How Do You Ask For Business?

How do you ask for business?  We all know intuitively (or through training) that those who don’t ask typically don’t get business.  However, many lawyers are leery to come out and ask for business explicitly, and rightly so.  Asking can disrupt a relationship if the answer is “no,” and, under some circumstances, asking can even be an ethical violation.  Even when those concerns are not in play, some lawyers may feel pushy if they ask for business.  And yet, the inner voice cautions, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
When working with clients, I offer many approaches to the “challenge of the ask.”  A few examples are:

  • Listen to your gut.  Very often, if you’re sensing that an explicit request for the business may be too pointed, you’re correct.  A more gentle approach (“I’d love to help you with that,” for example) may blunt the approach and yet get the message across.

  • Notice how often your gut tells you not to ask.  The flip side of the previous suggestion is that it can offer carte blanche to those who are disinclined to ask for business.  If you always feel that asking would be too pushy, it’s time to do some work on your comfort level.  What conditions would have to exist for you to feel comfortable in asking for business?

  • Look for the win/win.  Lawyers often use somewhat violent language for business development:  “eat what you kill” compensation systems, “killer instinct” in pursuing new work, and “bagging a client,” for instance.  Using that language casts the lawyer as the hunter and the potential client as the victim or the target.  Fortunately, few lawyers actually regard their potential clients in that way.  The fear of being perceived as a ruthless hunter, however, may prompt a lawyer to hold back in conversation.  Sometimes, it even prompts lawyers to ask for business in a way that implies that potential clients would be doing the lawyer a great favor when the truth is that a good representation offers benefits for both parties.  Look for that benefit and focus on it, and then weave it into your request.

  • Listen to the concerns and offer some feedback, leading naturally into an offer of further help.  If you take this approach, be sure that you don’t stray into giving legal advice without sufficient knowledge of the facts.  You can suggest potential avenues or approaches for consideration, though, and offer to help if your contact would like to explore them.

As these approaches suggest, asking for business requires both the right mindset and the right words or technique.  Think about your current “low hanging fruit,” or the potential clients most likely to retain you right now.  What approach would be most helpful for them, and what approach will open the possibility of working with you most effectively, without running a danger of damaging your relationship?

If you’re uncomfortable asking for business, you’re not alone. The upcoming Third Edition of The Reluctant Rainmaker:  A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling includes a full chapter on whether, how, and when to ask for business, plus how to handle objections you may receive, with an easy-to-follow step-by-step guide to developing the skills that will support your business development efforts. (Keep your eyes on this newsletter for an announcement of the new edition’s publication date.) If you’d like to move even faster with your rainmaking activity, please
 contact me to arrange a consultation.

What’s The Real Problem?

We all face challenges in the business of a law practice. We were taught in law school that we have to ask the right questions in practice to get the necessary answers for our clients. (Litigators, you especially know what I mean!) But somehow, we forget what that means for our own practices.

I recently spoke with a lawyer who was looking for help in landing new business, who told me that she needed to improve the way she asked for business. That’s hardly unusual, but I wanted to be sure that she was presenting the right problem, so I asked about her sales conversations. When we dug into it, I discovered that a very high percentage of prospective clients she met actually hired her. The diagnosis of her sales problem? None. She needed to have more sales conversations, not better ones.

Another client once told me that he just didn’t have time to get everything done. After checking into his daily activities, I realized that lots of little tasks were eating up his time and he wasn’t effectively using the resources at his disposal. His problem wasn’t a lack of time. His problem was a lack of focus on his top priorities and a need to delegate tasks that didn’t need his direct effort.

Sometimes seeing the right question is as simple as shifting from “why won’t those cheapskates pay my fees?” to “how can I make my fees more affordable and still deliver value?” Or it can be as murky as recognizing that the problem isn’t your elevator pitch but rather that you hate networking so much that you unintentionally send out signals that you want to be somewhere, anywhere else – or perhaps even that you would prefer to practice a different kind of law or to do something else altogether.

What challenges are you facing right now? What have you told yourself about those problems? What are you missing? What do you not really want to see about the challenge, or what solution do you not even want to consider? And, more specifically, who can help you see the truth of your challenges?

And if you’ve been trying to solve a problem, remember Einstein’s observation that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Just like it’s difficult to scratch your own back, it’s difficult to step outside a situation in which you’re intimately involved. It’s critical to have a trusted colleague, a mentor, or a coach (ideally, a full “board of directors”) who can help you to examine your challenges so you know you’re working to answer the right questions.

Need another head to look at the obstacles ahead of you? I offer a limited number of complimentary consultations each month and would be happy to discuss whether I can help. Email my team to arrange an appointment.  Email to:

How Do You Focus Your Biz Dev Tactics?

One of the best things about business development is also one of the worst: you have multiple strategies and tactics at your disposal to grow your practice. Sure, you can boil down all business development to just a few actions: get known for work in your area of practice, meet people who need your help or who know others who do, and communicate and, when and where and how appropriate, ask for business. But how do you get known? How do you determine who needs your help and who is in a position to refer others who do? And how do you get into the kind of conversation that might actually lead to business?

If you answer each of these how questions, you will likely find that you have numerous potential routes to follow. For example, if you do family law, you might market directly to the clients who might hire you by speaking at community gatherings, writing a column in a local blog or newspaper, having a recurring segment on the radio or a podcast, etc. Or you might market to family therapists by sponsoring and speaking at their conferences, by attending events that they attend and building relationships through networking, or by offering useful information that therapists might pass on to their clients. And the list goes on and on and on. You will almost always be able to identify several groups of people who could hire you or refer business to you plus plentiful avenues to reach those groups.

How do you choose what to pursue and what to put on the “maybe later” list? If you have data about what has worked well for you in the past, that’s likely the best guidance. (If you own The Reluctant Rainmaker, check Chapter 5 for a method of collecting that data.) But if you don’t have that data, it’s a tougher decision.

Many lawyers, natural overachievers that we tend to be, try to pursue all or most of those options, all at once, and end up diluting efforts with equally diluted results. And that tends to feed into the “I’m just not cut out to be a rainmaker” fear or the “I am too busy to do this stuff” resistance, both of which tend to lead to a drop-off in effort and a corresponding drop-off in results.

Instead of running into that wall, look critically at your options and ask these questions:

  • Where are your most natural opportunities? If you’re deciding whether to pursue clients in the aerospace or medical device industries, which most naturally matches your background? Which industry is easier to get into as an outsider? Where do you already have more contacts?
  • What offers the greatest continuity? As a general principle, if you’ve been successful in one area, you’d be wise to expand into related or similar areas rather than to do something completely different.
  • What sounds the most appealing to you? If you’d rather poke out your eyeballs than talk with accountants or if you know you don’t have the time or interest in following up with people you meet in connection with a speaking opportunity, those activities likely will not be productive for you, however good they may look on paper. Choose something that interests you, that you’re willing to pursue. You don’t have to love it, but you have to be open.
  • Where is your competition? Years ago, I looked into joining a biotech-related industry group that offered an associate membership for those outside the industry. As I read through the list of representative members, it was like a directory of firms that competed directly with mine. That isn’t an absolute “no,” but it prompted me to check out other opportunities and to find one with less direct competition.
  • What offers the greatest likelihood of moving into a network that might lead to other opportunities? At the bottom, people are your greatest resource for new business. Look for routes that will allow you to develop a network of people who might hire you or refer business to you, who might introduce you to other opportunities and other groups, and who might function as your champion in some way. The easier that development, the more likely you’ll succeed in the process.

While you’ll want to consider other questions, these five will help you to narrow down the available opportunities. Once you’ve sorted through them in this way, choose one or two and focus on those for a period of six months, then evaluate your results. Sticking to a limited focus for a period gives you the best opportunity to concentrate your efforts and give it your best shot. If you see signs that you’re going down a path that will not be profitable, you can always drawback, but don’t get pulled into wondering if the other strategy you thought of would be even better until you’ve given the one you’re focusing on a fair trial. After six months (or less if you see signs of disaster), evaluate your results and decide how to shift your approach.

How To Handle Objections

Nobody wants to hear “no” in response to a request for business. Of course, you won’t get every piece of business you seek, and knowing that negative feedback is part of the process may help you to prepare. However, you may find that rather than being told directly that you’re not getting the business, you’ll get a deferral, an objection, or dead silence.

Deferral or silence may feel preferable to an objection since an objection constitutes negative feedback and may feel like the end of the road. But here’s the truth: an objection means that you still have a chance of getting the work.

Why? Simple: an objection is another step in conversation. Sometimes it’s the final step in closing the door on a business opportunity, but sometimes it’s possible to meet and negate the objection. An objection means that the prospective client is sufficiently engaged to let you know what the block is between you and the work.  Silence and deferral, if more than transitory, generally indicate that the work is going elsewhere and the prospective client doesn’t see the value in having an uncomfortable discussion about why.

An objection might be something like “your projected fees are much higher than we were expecting” or “I just don’t think you have the experience we need for this.” When you receive an objective, your goal isn’t necessarily to overcome it but to understand it fully and to respond as well as you can. In essence, an objection (or a surface-level objection that you probe and clarify until you’ve reached the crux of the objection) is a window into your prospective client’s thinking process.

To gain insight into how to respond when you receive an objection, read 4 Steps to Overcoming Sales Objections, a quick tutorial in the stages of conversation that should follow an objection.  It’s a short, high-level description of the steps to follow, with the opportunity to download a white paper that goes further into How to Handle Sales Objections.

You’ll also find more on handling objections in the upcoming Third Edition of The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling. Can’t wait? I have two Consulting Condensed spots available for July. We’ll meet for two hours to discuss up to three aspects of your business development strategy, and you’ll walk away with targeted input and action items you can implement right away. Send an email to to set up a short conversation to see if Consulting Condensed is right for you.

When you’re confident that you know how to address objections you receive, you’ll be much more prepared for the fundamental tasks of discussing a prospective representation and asking for the business. If you aren’t confident in that, you have some work to do.