Not Seeing Desired BD 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 you 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.
  2. Are you actually using your plan? If you created a plan and then put in on the shelf (literally or metaphorically), you’re unlikely to see great results. 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. Has a storm disrupted your ability to execute on your plan? Imagine that your plan relies on face-to-face networking and your city goes on lockdown for months due to a pandemic. Imagine that there’s a major change to your area of practice—such as a repeal of the estate tax—that fundamentally changes what clients need from you. Or imagine that you need to care for aging parents or a chronically ill child, reducing the time you have available for business development. What do you do in the face of such storms? You can wait for things to “go back to normal” (if they ever do), or you can take a fresh look at your strategy and select new tactics to continue building your book of business despite the storm. (Want to know more? Join me on September 14 for the complimentary webinar Business Development for a Profitable Practice: Build a Bespoke Strategy to Weather Any Storm.)
  4. 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.
  5. What do you believe about business development that isn’t accurate? Several years ago, I realized 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 aspect of business development, from the need for rainmaking activity to the professionalism and ethics of such activity. I’ve addressed a number of these myths in Legal Rainmaking Myths: What You Think You Know About Business Development Could Kill Your Practice.
  6. 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 your own 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); or
    • 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.

If you’d like help in spotting what’s keeping you from getting the business development results you want, perhaps we should talk. I have three Consulting Condensed sessions available for September. 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. Contact my team to set up a short conversation to see if a Consulting Condensed session is right for you.

Habits Will Carry You Further, Faster.

So you want to grow your practice… What’s your focus? You could answer that question with many different right answers—as long as your answer is derived from and driven by your written business development strategy. (If you don’t have that, any action you take might work well or it might not.)
No matter what focus you selected, there’s one step you can take that will undoubtedly help you to move forward: Create strong habits. I loved this observation by Octavia Butler: Habit is persistence in practice.
Read this article to see why your habits are so critically important, no matter what your ultimate objective might be. The short version? Well-crafted habits become automatic and can move your further, faster than goals alone.
What habits would serve you? Consider contacting one potential client, referral sources, or someone in your network of allies daily. Or maybe you could write a 500-word client alert, newsletter, or blog post daily or each Monday. Or you might devote five minutes a day to LinkedIn activity. The range of options is limitless, as is the potential benefit.
Choose one habit to develop. Start today. See where it gets you in a month, six months, a year. If you choose well, you’ll be amazed at your own progress.

End-Of-Summer Reading Recommendation

I strongly believe that some of the best ideas for business and marketing come from outside the legal profession. If you aren’t making time to read more general business books, you’re missing a terrific opportunity. While not everything you read will be directly applicable to the law, you’ll find that smart ideas that aren’t directly applicable will prompt you to think about how you might adapt them.

Customer and client loyalty is a top concern in any business. Apple has unlocked the secret to developing not just loyalty but raving fans, and there’s much we can learn. The book The Apple Experience: Secrets to Building Insanely Great Customer Loyalty, by Carmine Gallo 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. It’s a great thought generator as you move into the fall and perhaps revisit your business development approach to evaluate your 2021 results and plan for 2022.

“Me too” Marketing?

“Me too” marketing refers to virtually indistinguishable marketing messages and offers for products or services from multiple providers. Unless you see a name or logo associated with the marketing, you’d have a tough time knowing which provider issued “ me too” marketing because it all sounds alike.

Attorneys often fall into “me too” marketing for some good reasons: tight ethics rules, wanting to appear professional, and budgeting. Ethics rules may be interpreted to prohibit (or may actually prohibit) anything out of the norm when it comes to marketing by lawyers, and concerns about appearing professional may have exactly the same effect. And budgeting, especially but not exclusively for smaller firms, often leads to a website that’s simply a “customized” template that looks like all the other “customized” templates out there with an equally indistinguishable copy.

Take a look at your own website, your biographical sketch, or a recent blog post or article you’ve written: does it sounds like what everybody else says? If it does, you’ve fallen into “me too” marketing. (Here’s an easy test: does your website or bio-sketch describe you/your firm as experienced? Client-centric or client-focused? Providers of high-quality work? Collaborative? Innovative? While you and/or your firm may be just that, saying so isn’t proof… Especially when everybody else says exactly the same thing.)

So how can you break out of “me too” marketing? Try these ideas.

  1. Make it about your potential client. Marketing is designed to introduce you to a potential client, but if it’s focused too much on you (how experienced, client-focused, and collaborative you are in providing high-quality work, for example) it’s boring, duplicative of others, and not persuasive.

    Start with your potential client’s perspective. What is that person thinking about when they come to your website, read your article, or talk with you? Chances are that they’re wondering if you can solve whatever problem has prompted them to find you. Start there.

    Let your potential client know you understand the issues she’s facing. This is the place to demonstrate knowledge, not just say you’ve got it. If you’re in person, ask questions. If not, use stories to illustrate that you understand. Then you can extend those stories to discuss your experience in solving the problems.

  2. Use your potential client’s language. If he discusses his problem using legal terminology, you should too. But you won’t gain any points for discussing “constructive eviction” if your client is concerned that he’s about to be involved in litigation because a tenant is claiming that conditions make it impossible to live or work in the potential client’s rental property.
  3. Figure out what makes you different and highlight that. And know it’s ok that some potential clients will be turned off. Good marketing offers a quick “is this for me?” test. If it’s designed to appeal to everyone, it won’t connect deeply with anyone.

    Points of distinction must matter to your clients and potential clients; otherwise, it’s just a distraction.  And, of course, knowing what matters to your clients and potential clients takes you right back to point #1.

It takes some courage to escape “me too” marketing. By definition, when you break free from looking like everybody else, you stand out, which can be a bit unnerving. If you give it a try, though, you’ll discover that standing out in ways that are appealing to your ideal clientele will benefit your practice.