Don’t try to do it all at once.

Two levels of activity can completely undermine your business development efforts: doing too much and doing too little. Think I just won the obvious award? Stick with me for a minute. 

It’s no secret that doing too little business development activity means you won’t build the kind of practice you want without some kind of miraculous intervention. If you want word about you to filter out so potential clients come looking for you, you’d better help that word spread. And if you think you’re going to inherit a book from a retiring mentor, you’d better have a parallel plan since clients don’t always follow even the best-intentioned inheritance plans. If you sit and wait for clients to come to you, you may find yourself waiting for drips of business that will never quench your thirst. 

But can you fail to build a book because you’re doing too much? You bet. Even if you’re a brand new solo practitioner without much billable work, your time and energy are limited. This is especially true for midlevel associates in larger firms: you have billable responsibilities, administrative responsibilities, professional development responsibilities, and you may well be busy personally as well, with a young family or supporting elderly relatives. And it’s true for every lawyer during certain phases of practice. 

If you’re just starting to take on a particular business development activity (or to take on business development in general), you may be tempted to jump into the deep end and cram in as much work as you can that might lead to business. Unfortunately, that isn’t how business development works in most practices. Taking on too much at once is overwhelming and discouraging, and it’s more likely to lead to a crash-and-burn than to a brightly burning flame that will power your practice. 

Taking on too much at one time is a sure recipe for disaster. You start out with great intentions, and maybe even clear plans, but everything falls apart with one little slip. (This is why challenges like a Whole30 often don’t work either: imperfection means failure.)

Business development is a career-long marathon, an endurance race that requires you to keep moving no matter what. If you try to complete that marathon in short order, you’ll discover it can’t be done. And far too often, those who try to do it all burn out and give up, at least for a while. So take a step, then another, and keep moving as those steps begin to form a road to success. 

Action step: what are you planning to start, or what business development project has stalled?  Break it down into doable steps and calendar those. Keep your commitment to yourself and your plan, and you’ll see real progress without angst or burnout.

What the Tough Mudder can teach you about biz dev

I recently talked with a friend who completed a Tough Mudder. For those of you who aren’t familiar, a Tough Mudder is a 10-12 mile obstacle race through a variety of obstacles (such as sprinting through a field of live wires) and, you guessed it, lots of mud. Aside from the obstacles, two aspects of Tough Mudder are legendary: the focus on teamwork (“no mudder left behind”) and on overcoming fears through the obstacles. And it’s definitely tough—or so I hear, since it isn’t exactly my cup of tea.

Here’s what my friend told me that made me think of the business development journey: “I came to appreciate the obstacles because every time I made it through one, I knew I was that much closer to the end. When I was in the middle of it, I couldn’t really tell how far I’d gone or how much I had left to the finish line, but the obstacles helped me know that I was actually making progress.” It’s a useful lesson.

Here’s what else the Tough Mudder can teach you about business development: 

  • Approach the race as a marathon, not as a sprint. Although the Tough Mudder is “just” 10-12 miles long, expecting to whip through it would be a huge mistake even if you run that distance every weekend. Likewise, business development will last for the rest of your private practice career, and you’ll run ragged if you behave as if it’s a goal to be conquered in the short term. Keep your eye on the long-term view even while working to overcome each immediate obstacle.

  • Overcome your fears. I have yet to meet a lawyer who built a book without having to face difficult and uncomfortable situations. You need grit and consistency to power through those situations just as you do during the Tough Mudder to jump from a tall platform into ice-cold water and then run to climb a scaffold and slide down a pole through a ring of fire. (Doubt this? Just ask one of my European clients who refused to call a contact week after week until she finally relented… And secured work from that client right away.)

  • Realize that you can’t do it alone. To succeed in building a successful practice, you’ll need help from mentors and colleagues who can give you suggestions and feedback, professional friends who can make introductions and open doors for you, and referral partners who can help you meet the right contacts and potential clients. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to succeed alone—and you’d be wise to invest in your teammates’ success as they do in yours.

  • Take the steps necessary to prepare. Training for the Tough Mudder might include cardio, weight lifting, and body weight exercises, along with finding out the best clothes to wear during the race and other “real life” tips. Preparing for business development may include designing your strategy and laying your business development plan, improving certain skills (networking skills, for example), learning about general principles of marketing, studying your target client’s likely concerns and goals, learning more about business principles, and so on. Whether it’s a Tough Mudder or business development, you can’t expect to go from zero to win without significant preparatory work.

  • Have a clear objective in mind. In most races, your time is your measure of success; in Tough Mudder, success might be measured in terms of your teamwork or even by overcoming the one obstacle that terrified you. Your personal definition of success should govern your business development efforts as well. You’ll likely approach business development differently if you want to become equity partner at a large firm than you would if you want a more lifestyle-oriented practice. Knowing your “why” will let you be sure that you’re working to create the kind of success that matters to you.

  • Decide that you will succeed. Whether it’s the Tough Mudder or building a clientele to support your practice, you will hit obstacles—literal and metaphorical. It won’t be easy. At times you’ll wonder why you started this journey and you’ll consider abandoning it. Only your decision to persevere will keep you from giving up. Decide early and don’t look back.

Whether you’re training for a Tough Mudder or (like me) can’t imagine taking on that challenge, absorbing these lessons will help you build a successful practice. What else would you add?

Large law firm partnership models are changing

Large law firm partnership models are changing.

American Lawyer article reports that BakerHostetler (along with several others, including DLA Piper and Akin Gump) has shifted to an “all-equity” partnership model, leaving behind a two-tier partnership system. This doesn’t mean that all partners have full equity membership, however: it simply means that all partners have some equity, though a “significant number of partners are both firms . . . . still receive more than half their compensation in the form of fixed pay.

While the article (and a law firm consultant) recognizes that the shift gives all partners a stake in the firm that may eliminate an employee mentality among nonequity partners, this is the paragraph I found most interesting:

[Roger] Meltzer [co-chair of DLA Piper] also noted that DLA Piper raised more capital from the shift, with all partners required to make some contributions. “It creates more of an equity cushion,” said Meltzer, ho declined to specify how much capital was raised. 

Read more here. 

It’s no surprise that large firms continue to evaluate and tweak partnership models, but I’m not sure I’d be dancing just yet if I were a nonequity partner just granted a stake in the firm.

Project your power

Leadership presence, which includes the ability to project power, is critical in any kind of interaction, whether you’re speaking with one person or to a crowd of 1000.  Failing to exhibit the kind of power that demonstrates self-confidence may leave your audience uncertain about your skill, but overdoing a display of power may come across as arrogance, which is a turnoff for almost everyone.

Amy Cuddy’s presented her research on “power poses,” which demonstrates that adopting or even just visualizing a confident pose delivers self-assurance in one of the most viewed TED talks of all time.  One of the fascinating aspects of that research is that taking a “power pose” can affect levels of testosterone and cortisol. In other words, this is not just a “fake it til you make it” shortcut: taking a powerful stand causes physiological effects that can change how you present yourself and thus how others perceive you.

Stanford professor Deborah Gruenfeld, who spent years studying the psychology of power, discovered that simply understanding the research is not enough to reap its rewards. She eventually teamed up with a theatre instructor to teach a Stanford Business School class called Acting With Power.  Watch her micro lecture Playing High, Playing Low and Playing It Straight on YouTube, and you’ll pick up tips on how to project authority and approachability. It’s a worthy investment of time if you’ve ever felt a lack of confidence, if you’ve ever received feedback that you come across as tentative, or if you’ve ever worried that you’re coming on too strong.

What does this have to do with business development? Simple: no one wants to hire or refer business to someone who may not be able to handle it. While leadership presence isn’t necessarily indicative of actual professional skill, it’s the stand-in that others will evaluate (consciously or not) as they decide whether you’re trustworthy.

Take a few minutes to check out these resources, and if you’re uncertain about how you come across (especially in situations that are uncomfortable to you), ask a trusted colleague. Your presence will have a significant impact on your career, so don’t delay.

Not getting answers to your biz dev emails?

Email can be a good way to reach out to new contacts (people you’ve met briefly or with whom you’d like to connect via LinkedIn, for example) or to reconnect with longer-time contacts, but you may get frustrated by slow or no responses. 

It’s tempting to make email contacts meaty, to give all the detail we feel necessary to justify the contact and to elicit a response, but often the result is a big block of text that the respondent delays reading or answering.

If you’ve run into this problem, check out this solution (which I’ve illustrated in this email)

Although you may be unable to limit every email to five sentences or less (especially client communications), taking this challenge will prompt you to be brief, which makes your emails easier to digest and answer.

Why not give it a try with your emails this week?