Not seeing desired results? Check these.

Business development can sound so easy: make a plan, execute the plan, land the business, rinse and repeat. And sometimes it might even work that way, or perhaps you may discover that plans need to be tweaked to account for unanticipated opportunities. That’s what a dear friend calls a nice problem to have.

Other times, though, it feels like you’re head down, plowing ahead with business development, and making no headway at all… Maybe even losing ground. You might interpret that as a sign that you’re just not meant to be a rainmaker. Chances are reasonably good, though, that there’s a correctable problem in that way you’re approaching business development.

If you aren’t seeing the results you want, check this list to see what might be going wrong:

  1. Do you have a business development plan? If you’re doing business development activity without a coordinated strategy, you’re unlikely to see great results. The Reluctant Rainmaker.
  2. Are you actually using your plan? If you created a plan and then put in on the shelf (literally or metaphorically), your results are likely to be as random as your activity. Not surprisingly, it’s important that you actually implement your plan. This sounds so obvious as to be pointless to say, but it’s amazing how often someone will overlook this step.
  3. Do you have the skills you need? If you have a plan but execute it poorly, you won’t get the results you want. This breaks down into a sub-checklist of skills, such as networking skills (are you developing relationships with the right people?), content-generation or content-placement skills (if you’re writing or speaking, are you doing so in an effective way on appropriate topics to a desirable audience?), communication skills (does all of your marketing and business development activity work together to generate attention and to inspire confidence?), and more.
  4. What do you believe about business development that isn’t accurate? Several years ago, I came to realize that lawyers who fail at business development have accepted as true myths about how and whether to engage in rainmaking activity. The myths usually center on the necessity or urgency for taking on business development activity, on the mechanics of that activity, or on the beliefs that surround the activity or the idea of working to get new clients. As a result, they touch on every aspects of business development, from the need for rainmaking activity to the professionalism and ethics of such activity. I’ve identified and explained a number of these myths in Legal Rainmaking Myths: What You Think You Know About Business Development Could Kill Your Practice.
  5. How are you getting in your own way? I’ve seen lawyers undermine themselves in business development in a variety of ways, such as:
  • building a business development plan around tasks that you dislike (and will therefore find reasons to avoid)
  • lacking sufficient time or focus to engage consistently in your business development activity
  • fighting internal conflicts (for instance, about whether you actually want to bring in new business if you’re contemplating changing firms or leaving practice altogether, for example)
  • dressing in a way that undercuts your professionalism or authority 

These problems are especially vexing because they’re hard to see without outside input. At times, we buy into our own stories without critical reflection, which makes it difficult to identify those stories or find a way out of them. That’s why it’s important to you get help from a friend, colleague, or coach who will show you what you can’t see.

Work on your habits

So you want to grow your practice… What’s your focus? You could answer that question with many different right answers.

I recently read a short blog post from Chris Brogan that offers one answer: Focus on your habits. It isn’t rocket science to understand that your likelihood of success (in business development or otherwise) increases substantially if you have a good plan in place and you execute on your plan with consistent activity. 

Brogan’s post is unique in that it will help you quantify the habits you need to develop. That’s important because (as the old saw states) what gets measured gets done. The post covers what it means to focus on “the number before the number” to reach your goals. Reading the post will take less than 2 minutes, and you will find it’s time well spent.

What you can learn from Apple

One of my goals for this year (not resolutions, which tend to be ungrounded and short-lived, for me and many others) is to read more. Specifically, I’m looking to read articles and books from areas of business other than law in an effort to get fresh ideas.

There’s a great deal to be learned from our own profession—I’m certainly not suggesting otherwise—but sometimes the best ideas come through analogous or even dissimilar disciplines.

And so, I offer you January’s suggested reading: The Apple Experience: Secrets to Building Insanely Great Customer Loyalty, by Carmine Gallo. The book describes Apple’s customer-focused approach, with a focus on staff (the internal customer), the external customer, and the retail environment. Quite clearly, not all of the book applies to the practice of law, but several keys points do.

Gallo describes Apple’s “five steps of service”:

  • Approach customers with a personalized, warm welcome.
  • Probe politely to understand all the customer’s needs.
  • Present a solution for the customer to take home today.
  • Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns.
  • End with a fond farewell and invitation to return.

And though you’ll have to read the book to unpack each of those steps fully, the outline provides a handy guide for conducting a conversation with a prospective client. The point that requires some analogy, of course, is that (unlike an Apple sales representative) your goal is not to provide a solution for the prospective client to implement today. Instead, your goal is to describe what the solution is, how it might work, pros and cons, and (where applicable) some sense of a likely outcome, all with appropriate caveats since you undoubtedly won’t know everything that you need to know about the matter from a pitch or consultation.

Don’t read the book thinking you can apply each point directly to your practice, because you likely won’t be able to do that. Instead, read the book, reflect on the principles it offers, and think about how they might translate for your practice.

Up for a challenge?

Happy New Year! January always feels like a fresh start to me, just like September does, after so many years of school. I love to harness the power of possibility that comes with a fresh start.

Every January, I choose one activity that I’d like to make a habit or incorporate more fully into my life. It might be purely a business activity, or a personal activity that has broad benefits.

And then I practice the heck out of that activity for the month.  My results vary with this approach, but it’s always useful. Sometimes I do build a habit (that’s how I went from drinking more Diet Coke each day than any sane person ever should to drinking only water a couple of years ago). Other times, my concentrated activity just gives me a big boost even though I don’t continue with the same level of activity. That’s how I wrote my third book, Legal Rainmaking Myths: I didn’t finish it in January, but working on it every day got me over the starting-is-hard hump.

If you’ve done your planning for 2017, you’ve identified a handful of activities that you want to begin or to do more consistently. Choose one, and make January your month of that activity. If you want to increase one-on-one contact, for example, make a plan to schedule a meeting in person, by video conference, or by telephone every weekday. If you want to raise your profile by speaking, spend some time each day researching speaking opportunities (relevant community groups or conferences, for example), contacting organizers, and working on topic ideas. You may not get to speak in January, but if you’re diligent, you can get a lot done to set yourself up for speaking later in the year.

If you’re up for the challenge, choose your activity, decide on an appropriate commitment, and block out the time. Get your year off to a powerful start.