Obvious but ignored: rainmaking success requires action.

New behaviors, especially those that play out in public for others to see, can be difficult.  We lawyers especially, who tend to fall toward the perfectionist side of things, perceived a high risk in trying something new.  What if we fail?  What if we look stupid?  What if we really mess up?

Last Sunday, I took on a new role in my church.  Despite having observed others perform this role, I was really nervous: I’d be in front of the whole congregation, taking on a highly visible part of the service.   In preparation, I read the handbook for performing this role, searched online for other guidance, drafted and revised the words I’d say, and mentally walked through every part I’d play in the service over and over.

I noticed three things about my preparation: 

  1. I could envision failure more easily than success.   I imagined tripping and falling on the altar stairs.  I imagined dropping the microphone and books and trays.  And I even came up with my response should those things happen: flash a winsome smile, chuckle, and say “Well, at least I got THAT over.”
  2. I spent more time preparing than I did acting.  I invested close to three hours reading and working on the comments I’d make.  I even typed out the comments and then copied them by hand onto an index card!  And all told, I probably spent 15 minutes performing my role.
  3. While the preparation I did by myself was helpful, I got the most benefit from the few minutes I spent talking with others who could tell me what to do.  The handbook, while helpful, included some directions that we didn’t use, and certain steps weren’t clear to me.  So I grabbed someone who’s served in this role for more than ten years and asked for help—and she straightened me out right away.

The other thing I noticed is that I hear these same observations from my clients when they’re talking about business development.  Reluctant rainmakers (those who would really prefer to build a book of business just by being a good lawyer, not engaging in specific business development activity) are especially inclined to spend as much time in gearing up for activity as doing it, and much of that time may be spent in fruitless worry.  We typically don’t call it that, of course: we may call it planning or brainstorming or waiting until the time is right.

The antidote to this paralysis by analysis is action.  Action is the only antidote.  In my church analogy, I started to feel more competent in my anticipated role when I talked with someone who could answer my questions, not when I read books or visualized my part in the service.  And having performed that role once, even though I didn’t do things as well as I would have liked, I know what it feels like, where my specific challenges are, and what I need to do to improve.

With business development tasks, action may feel high-risk because of the possible consequences if it goes wrong.  The truth, however, is that (barring exceptional circumstances) a misstep can usually be corrected, and in most cases, a small amount of preparation will avert disaster.  In other words, don’t go into a meeting cold, don’t attend an organization’s meeting without knowing what the group is about and who’s in leadership, and don’t call an important contact without having some sort of plan.

Most of us hold back too long on rainmaker activity; few rush in without forethought.

Here’s the take-home

Where are you stalling in your business development plan?

  • If you’re stuck in planning where to start, get outside help from a mentor, a colleague, or a marketing professional.  It can be difficult to begin with the 30,000-foot view that is an overall strategy, and outside help can be instrumental.
  • If you’ve been putting off an activity because the time isn’t right, ask what will make for a “right time.”  Sometimes the delay is legitimate.  If you can’t pick out specific circumstances that you’re waiting for, you’re probably just delaying.  Examples of appropriate delay include waiting for a contact to return from vacation before you make a call or waiting until there’s a vote on specific legislation before releasing a white paper about how to respond to the new rules.  Fruitless delay occurs, for example, when you’re waiting to get “more information” without being clear on what information you need or how to get it.
  • If you’ve been delaying an activity because you don’t know how it will play out, ask what you can afford to lose rather than what you might gain.  Good planning can’t remove all risk.  If you’re considering an action that might blow a relationship, you’re right to be cautious.  If you’re holding off on getting your profile up on LinkedIn because you’re not sure how best to describe your practice and experience, you have almost nothing to lose.  (For a review on this, see Little Bets by Peter Sims, and my review of the book.)
  • If you’re waiting for your schedule to free up, act immediately.  One of the most challenging aspects of business development is doing the work even when you’re busy with client work.  Failing to do that, however, risks getting into the feast/famine cycle.  Almost worse, for mid-level and senior associates and service partners, you run the risk of believing that everything is going ok with your career, when the truth is that today’s economy demands that every private practice lawyer must at least contribute to business development.

Action is required for business development success.  We’re still early in 2020: get your year in gear by acting today.

Creating and Harnessing Momentum in Business Development

When an attorney is focused on business development and is implementing consistently a strategic plan designed to reach clearly identified goals, magic happens.  Often it’s magic that brings in new business, and for practices with longer sales cycles, it’s magic that first brings in connections and opportunities that eventually lead to new business.  The magic that always exists in the presence of consistent activity, though, is momentum.

Momentum is defined by the Macmillan Dictionary as “progress or development that is becoming faster or stronger,” and Merriam Webster adds that momentum is “strength or force gained by motion or by a series of events.”  Momentum is a force that seems to take on a life of its own.  In business development, momentum occurs when opportunities begin to flow from one another, introductions materialize, and all of the work that you’ve done yields a noticeable uptick in rainmaker results.

I’ve identified several steps to create momentum in business development.

  1. Develop a plan that includes activity in several complementary domains.  In other words, when you identify one activity to include in your plan, look for related activities that naturally build on that one.  For example, if you plan to write articles or a blog, look for ways to repurpose that content, perhaps by launching a newsletter (which is a good complement to a blog) or by speaking once or twice a year on themes that you’ve identified through your writing.
  2. As soon as you’ve decided to commit to an activity, put it on your calendar.  Momentum requires action, not just plans.  It’s easy to “decide” to have two lunches a week with good contacts and then to “decide” to start next week.  Or the week after.  Or the week after that… You know, when things slow down enough for you to catch your breath.

    If a commitment isn’t in your calendar, question whether it’s really a commitment.

  3. Take consistent, concentrated action.  One push may be all it takes to roll a perfect boulder down a perfect hill, but business development doesn’t exist in a perfect world.  Committing to an activity requires committing to consistent engagement.  One lunch isn’t momentum.  Five lunches might start to create momentum.  Twelve lunches in a month may be enough to get some momentum going: not only will you know that you’ll have lunch with strategically selected contacts three times a week, but you’ll be in the habit of mentally sorting your contacts to select the right lunch partners, identifying why you should meet, and planning what you’d like to realize from the lunch.  You’ll also likely get into the groove of offering and asking for assistance.

    Concentrated action is usually required to create momentum.  Taking action once a month is consistent, but unless the action is massive (such as hosting a seminar and then implementing a follow-up strategy that requires additional action) you’re unlikely to see momentum build.  In today’s world, our attention spans are shorter, and momentum both thrives on and creates attention.  Make business development your top priority for a set amount of time (the length of which will depend on your specific plan and practice) and that concentration may create the right content for momentum to blossom.

  4. Measure your results.  Tracking results quantifies outcomes (even when the only measurement is qualitative, as it often is especially in the beginning stages of business development) and helps to create momentum.  When you see that doing X leads to positive outcome Y, you’re more likely to repeat X.  Measurement also helps to avoid fruitless activity.
  5. Once a quarter, review your activity and results, looking specifically for synergy and complementary opportunities.  For example, if you’ve received several referrals from CPAs, perhaps you should consider how to spend more time with selected CPAs.  If you’ve sponsored a meeting, review the results of the sponsorship and your planned follow-up steps, then think about how you might build on that activity—for example, you might invite attendees to hear you speak on a topic of interest.

We all feel momentum when it happens: the phone starts ringing, one great idea generates another (and both get implemented), and you discover that your network of contacts really is a network that you can access.  Calculated steps can create momentum, but you must also prepare yourself to recognize it and to analyze what specifically created it.  When you’ve identified that what, make sure you build more of that into your plans.

A caveat about momentum, though: when it comes to business development, think of momentum as an accelerator, not as a continuous motion machine.  Remember that we commonly talk about losing momentum at least as often as we discuss gaining it.  Momentum leads to strong results, but it is not an independent force that will continue in perpetuity.

The key to creating momentum is also the key to keeping it going: consistent action. 

Do you have momentum in business development?  What would it take?  If you’re uncertain, a good place to start is by evaluating what activity has delivered the best results over the last six months and then asking yourself how you might create momentum around that activity.

Identify your Unique Service Proposition

Clients, especially those who are not legally sophisticated, often see lawyers as fungible… At least until they come to know, like, and trust a particular lawyer.

If you are simply one of a pool of fungible practitioners, you will be forced to rely on non-legal factors such as fee or fee structure, location, and sheer chance to stand out. To see how this problem manifests, look at a page of attorney listings in the Yellow Pages. (If you no longer retain copies of the Yellow Pages, visit yellowpages.com and search for divorce or business attorneys in your local area.) What draws your eye—positive or negative?

Fortunately, you are not one fungible lawyer in a pool of thousands.  You bring some experience, skill, characteristic, perspective, procedure, or service to the table. What sets you apart from other lawyers in your practice area?    For example, if you are a divorce lawyer, perhaps you speak a foreign language or your practice focuses on collaborative law.  If you are a business lawyer, maybe you worked as a CPA before practicing law.  If you are a patent attorney, perhaps you hold a Ph.D. in some area of science or engineering. These attributes may benefit your clients, and they therefore serve to differentiate you from other lawyers.

When you have identified these points of distinction, you can build your marketing around them. Not every client will respond to every distinguishing factor, of course, but identifying factors that speak to your ideal clients allows you to market persuasively.

Action Step: List at least three attributes that distinguish you from other lawyers and benefit your clients. If you are uncertain what these attributes may be, ask your clients and colleagues. Create a value statement to identify how each point of distinction benefits your clients.  Then incorporate these distinctions and benefits into your marketing.

How Effective is Your Website?

Recently, I’ve searched several times for a lawyer (or other client service provider) only to discover that he or she doesn’t have a website, or that it’s woefully out of date.  In the past, websites were expensive to create and difficult to maintain, so web developers tended to charge quite a lot for their work.  Indeed, many would hold the websites hostage so that only they could make updates and changes.  No more!

The bottom line is that you must have an up-to-date website.  In today’s market, the failure to do so sends the message that you aren’t in step with today’s economy or even our modern culture.  Period.

Your website must connect with your potential clients and address their needs and questions.  For years, websites functioned as pretty (or not) online brochures.  No more.

Your website must let potential clients know that you understand their needs.  Programmers created a word I love: grok.  To “grok” (as best I, a non-programmer get it) means to understand on a deep, almost visceral level.  Your website needs to let your clients know you grok them and their concerns.

The first way to communicate deep understanding is to use website copy that talks to your clients about their concerns, not at them about your experience.  Which approach do you find more persuasive and helpful when you’re searching for something online you need?

Far too many websites open with something like, “Here at Black & White, our lawyers have 500 years’ experience in handling real estate, intellectual property, and personal injury matters.”  A potential client needs to know that you understand something about their concerns before they care about your experience or credentials.  Start where your clients are.

Two effective ways to communicate with potential clients via a website: describe client concerns using declarative sentences, or ask “pull” questions.  “Pull” marketing is marketing that is intended to prompt someone to self-identify as your potential client or to repel them if they don’t meet your client profile.  The purpose of these two formats is identical, and both can be effective.

As you’re drafting your website copy, pay attention to the number of times words like “you” and “your” are used compared to the frequency of “I,” “we,” “mine,” or “our.”  You should have many more “you” and “our” words than “I,” “we,” “mine,” or “our.”  Otherwise, you’re most likely talking at your readers, not to them.

What if you’re in a big firm and you have no control over your website?  If you’re in management, this is an issue you should examine.  If not, recognize that the website is unlikely to change based on the input from a single lawyer — whether associate or partner — and figure out how to make your biographical sketch more attractive to a potential client.

What should your website feature?

  • A home page that talks to your potential clients.
  • Biographical sketches of each key players, focused on appropriately detailed descriptions of the individual’s experience that will show a potential client the match between that experience and the matter he or she is considering.  The sketch should also include experience and credentials that serve as objective indicia of your competence.
  • If the firm is small, shorter sketches of the firm personnel that a client is likely to meet, especially those who are likely to be the client’s first or frequent contact points.
  • Articles written by or about the firm’s key personnel.
  • Presentations made by the firm’s key personnel.
  • Links to blogs maintained by the firm or its staff.
  • A subscription form for the firm’s newsletter, with a description that lets subscribers know what they’ll be receiving and an offer that will encourage subscriptions.
  • Directions to the firm’s office(s), including narratives for the most common approaches and a map.
  • Full contact information.
  • Appropriate language to comply with your state’s ethics rules.

Review your website today through fresh eyes.  Ask someone who’s never read it to take a look.  And then develop a time-based plan to ensure that you fix what’s broken.  If you don’t have control of your website (meaning that you or a staff member can update the website on a moment’s notice), you need to correct that immediately.  (Large firm lawyers are, of course, excepted from that rule.)

If you don’t have a website, or if your website is out of date and you need to start from scratch, drop me an email and I can make some cost-sensitive suggestions.