see what is actually in front of us.  The mind that is occupied is missing the present.

What’s “excessive planning”? It varies based on the situation, but in the context of business development, excessive planning is most often manifest in the course of a meeting with a potential client.  The potential client is talking, and the listener is anticipating, not listening.  “Ah, she mentioned a policy in the employee handbook about appropriate Internet use, and she was fired.  I bet there’s a connection.  Now, what did I read last week about that?  Doesn’t matter, I can simply tell her about general principles and the trend toward…”

Imagine internal dialogue that says instead, “Ah, she mentioned a policy in the employee handbook about appropriate Internet use, and she was fired.  What does that mean?  How might I be able to help?”  That illustrates Madson’s definition of a good improviser:

A good improviser is someone who is awake, not entirely self-focused, and moved by a desire to do something useful and give something back and who acts upon this impulse.

Madson identifies three keys to improv:

  • Remain present to the conversation.
  • Say yes. By saying yes, you share control and allow for a mutually created approach.  “The yes invites us to find out what is right about the situation, what is good about the offer, what is worthy in the proposal.”
  • Add something, or develop the conversation in a positive direction. When using yes, we often respond with, “Yes, but.”  But contradicts the preceding yes, so try “Yes, and” instead.  “I don’t think I have time to deal with this right now.”  “Yes, and the great likelihood is that you’re always going to be busy and letting this lie will just allow the problem to grow.  Let’s see how we can address this without burdening you too much.”

One of the most impactful ideas is that of bricolage. Bricolage is a French word for “the art of commandeering the materials at hand — what is most obvious — to solve the problem … You start by carefully noticing what is available.”  To me, this sums up improv:  be present, notice what’s true, accept the facts as they are (say yes), and then add to the situation with what you have at hand.  How might you apply bricolage in business?

Madson offers thirteen maxims, with supporting exercises for each. One of my favorite exercises from the book is designed to kick-start activity:  “Start anywhere.  Identify a project or task that needs to be done.  When you put this book down, follow your first thought and begin the job.  Do the very first thing that comes to mind.  Continue doing what comes next.”  If you are a procrastinator, nothing could be wiser.

While you may not become a master improv artist after reading Improv Wisdom, I can promise that applying it will change the way you see and respond to what’s happening in your practice. Even if you never pick up the book or take an improv class, try an experiment and substitute “yes and” for “yes but” for a week.  Notice the results, and then decide for yourself which approach is more effective.

Waiting for the magic date?

One of the most interesting things about having a book is watching the sales.  A few weeks ago, I saw that sales had almost increased by a factor of five for the month of December for my book The Reluctant Rainmaker.

You’d think I’d be happy. If the sales had quintupled in April or August, I would have been ecstatic!

Sadly, I’d be willing to bet that many of the people who purchased marketing books in December bought because they’d resolved to learn about business development in 2011 and finally, finally build the business they knew they could. Now that we’re ten weeks into the new  year, how many of those books do you suppose are sitting unread on a bookshelf?

Imagine Larry the lawyer who goes through an end-of-the-year review (formal or otherwise) and decides that he’s got to get his act in gear.  He’s got to bring in more business, or 2011 is going to look as bleak as 2010 did.  So he buys a book in mid-December.  But December means year-end billing and collections, not to mention the holidays and all the requisite family activities.  Despite his good intentions, Larry just doesn’t have time to read the book, and he certainly doesn’t have time to make a plan.

January 31 rolls around and Larry still hasn’t found the time for business development planning.  So, what’s changed in his practice?  Nothing.  Neither the new year nor the resolutions he made nor the book he bought (but didn’t finish reading) made a bit of difference. But Larry’s determined.  February 1 is a fresh start, or there’s always Chinese New Year.  Where’s Larry headed?  Nowhere good, though he has the best of intentions.

January 1 isn’t a magic date. Starting a project at the beginning of the year doesn’t portend success any more than beginning a diet on Monday.  If you resolved to intensify your business development efforts this year and you haven’t hit your goals, yet, here’s some good news:  I tend to see more success and more investment from clients who dig into rainmaking activity on a random date — March 10 or May 16 or June 4 — than I do from those who wait until the new year to get started.

I’ve heard from a number of lawyers who’ve been beating themselves up because they had high hopes for 2011 and haven’t yet hit their stride for the year.  And here’s what I’ve told them:  start today.  Don’t wait for tomorrow or Monday, or for the start of the next quarter.  If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing now.

Decision time:  what have you been putting off?  Make a plan and get it done today; if not today, get it done this week.

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 your 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 you 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 yield.
  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 the 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.  Schedule a complimentary consultation.