Nine Ways You’re Losing Business (part 7)

Welcome to part 7 of a 10-part series, Nine Ways You’re Losing Business—and What to Do About It. 

Reason No. 6 You’re invisible.

How do people find you? Are you visible on your website, in publications (offline and online), as a speaker named in conference materials, at networking meetings, in organizations relevant to your practice, in community organizations, and/or on social media?

In today’s economy, if you aren’t credibly visible in multiple channels, you’re losing business. Invisible lawyers (I call them the anguished invisible) don’t get as many clients. If you’re invisible, you won’t advance in your firm or your community. You won’t advance in the profession, and you’ll tend to bemoan your bad fortune in marketing and in practice. What you won’t realize is that the root of your troubles lies in your status as a best kept secret. That’s no way to live, and it’s certainly no way to build a viable practice.  

To be credibly visible means that you appear in a variety of channels in a way that’s relevant to your practice. In other words, you can be found:

  • Speaking about your practice area or related topics at conferences;
  • Teaching about your practice area or related topics;
  • Publishing articles, blog posts, books, book chapters, etc. about your practice area or related topics;
  • Engaging on social media and sharing references or resources (your own or others’) relevant to your practice area;
  • Curating content about your practice area or related topics;
  • Working within an organization that has some nexus with your practice area or the kinds of clients you represent; or
  • Serving in a leadership role in an organization that has some nexus with your practice area or the kinds of clients you represent.

Must you be active in all of these channels? No. You have to select the channels that fit your marketing identity and are reasonable calculated to reach your ideal clients and referral sources.

Are there other channels in which you might be active?
You bet. You could serve on a board of advisors that’s somehow related to your practice. You could testify before Congress on a topic that’s relevant to your practice. You could sponsor an event that has some connection with your practice. The channels in which you might become visible and the ways in which you might appear in those channels are potentially limitless, and they’ll shift over time, especially as technology changes.

If you’re an anguished invisible, here are a few steps you can take today to turn it around: 

  • Join a substantive committee of a local bar association (if you receive referrals from lawyers) or an industry group. Work toward attaining a leadership position, as well as speaking or publishing.
  • Use LinkedIn to ask and answer questions relevant to your practice. 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, which is focused entirely on Q&A.
  • Develop a list of topics on which you could write or speak and send inquiries to organizations that could offer you a forum. Make sure that the organization is geared to your ideal clients or referral sources to gain real benefit.
  • Research local radio or television shows (or podcasts) 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.
  • 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.

Ask yourself: how visible are you today? Are you visible to the right audiences? (If you suddenly win the lottery, you’ll be visible, but you won’t be credibly visible because you won’t appear in a practice-related capacity to those who might hire you or send you referrals.) If you’re unhappy with your answer, start creating your plan now to raise your profile in the marketplace.

Nine Ways You’re Losing Business (part 6)

Welcome to part 6 of a 10-part series, Nine Ways You’re Losing Business—and What to Do About It. 

Reason No. 5 You’re Losing Business:
You don’t know how to say no.

If you don’t have firm guidelines that help you determine which opportunities to accept and which to decline, you’re losing business.  That’s true on two levels.

1. Saying yes to one opportunity always means, as a matter of inarguable fact, saying no to something else. Accepting Client A means that you may not have bandwidth available when Client D comes along (or that, if you accept Client D, that time pressures may reduce the quality of your work product or client service). Taking on a leadership role with one organization means that, at least for the time being, you won’t be able to seek a leadership position with another. And choosing to write three articles that will appear before your ideal clients may mean that you’ll have to give up a few hours of sleep.

Choosing to grab one opportunity and let another go for now may be a wise decision or a foolish one. Only by being clear on your objectives can you know which is which. For instance, if you’re accepting a leadership position in a group that’s populated by your ideal clients or referral sources, even giving up a similar opportunity may make sense—unless activity with the second group would deliver an equivalent result with less of a time commitment.

That’s why it’s so important to create a business development plan and to track your activity against it on a regular basis. Your plan will let you weigh an opportunity against your objectives as well as against other opportunities, known and unknown. If you accept an opportunity without due consideration or just because it seems like a good idea and you don’t have anything else planned runs a high risk of getting you sidetracked.

2. Accepting a troublesome client or an issue that is not a good fit for your practice will get you business in the short term, but it likely will cost you business in the longer term.
Agreeing to work with a client means that you’re accepting that client’s matter, that client’s foibles and habits, and all of the problems that accompany the client and the matter. When the fit is good between you and a client, that’s fine.

However, when the client is overly demanding or unresponsive or belligerent or when the matter is itself problematic, you can create a time-consuming and a frustrating bog for yourself. Many matters will include bumps and moments of frustration along the way. When you get wrapped up in a matter with more than its share of problems, your attention will be diverted from other matters and other clients.

Before you ask for the business, you must always consider whether you want the business. If you don’t want the business, you must be able to say no.

As difficult as it may be to take on an opportunity or client that isn’t a good fit for you, the real loss is in the work that you could have done instead.  Let your business development plan be your guide.

Nine Ways You’re Losing Business (part 5)

Welcome to part 5 of a 10-part series, Nine Ways You’re Losing Business—and What to Do About It.

Reason No. 4 You’re Losing Business:
You don’t invest in your practice.

When I was growing up, I loved a Kingston Trio song called Desert Pete, which taught me the concept of priming a water pump, or using a precious resource (water in this case) to produce more of it. The song’s narrator describes his reluctance to pour water into the pump when he’s so thirsty, but taking that leap of faith pays off.

Unsuccessful lawyers resist investing time and money into business development; successful lawyers understand that it takes money to make money and that a practice can never grow without a significant investment of both time and money. If you don’t get this lesson—if you’re tight-fisted with time and money even when using it well would lead to more and better business—you’re losing business.

It costs thousands (and thousands and thousands) of dollars and unimaginable amounts of time to become a lawyer. That education is an investment that can pay off handsomely, though law school is no longer viewed as an easy decision or a certain career path thanks to recession-era changes in the job market and in the perceived value of a law degree.

However, your investment doesn’t end on receipt of your law degree.  You know about ordinary business expenses and CLE credits, but how do you look at investments required for client service and business development purposes? In fact, do you see investments, or do you only see expenses?

You’ll need to make investments of both time and money in several categories to grow a thriving practice:/strong>

  • Business development activity: Whether it’s purchasing holiday cards and writing a short note in each, paying for membership in an organization and attending meetings, or hiring someone to do SEO on your website, you’ll need to invest to grow your practice.
  • Business and business development education: Law schools should offer foundational classes in business management and business development, because every lawyer needs to understand those two topics. However, such classes are still infrequent. Accordingly, you’ll need to invest time and money in learning what you should have been taught in law school. Even when you get past the foundational level, continued growth requires deeper education.
  • Technology and infrastructure for client acquisition and service: Technology of all kinds, from an iPad to a client relationship management system, can be useful as you seek ways to expand your practice and to better serve your clients. 

To make smart spending decisions, use this process.

  1. Determine an annual budget for your spending. Depending on your practice setting, this budget might be set by the firm that employs you, or you might have to decide how much of your own income you’re willing to invest. Lawyers who skip this step either overspend or underspend, and each will negatively impact the business that is your practice. If your firm provides a budget for you, be sure it’s sufficient to meet your needs.
  2. Evaluate your potential expenditure to determine whether it’s a cost or investment. No matter how promising or enjoyable, an expenditure that doesn’t produce results is a cost, not an investment. Read this blog post to learn how to make the call.
  3. Be sure that you include a line item for education in your budget. Business development education can include attending workshops and conferences, hiring a consultant, purchasing books, and more. Especially when you can get individual feedback and assistance, you’ll find that investing in education will help you to grow much faster than you would if you work alone. And continued investments will help you increase the level of sophistication in your business development work.
  4. Be sure to track your activity and results and review your process on a regular basis. When you do so, you’re able to make evidence-based decisions to stop activities that aren’t working and to continue or even expand the activities that are working.
  5.  Know the average lifetime value of a client so you can make smart decisions. Should you spend $25,000 for consulting or an SEO consultant if you can expect (conservatively) to gain one new client as a result? If your average client value is $5000, absolutely not; if your average client value is $75,000, you should make that investment in a heartbeat. 

While each of these questions pertains to money, you should make the same evaluation to determine where to spend your time and energy. 

How do you make decisions on your business development budget? If you don’t have one yet, start today. When you make smart spending decisions, you increase your chances of rapidly growing your practice.

Nine Ways You’re Losing Business (part 4)

Welcome to part 4 of a 10-part series, Nine Ways You’re Losing Business—and What to Do About It.

Reason No. 3 You’re Losing Business:
You’re indistinguishable from other lawyers.

Very often, clients view one lawyer as essentially indistinguishable from another in the same area of practice. Especially for legally unsophisticated clients, a lawyer is a lawyer is a lawyer, and as long as she can handle the matter for the client and she “looks” ok—decent website, decent biographical sketch, decent office and staff—the assumption is that the lawyer will be adequate to meet the need. Even for more sophisticated clients who regularly hire lawyers, it can be difficult to find meaningful distinctions between competitors.

You have a way of approaching your practice and your clients that is partly innate and partly developed over the course of your practice. I call this your Attorney Avatar. I’ve identified six Attorney Avatars that describe practitioners: the Personality, the Partner, the Prophet, the Guru, the Guide, and the Gun. Each carries unique attributes and strengths and defines certain areas that will require attention to build a strong practice.

When you understand who you are as a practitioner, you can develop your attributes and characteristics to create a specific and systemized experience that you create for clients and potential clients.  Of course, you must marry your clients’ needs with your own approach to practice, but when you keep both in mind you’ll create an experience that is unique to you because it’s driven by your attitudes and beliefs about what makes for a good practice and a good practitioner.

When you combine your Attorney Avatar with your Marketing Identity, which describes your natural skills and tendencies in the way you approach marketing, you design an initial experience that carries from the first moment a potential client encounters you
(whether that’s via an article you’ve written, a presentation you’ve delivered, a visit to your website, or a personal meeting) throughout the course of the relationship.

The client experience can include everything from relations to education to recognition. Ask yourself, what impression would you like a client to have on first encountering you and your practice? How would you communicate that? What do you need to communicate to your client to orient him into your practice? What does your client need to know about the process of his matter and how to work with you? Everything you do, intentional or otherwise, creates a client experience.

When you know your Attorney Avatar (are you, for example, a Partner who focuses on client collaboration or a Gun who tends to have a high volume practice marked by specific processes and procedures to keep matters moving?), you have information that allows you to design a client experience in so doing to distinguish yourself from other practitioners. Ask yourself these questions to help you get a handle on this:

  • How do you approach your clients and your practice?
  • Do you have particular skills or experience that’s valuable to clients?
  • Do you offer extra resources that help your clients?
  • Do you have an unusual and effective approach to your practice?
  • What non-legal steps do you take to orient your clients into your practice?
  • How do you (or how should you) help clients understand how their matters will proceed?

When you know your clients and you know yourself, you can see not just what to bring forward to get and keep the business, but also how to do it. If you have useful experience, for example, the way you present it can significantly affect how a potential client will perceive that experience. 

Knowing your Attorney Avatar and using it to create a unique client experience will help you to distinguish yourself from other lawyers. If you fail to do this, you will lose business.

Nine Ways You’re Losing Business (part 3)

Welcome to part 3 of a 10-part series, Nine Ways You’re Losing Business—and What to Do About It.

Reason No. 2 You’re Losing Business: You don’t really see your clients.

Sure, you see your clients. You have meetings with them, you talk with them by telephone or videoconference. But do you really see your clients? Too many firms and lawyers view their clients as one-dimensional objects of practice. Client numbers are assigned, and the client comes to assume that number as an identity.

You don’t ever intend that to happen, but the press of business can make it hard for you to keep up with clients individually … And that’s why you must have a system in place for making sure that you recognize what’s happening with and for your clients. 

This is a problem that’s endemic to rainmakers who are seeking to grow a book of business above all else. You court a potential client. You’re interested, highly responsive, you make an effort to learn about your potential client’s interests, to engage that person in business and personal conversation, to be your most appealing self. And then as soon as you get the matter, that deeply personalized attention drops off because you’re in service mode (which often equates to maintenance mode) while you’re off chasing another client.

I once spoke with a disillusioned spouse who complained about the shift in the relationship after marriage. No more cards, no more gifts just because, conversation dwindled to the day-to-day focus on the kids and getting the car serviced and making the mortgage payment. The relationship wasn’t bad, but it certainly was dry. And then someone new came on the horizon, someone who did the things that the spouse used to do, who always brought on deep and interesting conversation, who seemed to promise a richer relationship. Suddenly, an alternative to the relationship with the present-but-not spouse appeared. This story has a happy ending because of the marriage vows both took, but no client will take a vow to stay with a lawyer for better or for worse.

That’s how marriages end, and that’s how clients get poached by other lawyers. Not necessarily because the courting stops (though, really, who doesn’t like to feel important, especially when paying a hefty fee?) but because the attention makes a difference. Understanding what’s happening with a client can significantly affect the way you approach the client or the representation itself.

Do you know what your clients are concerned about? Are you aware of their successes and failures, and do you respond appropriately? When’s the last time you sent a baby gift, a card or flowers to acknowledge a death, a note signed by your staff to acknowledge a business success?

Create a system that ensures that you get information about your clients (like Google Alerts) and that you check in with your clients regularly, to: 

  • take their temperature on their experience with you
  • discover any significant business or personal changes that may affect the matter you’re handling
  • discuss what’s going on with them in the bigger picture

Don’t bag a client and then move on: build the relationship as you deliver the service you promised. If you fail to do this, you will lose business.