Stop chasing the silver bullet!

I’m on a rant.

Last week, I spoke with a potential client who shared that his practice has been shrinking in the last few years.  We discussed his obstacles and his opportunities, and there’s quite a bit he can leverage.  The problem became apparent, though, when I asked what he’s tried.  One brief example of the problem: he’s tried to networking using LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

But he doesn’t really use any of the platforms.  He’ll start with one, then the next becomes the latest and greatest and so he shifts, but a new latest and greatest pops up, so he shifts to that one.  And it isn’t social media: he’s jumping around with face-to-face networking groups and even types of activity, always believing that his jump will get him to something easier and more effective.  

But here’s the truth: Chasing the silver bullet, in social media or anywhere else, will undermine your rainmaking efforts and trash your confidence.    

Innovations will come up over and over.  Some will be complete game-changers (the advent of the Internet and websites), many will be a quick flash and then gone (, and some will be slow-growers that prove useful over the long-term (LinkedIn, apparently).  Jumping to the hottest new thing will leave you tired and frustrated.  But you can’t overlook all the great new stuff that’s coming out.  What to do? 

When you spot the next new thing, here’s what you must consider before jumping in.

  1. Is this really new? Is there some advantage in being an early adopter?
  2. If not, what spot does it fill? For example, Twitter fills a social media activity spot, and more broadly, it’s a type of networking.  Are you already active in that spot?
  3. Are you consistently doing all of the activity that you’ve planned to do as a part of your business development approach?

If your answer to question 3 is no, STOP.  Absent a compelling reason, you’re chasing a silver bullet that’s just as likely to be made of tinfoil.  Stick a toe in if you answer both parts of question 1 with yes OR if your answer to question 2 is no, but don’t go deep unless the new thing fits into your fully implemented plan.

Back to the potential client I mentioned.  When we talked about his taking on new activity, he was clear that he’s of a “newer is better” mindset.  He was unwilling to take my suggestion of focusing in on a handful of proven approaches, and so I was unwilling to take him on as a client.  I hope he’ll prosper and prove me wrong.  Unfortunately, my hunch is that he’ll conclude at some point that business development just won’t work for him.  And that’s the worst outcome of all.  Don’t make his mistake.

Change Your Mind, Change Your Practice(s)

We cannot solve problems with the same level of consciousness that created them. — Albert Einstein

Einstein’s quote, one of my all-time favorites, is a touch-point for our times.   We hear about “out of the box” thinking, we know that innovation is a requirement in today’s world, and the only way to produce either is to adjust how we think about whatever we’re facing.

In the context of practicing law, changing how we think about practice (and building a practice) is usually the first step to making a change.  For example, if you’re aiming for success in a law firm by being a reliable, industrious, somewhat reserved worker-bee but you notice that you keep getting passed over for the big cases you’d like to work on, continuing to work harder and harder without more is unlikely to lead to change.

If you’re constantly running ragged, wondering how you can connect with your spouse and/or children in an hour or so at the beginning or end of each day, it’s a safe bet that you won’t shift your actions until and unless you shift your perspective.  Want a new job?  You’ll have to pull some time and attention away from what you’re doing now to make the time to launch a job search.

And if you believe that business development is something that you’ll begin “later,” you likely won’t recognize business development opportunities that may come your way — because chance favors the prepared mind. 

Making a change often requires stepping outside a situation long enough to identify a problem and then making a mental shift that will help in solving that problem.  How the shift happens is individual to each person.  But creating and then using a shift relies on several basic principles.

  1. The shift must be authentic.  If your partner, your supervisor, your doctor, or anybody else tells you to make a change and you don’t buy into it, there will be no shift.  Remember the punchline to the joke asking how many psychiatrists are needed to change a light bulb?  One, but the light bulb has to really, really want to change.  No psychiatry here, but if you don’t really, really want to change (or at least really, really, really believe you need to change), chances are good that you’ll keep on doing the same old, same old.
  2. Maintaining the shift means keeping it in the forefront of your mind.  If you’re trying to make a habit of arranging lunch with one key contact a week, put a reminder on your calendar where you see it daily.  If you want to improve your efficiency in the office, use time management tools that keep your eye on efficiency.  Holding onto a shift in perspective means keeping it in front of you in some way, because it’s often all too easy to slide back to the old, familiar approach.
  3. Reaping the benefit of the shift requires action.  While it’s important to recognize a problem or a situation that can be improved, that’s empty if it’s merely recognition without follow-through.  If you want more balance in your life, take some action, even if it’s a small one.  Claiming a 15-minute walk for yourself in the afternoon will not only provide some balance but also will remind you that you’re seeking balance.  (Put it in your calendar and keep that commitment, too!)
  4. It’s easier to maintain a shift, and to design and implement the actions that the shift calls for, when you have support.  Tell your spouse that you need to set aside 3 hours on Saturday morning to catch up on work.  Tell your assistant that you plan to eat lunch away from your desk one day this week.  Work with a coach to provide accountability as you set out on your business development plans.  According to a study conducted by the American Society for Training and Development, “consciously deciding” to complete a goal usually yields about a 25% success rate. Deciding to make a change, telling someone what that change is, and committing to completing it by a certain deadline, raises the chances of success to about 95%.

What do you need to shift in the way you see your practice?

When focus led me astray

I hadn’t taken the time to pull back from the work I’ve been doing to check on how effectively I was navigating toward my goals in the last few months.  Life has been very busy, both professionally and personally. I’d put my head down, my nose to the grindstone, and I focused on the client work piled in front of me.  I was surprised by what I found: in some areas, I was right on track to meet my goals, but in others, I’d slowly drifted far afield.

During my mastermind meeting last week, my colleagues and I discussed the tough balancing act of current work vs. future goals.  It’s easy to let things slide, especially when there’s plenty of current billable work to do.  (Can I get an amen?)  But focusing on the present is a passive and ultimately fruitless way to build a future.  Growth requires relentless determination and focus on meaningful and clearly articulated “stretch” goals.

So I revisited and revised my goals, and then I designed consequences for failing to reach them.  Should I miss, I’ll be making a hefty charitable donation in some colleagues’ names – enough of a donation that I won’t get the warm fuzzies of doing something nice but instead the pain of a real financial hit.  My colleagues all set their own goals and consequences, and when we meet again in February, we’ll see the results.  I’m predicting a huge celebration of remarkable successes.

All of this leads me to ask, how are YOUR goals?  Whether you’d like to accomplish something big by the end of the year (creating and hosting that seminar you’ve been thinking about, perhaps) or whether you’d prefer to think ahead into the first quarter of next year, there’s no time like the present to get clear on what you want to accomplish or to set up some accountability and consequences to get yourself moving.  If you need a guide on effective goal-setting, check out this blog post I wrote in 2008.

Fatal mistakes that doom rainmaking efforts.

Several potential client consultations over the last few weeks have put me in mind of the old story about the tortoise and the hare. We all know the lesson, that slow and steady wins the race, and the same is true in business development – though consistent is a more accurate word here than slow. Jumping into rainmaking activity with a solid, strategic plan is like jumping into the deep end of the pool without knowing how to swim: you may do a few uncoordinated strokes, generating lots of splashing, but you won’t get much of anywhere. In fact, you may get so tired you drown.

The caveat to the slow and steady approach is that waiting until the plan is perfect is just as fatal as not planning at all – and maybe more so. If you refine and rework your plan to the point that it covers all contingencies, sets up a flawless strategy that takes account of every possibility and leaves no opportunities unexplored, you’ll never move from planning to action. The fear of making mistakes or overlooking some favorable condition creates inaction or the disjointed, uncoordinated action that tends to accompany having no plan at all.

The answer? Make a plan. Don’t wait for it to be perfect. Start implementing, and then refine your plan. That’s the process you’ll follow for the rest of your rainmaking career, and it’s the only way to start and finish strong. Want more information? See Chapter Three of The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling.