What can you learn?

Here’s a quote to bring your Q3 2015 to a close:
       “Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.”
                            —Thomas A. Edison


While it may be obvious how to apply this quote to widgets (Post-it® Notes, for example, are the result of a lab experiment gone wrong that turned out exceptionally well for 3M), it applies to business development as well. 

Most likely, something you did this year for biz dev didn’t go the way you’d hoped. So here’s the challenge: what can you bring out of that biz dev “mistake” that can be useful? Maybe you have an opportunity to make an ally. Maybe you generated a conversational opener. Whatever is on your “I can’t believe this happened” list, look at it with fresh eyes and see what opportunities may be hidden in the mistake. Asking this question at the close of Q3 may open interesting doors for Q4. 


My favorite question to ask is, What one thing could you do this week that would have the most significant effect on your practice? Distraction and a divided focus can undermine any effort. And if your efforts take you outside your comfort zone, trying to do too much at one time generally results in little or no movement.

Your business development plan will incorporate multiple activities, but choosing one high-value focus per week (or month or quarter, depending on your plan) ensures that you make significant headway. What’s more, making the decision about which activity is currently the highest value will prompt you to evaluate your plan and to keep it as a living document instead of a one-and-done plan that stays on the shelf.

Pull out your business development plan right now (if you don’t have one, perhaps we should talk) and choose one activity to focus on this week. It might be as large as working on an article or a presentation, or it could be as targeted as setting up a conversation with a key contact. Whatever it is, block out the time on your calendar and complete that activity this week.


Have you noticed over the last five or ten years how many leaders in industry, sports, politics, and more have been revealed as untrustworthy? Let’s name a few names. Bernie Madoff: trusted financial advisor. Lance Armstrong: trusted cancer-survivor-turned-multiple-Tours-de-France-winner. Politicians too numerous to count. Even entire organizations, like Countrywide Financial Corp.

Closer to home for lawyers, we have the lawyers whose billing practices are outlined in this unbelievable-but-true article. (Subscription required.) The article includes examples such as a a series of bills that showed one lawyer charging 42 hours in a single day and a lawyer who had rented a VIP box at the home stadium of the Indianapolis Colts and “tried to charge his client for the catered food and alcohol for the entire box by listing it on his bill as ‘dinner while attending deposition in Indianapolis.'” And then we have the leaders of Dewey & LeBoeuf now on trial and the handful of lawyers who give the rest of the profession a bad name. All aberrations, but their antics contribute to a niggling lack of confidence that some may feel about lawyers as a group.
Unfortunately, when attorneys hit the news as being untrustworthy (especially in the context of other people, professions), and industries are being unmasked as deceitful, it’s harder to gain trust. That impacts not just business development, but also (at least in some instances) client and other relationships.

How can you conduct yourself so you’re recognized as trustworthy? Here are a few foundational steps:

  1. Do what you say, when you say you’ll do it, the way you say you’ll do it. It’s a simple standard that isn’t necessarily easy to meet, but each time you do, you’re demonstrating that you’re reliable. This is especially important when you’re establishing a relationship with a potential client or referral source.
  2. Tell the truth. That’s a given, right? Perhaps not, at least not fully, in certain instances. There are plenty of opportunities to shade the truth about a likely outcome by suggesting the best-case scenario, possibly without even realizing that the suggestion is misleading. And it extends in other areas as well, to telling the truth about problems and mistakes, including being willing to confront difficult situations rather than sweep them under the rug. In such circumstances, telling the truth may be difficult, but it shows you to be credible.
  3. Put your clients’ interests first, and where appropriate, acknowledge that you’re doing so. Most clients have probably wondered at one time or another whether a lawyer could have performed some task more quickly or if there might have been a more expedient route to the final outcome. (That’s part of why we have alternative fee arrangements now.) When you demonstrate day in and day out that you put your clients’ interests first, your clients won’t have to wonder again, and they won’t feel the need to question anything you tell them. You will become the much-desired trusted advisor.
  4. Be predictable, in all the right ways. This is a corollary to points 1 and 2 above, but it’s worth stating separately. Be on time for meetings. Return calls within the time frame you promise, or let your client know (before that time frame expires) when you will be able to call. Small behaviors like these again demonstrate your credibility and build trust.
  5. Be sure everyone else who interacts with your clients and contacts uses the same approach. Behavior of your staff and colleagues reflects on you. Make sure that reflection reinforces your credibility.

It’s dramatic to identify a crisis of truth, but that crisis is very real. Consider how it may affect your professional relationships and your business development opportunities. For more food for thought, read this blog post.

Two powerful words for success

September in the United States means back to school. After spending over half my life in school, I always feel a certain fresh energy in the fall that prompts me to take a fresh look at my goals. I start thinking about what I need to learn, what I need to do differently, and even what I’ve been promising myself I’d change. And if conversations with clients is any barometer, I’m not alone.

Regardless of the time of year, it’s easier to feel enthusiastic while setting goals than it is to maintain the necessary energy and determination to make progress toward those goals. That’s the problem with new year’s resolutions, right? It’s fun to imagine a whole new life or business or body, but it’s a lot of work to get there. 

I recently ran across this article from leadership and platform-building expert Michael Hyatt, in which he suggests that two words can “set you up to win every time.” Using these two words allows you to make “implementation intentions” that address the things that keep you from reaching your goals and declare what you’ll do differently. (Read the post—it’s a quick one—for specifics on how to set implementation intentions and what these two critical words are.) 

Here’s the action step that Hyatt prescribes at the end of his post, and I invite you to take the same inquiry specifically in the context of business development and growing your practice: 

“Think about one goal that matters to you right now. What hinders your progress? Create a list of implementation intentions. Like the examples [provided in the post] put these in the first person, and review them often. 

Identifying obstacles and planning how to overcome them is a simple and highly effective way to make progress toward your goals. Do this today, and you can create remarkable results.

Do you compare?

Last week a client bemoaned the fact that his peers were all advancing more rapidly with business development than he was, that they all seemed more confident than he felt, and their opportunities were endless whereas he had to work hard for every opportunity he had. Ever had a day like that? If there’s data to support those feelings, it’s worth taking a look at what’s going on… But if you’re making judgments about your comparative success based on nothing more than feelings, you’re almost certainly not seeing reality, whether you’re selling yourself short or inflating your success.

Here’s the quote I shared with my client:

“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” Steven Furtick

This is true on social media; it’s equally true in the business world. Comparison can be valuable when it
helps you to identify a route you hadn’t considered before or a strategy worth considering, but much of the time it’s demoralizing because most of us highlight success while concealing failure.

If you’re watching others and feeling that you don’t measure up, look to the data. Ask whether you know the background story. For example, was your colleague offered a highly coveted speaking opportunity on the basis of reputation alone, or did she network her way into the right group and then request a speaking role? Was her proposal turned down four times before it was finally accepted?

You likely know the analogy of the swan serenely gliding across the surface of the pond while paddling like crazy underneath the water. When you compare yourself to a swanlike colleague, be sure you can peek under the surface level to see the paddling. Chances are, you’ll realize that your colleague is succeeding as a result of consistent, strategic work—and that you can, too.