Enthusiasm matters in rainmaking and in client service.

How enthusiastic are you about building your practice?  Not how motivated, how determined, or how skilled, but how enthusiastic?

Enthusiasm has a bad reputation in our society and in professional circles specifically.  It’s often knocked as naïve or overly eager.  But the truth is, we enjoy enthusiasm.  Don’t you want to work with and for people who are lit up about what they’re doing?

Your clients want to work with someone who’s enthusiastic about working with them.  Whether you’re representing individuals or the largest corporations in the world, your clients want to know that you’re invested and even proactive… In other words, that you aren’t just dialing it in.

When I was in law school, I had a professor who was so enthusiastic about tax law that he infected all of his students.  We did the reading and showed up to class engaged and looking forward to his lecture and our discussions.  About tax.  (The now-me shudders just a little at the thought, but I was drawn in like everyone else at the time.)  In contrast, I had a few professors who were smart and knowledgeable, but their lack of enthusiasm left me feeling eh about their classes.  And I suspect that was ok with them.

Enthusiasm engages audiences and motivates action.

And that carries through to rainmaking.  Sure, it’s easy to create a “paint by numbers” business development plan that you execute without any particular sense of relish.  But when you can find a way to get fired up – whether it’s because you really enjoy meeting new people, you love being on a stage or teaching, or because you are passionately interested in your work or your clients – that’s when you become invested and when things can shift on a dime.

So, how enthusiastic are you?  It isn’t an idle question.

5 Ways to Generate Great Content

Content marketing refers to the process of generating articles, blog posts, presentations, and more that are centered on your practice area and that share substantive information useful to your audience.  This newsletter is content marketing, for instance.  When you teach a seminar to a room of clients, potential clients, or referral sources, that’s content marketing.  When you speak for a CLE program, however, even though you’re presumably delivering useful information related to your practice area, it isn’t content marketing unless you stand to get business or frequent referrals from lawyers.

Content marketing is a reluctant rainmaker’s friend.  When you offer valuable information to an interested audience, you’re demonstrating your knowledge, skill, trustworthiness, and approach-ability, among other qualities, without imposing on your audience.  You’re marketing with information that’s beneficial, and your audience usually appreciates your efforts.  (If they don’t, they’ll quickly leave your audience.)

Content marketing is effective because your audience is actively interested in the information you’re sharing and you’re demonstrating your value while marketing. 

But content generation can be the bane of a lawyer’s existence.  The content needs to be timely (or evergreen), relevant, easily consumed, and – most importantly – good.  If you imagine sitting in front of an empty computer screen, wracking your brain for an interesting topic you can cover effectively in the time allotted, trying to squeeze in one more activity in your already-overburdened schedule, you aren’t alone.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be so painful.  Most of my clients find that coming up with ideas is the most difficult part of content marketing.  Here’s how to make it easy:

  1. Use listening tools.  Twitter is great for tracking trending topics.  Skim or read periodicals relevant to your industry as well as some from outside your industry.  One of my favorites is Zite (available for the iPad, iPhone, and Android phones) a “personalized magazine” that pulls news from a variety of sources grouped by the categories selected by the user.
  2. Use your clients’ questions and concerns.  You probably field questions day in and day out.  What themes do you notice?  What questions should your clients be asking?  If you’re stumped, skim your outbox.  You’re almost certain to find topics suitable for content marketing.
  3. Ask your clients what they’re thinking and wondering about.  Not only will you learn more about your clients’ needs, which is a great business development activity in itself, but also you’ll notice themes that interest your clients and are ripe for content generation.
  4. Review a book or service that your clients will find useful.  Chances are that you’re aware of sources that your clients don’t generally follow.  (That’s why I review business books in this newsletter.  Most lawyers don’t read these books, and I often get notes of thanks for highlighting useful information.)  Bringing information they might not discover otherwise adds value.
  5. Myths, misunderstandings, and outright lies.  Chances are that there are some incorrect but commonly-held beliefs or approaches related to an issue that your clients face.  Sometimes it’s a simple factual misunderstanding or misinterpretation, and sometimes it’s all about the deeper truth.  Debunk those misapprehensions or challenge the common wisdom.  When you explain myths and truths, you can quickly get the attention of your audience.

Whatever methods you use to identify content topics, keep a running list of your ideas.  You’ll probably find that the best ideas occur to you while you’re exercising, showering, watching TV – anything except sitting at your desk.  Use Evernote or a simple Word document to list your ideas.  That way, when you are in front of the blank computer screen, you’ll have a list of ideas ready to go.

How Thin is Your Margin?

Michael Hyatt is one of my favorite leadership bloggers.  The former chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, Hyatt holds the belief that leaders must be thoughtful and purposeful, and his posts range from philosophical to tactical.

One post this week has been so impactful for me that I have to share it with you: How to Create More Margin in Your Life. “Margin” describes intentionally-created space in a schedule, designed to accommodate the unexpected. As Hyatt writes:

Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of you. And no one seems to appreciate the fact that you are a finite resource. (Perhaps you don’t even realize this.)

That’s why creating or re-visiting your Ideal Week is so important.

Hyatt explains how to design an Ideal Week schedule that takes into account daily themes (Fridays for appointments, for example) and daily focus times for each domain of life (self, work, and family/friends/planning).  He then schedules key times based on his goals and priorities (and these times are broadly described), leaving “margin” for the unexpected.

I’d tweak this approach, to allow for daily margin during the regular workday.  In other words, rather than scheduling a full four hours for writing, I’d set aside three hours as a fairly non-negotiable minimum I’d expect to attain each day, and then block the fourth hour for margin.  On an ordinary day, that fourth hour might be occupied with writing as well, but it could also be devoted to the priority question from a client that requires time for a response.

I highly recommend Hyatt’s post as a source of both inspiration and direction on time management.  By blocking time for what matters most, leaving time open for the things that inevitably crop up, and seeding accountability (by directing that you share the Ideal Week with your team), Hyatt has created a tool that will be useful for getting the “must do” tasks done without getting burned out.

First Things First

There was a time when I spent an entire weekend outlining and getting started on writing two books. They were both about business development, of course, but one was designed to be an idea-generator and action-prompter, while the other was more of a teaching book. I got outlines done for both and started working on the actual writing. By that Monday morning, I was really ready for a weekend. (Ooops.)

The reason I started two books at once was because the subject matter was so intertwined that I needed to rough out the scope of each before starting to write. And as I did that, I started thinking of related articles and blog posts I should write, seminars I should offer, and how to incorporate the information into a workshop that I was doing at the time. I ended up with my desk covered in notes, windows galore open on my computer, ideas exploding every few minutes, and way too many avenues to pursue.

At first, the energy was seductive: I was excited and everything was flowing, so I kept working on multiple ideas at once…

But then, everything shifted.I started feeling confused as to which idea belonged to which project, I lost sight of which project should take priority, and I couldn’t decide whether one idea was reinforcing another or simply repeating it. UGH. 

Have you ever felt like that when it comes to business development?
 Especially when first diving into rainmaking activity, some lawyers get neck-deep in activity without a cohesive plan that defines objectives, priorities, and strategy. And sometimes, even successful rainmakers can have so many ideas that it’s hard to know where to start… And so all those lovely ideas go to waste or, worse yet, get partially implemented without the necessary support to reach the goal.

When I realized that I was falling victim to idea frenzy, I stepped away from the desk to clear my head. When I came back, I cleared my desk and my screen, leaving only the text of one book and a gathering place for notes and ideas for other projects. That allowed me to focus, and I was able to make a substantial dent in writing. Better yet, I could see how each project fit into the overall picture, and I could assign priorities.

Do you ever get deep into business development activity and find yourself spinning? That’s a symptom of an unclear (or nonexistent) plan or attempting to implement all parts of a plan at once, without regard for priorities.But the fix is simple: stop, consult (or create) the plan, and then move forward deliberately. (Just don’t deliberate when action is needed.)

Start the New Year by Evaluating Your 2019 Results

I hope you took time over the last few weeks to think about how 2019 went for you and your practice, and especially about what you’d like to do differently in 2020. Change requires action, but unconsidered action relies too heavily on luck.  That’s why planning is a must.

Have you ever been so eager to get somewhere that you just jump into the car and strike out, thinking that you’ll get your bearing and figure out the directions as you travel? A few years ago, I was speaking in Knoxville, Tennessee.  My host drove with me from the hotel to the restaurant where I was speaking, and I was to drive back to my hotel alone. I wasn’t familiar with Knoxville, and it took me more than an hour to get back to my hotel — a trip that should have taken only 20 minutes.  I needed a “You Are Here” indicator, which prompted me to get a GPS unit soon afterward.

This same principle applies when it comes to business. If you don’t know where you are now, you’ll find it hard to take meaningful action.

Take these steps for a quick review: 

  1. Complete the Law Practice Profitability Audit.  This assessment will show you exactly where you’re succeeding and falling short in your business development efforts and how to move forward.
  2. What was your 2019 practice revenue?  How much did you bill, and how much did you collect?  (If a larger firm associate, how much time did you bill and how much time did a supervising partner write off?)
  3. How did you get those clients?  Specifically, what was most successful?  What was least successful?  (If a larger firm associate, consider assigning lawyers to be your internal clients.)
  4. What specifically do you do to serve your clients well?  What could you do better?  (For extra insight, ask your clients!)
  5. Who contributed to your success?  How have you acknowledged those people?
  6. What mistakes did you make, and how might you avoid them in the future?
  7. How did you invest in growing your practice?

While a full review will include additional questions, this short form will give you the foundational information you need to move forward in 2020. Don’t skip this step.