When I begin working with a new client, one question comes up more than any other: how should I focus my business development time? There’s no single answer to that question, of course, since each lawyer is in a unique position. But there’s one answer that I give more than any other, and it often comes as a surprise.
“All things being equal, people will do business
with and refer business to those people they know, like and trust.”
This quote, from Bob Burg’s excellent book Endless Referrals, sums up why it is that relationships serve as the basis for business development.
It also clarifies what your priorities should be when you’re looking to bring in new business: focus first on those who already know, like, and trust you, and then seek to expand those sources of business. That order of approach dictates, in turn, the priorities that you should set as you work to develop your book of business.
- Priority #1: Current clients. Your current clients are your “low hanging fruit.” Your top priority should be providing them excellent client service. Consider these aspects of client service:
- Communicate with your clients and observe their preferences for the amount and kind of communication that they want.
- Be responsive. Manage your clients’ expectations and ensure that your clients always know how to contact you or someone in your office.
- Share bad news appropriately. Deliver the news as soon as possible. Explain the news, what it means, and advise the client about next steps.
- Be reliable with cost estimates and billing.
- Facilitate your work with your clients. Anything you can do to make it easier for your clients to do business with you is likely to be well received by your clients.
- Spend time with your clients. Consider spending time with clients in a social setting or (where appropriate) by visiting their place of business to enhance your understanding of their business.
- Deliver extra value to your clients. By providing some assistance, promotion, or service to your client that is over and above the legal services you’ve agreed to provide, you demonstrate the importance you place on your client relationships generally and on that client specifically.
- Conduct client satisfaction interviews or surveys. Unless you ask, your clients are unlikely to volunteer their level of satisfaction unless they’re effusive in praise or dissatisfied to the point of considering terminating the relationship.
- Priority #2: Former Clients and Referral Sources. The second priority for business development efforts is former clients and referral sources. These contacts already know and, presumably, like and trust you.
- Priority #3: “Warm” Potential Clients and Referral Sources. If you have some connection to a potential client or a contact who might be in a likely position to refer business to you, consider these individuals to be “warm” contacts. They don’t yet know, like, or trust you, but if you’re introduced by someone with whom they have confidence, you’re more likely to be able to develop a relationship with greater speed than without such an introduction.
- Priority #4: Strangers. Converting complete strangers into clients is by far the most arduous form of business development activity. It’s necessary to determine the potential client’s needs and to match your abilities to those needs, assuming that those needs aren’t currently being met by another lawyer. Raising the level of difficulty yet further, the process of getting to be known, liked, and trusted begins at ground zero. While strangers do become clients, the path is typically longer and less direct than the path from warm contact to client. Wooing strangers should be the lowest priority task in business development activity because it has the lowest potential of yielding new business at any given time.
When you apply these priorities to your business development efforts, something surprising will happen. You’ll begin to view your billable work as a rainmaking activity as well as the heart of your practice. You’ll also begin to see relationships as the “must do” meat of your business development plan, and you’ll understand why you shouldn’t expect to move a new contact quickly from stranger to client. As a result, you’ll be able to stage the rainmaking work you do so that you put time in where it’s most effective. And over time, you’ll find that your business development work yields much better results.