Nine Ways You’re Losing Business: The Big Picture

Over the last 10 weeks, I’ve serialized the article Nine Ways You’re Losing Business—and What to Do About It To recap, the nine ways you’re losing business are:

  1. You aren’t creating value for your clients.
  2. You don’t really see your clients.
  3.  You’re indistinguishable from other lawyers.
  4. You don’t invest in your practice.
  5. You don’t know how to say no.
  6. You’re invisible.
  7. You “don’t have time.”
  8. You’re marketing using someone else’s plan.
  9. You’re renting your practice, not owning it.

I shared suggestions on how to address each of these problems in the respective article parts, but there’s a bigger answer. Effective business development lives at the intersection of four factors:

  • Your practitioner brand (who you are, as demonstrated in the way you approach your practice and your clients, and who you are in terms of marketing)
  • Who your client is (in terms of demographics, psychographics, and more)
  • What your client needs (substantively and from the relationship with you)
  • How you create value for your client

Here’s the question for you: how frequently are you operating in that sweet spot?

It isn’t easy to learn this. Law school doesn’t teach how to hit this sweet spot, and very few business development training opportunities address this level of strategy. Knowing how to find it is critical, however. The alternative—strategic scattershot marketing—leads to frustration and success that’s limited at best.

Next week, I’ll share an invitation to explore this topic with me and (most importantly) begin to identify your unique path to success. For now, study the schematic above and consider where your marketing lives.

And for those of you in the United States, Happy Thanksgiving!

Nine Ways You’re Losing Business (part 10)

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

Next week, I’ll summarize the entire series and show you some next steps so that you can go into 2015 from a position of strength instead of trying to play catch-up.

Reason No. 9: You’re renting your practice, not owning it.

Are you renting your practice? I’m not asking whether you’re renting office space. And I’m not asking whether you’re an associate or junior in practice. This question is about your attitude and your approach to your practice. Are you building your practice based on what you want your practice to be, or are you “paying your dues”? Compromising? Accepting what isn’t ideal but might be good enough for now? Waiting until something changes?

If you aren’t actively and strategically growing your practice on a consistent basis, you are renting your practice. Even if you’re a sole practitioner, renting your practice means you have a job, not a career. As we learned during the recession, lawyers can lose their jobs when firms fail or as a stopgap measure designed to avoid failure—or even to increase profit.

“Career” non-equity partners (meaning those who cannot or will not advance to the point of attaining equity partnership, as distinguished from “transitional” non-equity partners who are working to become equity partners) are at special risk.  These lawyers typically have strong skills but relatively high salaries and relatively small books of business, meaning that they represent a drag on the firm if work dries up and they can’t bring in enough new work to support or significantly defray their expense.


If you only rent a practice, you have few transferable assets other than skill and experience, which is many cases isn’t enough to distinguish you from a sea of talented lawyers. As a result, you have fewer professional options, and you may find it difficult or even impossible to find a new job.

“Owning” your practice means taking responsibility for your own success and not depending on others to provide work or opportunities to you. It means looking at the assets and liabilities in your practice (financial and otherwise) and determining how to harness the assets so that you can grow your practice. It’s putting in consistent and strategic activity to grow your practice. It’s looking at engagements as relationships, not transactions—even one-off engagements can yield referrals with the appropriate effort.

Renting vs. owning a practice isn’t purely a financial question: depending on the circumstances, a lawyer with no clients at all may own her practice with a lawyer with a $250,000 book of business may only be renting. While results certainly do matter, what distinguishes two similarly situated lawyers is action and attitude. A 2009 New York Times Op-Ed piece summarized it this way:

A Washington lawyer friend recently told me about layoffs at his firm. I asked him who was getting axed. He said it was interesting: lawyers who were used to just showing up and having work handed to them were the first to go because with the bursting of the credit bubble, that flow of work just isn’t there. But those who have the ability to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work were being retained. They are the new untouchables. . . Those who are waiting for this recession to end so someone can again hand them work could have a long wait. Those with the imagination to make themselves untouchables — to invent smarter ways to do old jobs, energy-saving ways to provide new services, new ways to attract old customers or new ways to combine existing technologies — will thrive. (Emphasis added.)

The legal market has shifted, and it will continue to do so. Clients have more options and are making new demands in terms of the cost, efficiency, and structure of engagements, and there’s no hint of abatement. Instead, we can expect to see more changes and more significant changes in the way that lawyers and clients work together.

Today’s economy calls on you to become an entrepreneur at law. Stop following the tired old rainmaker model of getting the work, then doing the work, rinse and repeat with an ever-growing focus on bringing in more and more work. That model, when successful, leads straight into the feast/famine cycle. Instead, determine your brand as a practitioner and how you can express that brand in your practice, then find how your brand and the skills encompassed in that brand can intersect with what reaches and influences your ideal clients. Build relationships based on trust, and look for ways to create value for your clients. Re-imagine how you can work with your clients, letting your clients’ needs and wants guide your innovation.

If you’re doing the same old, same old, you are losing business. The new economy calls on you to take ownership of your practice, to explore new ways to find, engage, and serve your clients, and to seek continuous improvement in what you do as a practitioner and how you do it.

Step up, or you may be pushed out.

Nine Ways You’re Losing Business (part 9)

Welcome to part 9 of a 10-part series, Nine Ways You’re Losing Business—and What to Do About It 

Reason No. 8: You’re marketing your practice using someone else’s plan.

Law schools rarely teach students how to market (or manage) a law practice. So most lawyers learn by reading articles, attending training, and—most commonly—following the example set by a successful mentor. However, every person brings different skills, assets, and attitudes to both marketing and practice.

If you’re using a plan created by someone who’s significantly different from you, even a plan that’s been highly successful for that person won’t be successful for you. Every person brings a unique set of skills and assets to be used in marketing as well as preferences that must be accommodated, at least to some extent. In addition, every ideal client profile will be slightly different. No two plans will be identical, and even remarkably similar plans will probably be executed in distinct ways.

I once worked with Sarah, a lawyer who had built a thriving practice, and I thought I’d follow her lead so I could get the same results. Unlike me, Sarah was a social butterfly. She entertained frequently and met contacts for a meal or coffee most every day. She seemed to know everyone: when we went out to lunch, I felt as if we were having lunch with the whole restaurant because it seemed that she spoke to almost everyone there. Sarah was well known in the community, she met many potential clients who subsequently hired her, and she had a steady flow of referrals.

I tried to model Sarah’s networking activity. I laid great plans, but I dreaded executing them. Unlike Sarah, I’m an introvert, and the thought of that much socializing was simply exhausting. I made an effort, but it was too easy to get sidetracked with work (pressing or otherwise) because I didn’t enjoy that volume of activity, and so I didn’t get anything remotely close to Sarah’s results. Sarah’s plan worked for her, but it wasn’t a fit for me, and it wasn’t as effective as the plan I created to incorporate my own personality, preferences, and skills.

The “copycat plan” is destined for failure, as is any plan that doesn’t start with an analysis of the building blocks at your disposal and the objectives you want to reach.
Instead of borrowing someone else’s plan or using a generic plan prescribed by a marketing expert, create your own plan based on the responses to questions such as:

  • Who are you as a practitioner? How do you approach your practice and your clients?
  • What is your marketing identity? What marketing avenues are most effective for that identity?
  • What are the attributes and characteristics of your target clients, and how can you reach them?
  • What are your branding assets?
  • Which relationships should you focus on building?
  • What are your objectives? (For example, do you need to bring in business immediately, do you need to raise your profile in the marketplace, or do you need to position yourself to support a new or expanded practice area?

Use the answers to these questions to design a plan that’s well suited to your specific objectives, that uses your unique skills, and that’s calculated to reach your ideal clients and your network of allies. When your plan is tailored for you, you’ll find it more effective and you’ll be more willing to implement it on a consistent basis.

If you use a generic business development plan copied from another source, you’re losing business.

Nine Ways You’re Losing Business (part 8)

Welcome to part 8 of a 10-part series, Nine Ways You’re Losing Business—and What to Do About It.

Reason No. 7: You “don’t have time.”

Time. That great limiter for every practice. No one has time enough for everything  We know this. And yet, some days, doesn’t it feel like you could summarize your task list by writing simply, “EVERYTHING”? You have billable work, admin work, plus a personal life, and you want to add more on top of that?

If you don’t make time to complete business development activities and to create value for your clients, you’re losing business.

The “more” you have to add to your task list includes activity designed to raise your profile in the marketplace, client acquisition, and creating value for your clients above and beyond the billable work you do for them. You might group all of this as business development activity, since it’s designed to bring in and satisfy your clientele. That seems like a tall order, and in some ways it is, but two operating principles can simplify it a bit.

First, you have to find a way to marry your business development work with your billable work. When the two are divorced, as they generally are, you’ll have the sense that you can do only one of those activities, and the billable work will win. That’s how the feast/famine cycle gets started.

When your business development work comes from and through your billable work, you’ll exit the feast/famine cycle. For example, you might find ideas for writing or speaking based on the questions your clients raise, and you might even be able to develop a client memorandum into an article by replacing the elements specific to the client with a fictionalized or generalized description and making some general suggestions based on your discussion and analysis of the issue. You may also ask your clients for referrals and introductions, and inviting current and former clients for a presentation or program that interests them may turn into a quite effective business development activity.

You will need to supplement your business development efforts with activity that is truly separate from your billable work, of course, but when there’s significant overlap between the two aspects of practice maintenance and growth, you’ll make better use of your time.  The separate work might include activities such as networking, working within an industry organization, or serving on a board of directors. You will find some nexus between those activities and your practice (otherwise, the activities would not be well-suited to help build your practice), but there’s an unavoidable separation between those activities and your billable work.

The second approach, which must work in tandem with the first, requires you to prioritize everything that you do. Is business development a priority for you? Here, it’s important that you have a business development plan that’s broken down into projects (raising your profile, meeting new referral sources) and tasks (writing an article or a blog post, identifying an organization populated by those who do business with or otherwise influence your clients) so that you have specific action items to prioritize. Trying to prioritize categories of tasks like billable work and business development will be ineffective because you’ll never be able to check either off your task list. But you can check off “Draft Smith MSJ brief” or “Attend IEEE meeting,” and you can prioritize each action based on its urgency and its importance.

Brian Andreas, the artist who creates StoryPeople, sums it up this way: “Everything changed the day I figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in my life.” When you recognize the essential truth there, you’ll see that the key is to decide what’s important. In other words, is it important for you to meet contacts who could refer new business to you? If so, how can you fit that into your schedule?

Don’t misunderstand this approach as a “woowoo” nice but meaningless idea. While you will have days in which you actually can’t squeeze everything that’s important to you, if you think about what is important—meeting deadlines, returning client calls, eating, sleeping—you’ll find that you generally fit at least some of each important activity into your days over the course of a week.

Which activities are important will vary from day to day, but when it comes to business development activity, you’ll want to be sure that you are active in each of these areas each week or month:

Take a few minutes to examine your task list. (Don’t have one? Create it right now.) Strike anything on your list that is not important. Next, look for ways to incorporate business development activity into your billable work. Add to your list any business development tasks that are important for you and not otherwise included. Each evening, block time for the next day’s tasks, leaving a few blocks of time open for unexpected tasks that need urgent attention. Finally, look at your task list and your calendar, and be sure that you’re incorporating each aspect of business development activity over the course of a month.

If you don’t make the time for client value creation and business development activity on a regular and consistent basis, you’re losing business.