I did the work… Now what?

You’ve put in your dues.  You’ve worked hard to become the accomplished professional you are now, and you have all manner of credentials that demonstrate your expertise.  You’ve worked with (and probably even held leadership roles with) a variety of organizations, you’ve written articles and book chapters, and you may even have served a turn teaching.

How can you leverage all of that activity to build relationships so you can bring in more business?  The answers to that question are as varied as the number of people who might ask.  The four ideas I share here will form the springboard for what you decide to do.

  1. Be sure you have all of that activity listed in your biographical sketch. I’m always surprised when a new client tells me about past activity that I can’t find anywhere in his or her sketch.  You did the work, so be sure you get credit for it.

    What’s more, listing the work you’ve done will help to build a bridge with contacts who review your sketch.  How so?  Your activity shows your involvement with various groups, and if you and a new contact have both taught at your local community college or law school, you’ll have a connection that can form the basis of conversation.  You can get relationships off to a firm footing by having a well-rounded bio sketch.

  2. Reach out to the people you’ve met while doing your credential-building activity. Most often, you’ll  build working relationships while building your credentials, and it’s up to you to take the next step and to move those relationships outside of their initial context.  So, let’s say you’ve been working on a project with a committee of colleagues who may serve as referral sources.  Reach out to those people, let them know how much you enjoyed getting to know them in the committee, and invite them to coffee or lunch (or, if you aren’t local, a scheduled telephone conversation) to talk about your mutual professional interests.  They already know you, and if you’ve done your work well, they probably like and trust you.  Build on that.

    (What?  The others with whom you’ve been working are in your field and aren’t good referral sources?  Get thee into a new group, where your professional strengths compliment, not duplicate, the strengths of others.  Get started today.  And remember this going forward: it isn’t business development activity if you’re marketing to people who do exactly the same thing you do.)

  3. Leverage your credential-building activity by bringing it to contacts who don’t know about it. So, let’s say you wrote an article that was published recently.  Send it to your clients, your former clients, your referral sources, and your warm contacts who will find it interesting.  Nothing fancy, here: just a copy with a quick note, perhaps offering to chat if the article raises a topic they’ve been concerned or thinking about.

    Sending your article out offers the personal touch, can lead to a further conversation, and shows that you have in mind the people to whom you send it.  And that’s ideal for relationship-building: by showing that they’re at the top of your mind and sharing something useful, you bring yourself to the top of their mind.  (Worried they already received the article through its original publication?  Don’t be.  You’re offering the personal touch, and even if it’s a duplicate, they’re likely to appreciate your effort.)

    You can also use what you’ve created to build relationships with new contacts, and to invite them to receive your useful article and your newsletter.  (You don’t have a newsletter or some other mechanism for providing regular, substantive contact? We need to talk. Click here to schedule a 30 minute complimentary call. )

  4. Take the expertise you’ve developed to a new forum. Once you’ve written or spoken on a topic for one group, look for ways to expand your reach.  Take your presentation to a business networking group, to a specialty association, or to a different educational organization.

    More importantly, for the purposes of this discussion, broaden your exposure in a strategic way with a focus on relationship-building.  If you speak, consider whether you (or your firm or business) might sponsor a reception following your presentation.  Assuming the timing is right, people typically enjoy a meet’n’greet with a featured speaker, and you’ll have opportunities to follow up with the people you meet.

So, what can you do to leverage your credential-building activity for relationship-building purposes?  The basic point here is to think about how you can bring the credentials you worked so hard to acquire to people who can benefit from your expertise and to use the products of that activity to build relationships.  (And, incidentally, this conversation should illuminate for any doubters why the minimum professional credentials won’t cut it.)

Is this all you need to do to build relationships?  No, absolutely not.  The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling offers many relationship-building suggestions for lawyers. But these steps are a beginning point for leveraging your past work for relationship benefits.

4 Steps to Growing Your Leadership Presence

When you talk, you want others to listen, right?  Whether it’s a now-or-never event (making a key point in an oral argument, for instance) or one in a long stream of communications (talking with a colleague about some aspect of a representation), getting your point across and making some sort of advance in what you’re doing is probably at the top of your list every time you open your mouth.

How you present yourself, how you communicate, how you listen, how you connect, and how you respond to feedback you receive creates leadership presence.  Think about stage presence, that indefinable something that makes magic as soon as an actor steps onto a stage.  Leadership presence is the business version of stage presence.

Leadership presence can be cultivated.  Belle Linda Halpern and Kathe Lubar of The Ariel Group wrote a book titled Leadership Presence, in which they outline the PRES model.  To develop your own presence, consider these aspects:

P – Being Present.  Being “present” means being fully focused on what’s going on in the time and space you’re occupying, so that you’re able to respond to whatever happens, however unexpected it may be.

R – Reaching Out.   Leaders must listen to others and build authentic relationships.  Emotional intelligence plays a significant role in reaching out to others in a genuine and effective way.

E – Expressiveness.  Use your words, your body language, and the tone and rate of your speech to express your message, and ensure that each of these routes for communication is congruent with the others.  We’ve probably all seen someone who shakes his head in a “no” gesture while saying, “What a great idea,” or a manager who stands in front of a group to announce an “exciting new initiative with lots of opportunities for us to do well,” while her body is slumped and her voice is halting and quiet.  Harness the power of communication and express your message clearly.

S – Self-knowing.  Effective leaders tend to be self-aware, authentic regardless of situation or circumstance, and guided by core values and priorities.  Bill George uses the analogy of True North in his book of the same title.  A leader who knows her True North and acts accordingly will exhibit a stronger presence than one who shifts based on context.

Practice using “PRES” when you speak over the next few days or weeks.  Notice how you feel and how others respond to you.  Notice where you feel comfortable and where perhaps you need additional practice.  And notice, most importantly, the effect your presence has on your leadership.

Do you have the right rainmaking mix?

Before engaging in any rainmaking activity, you must determine the investment to payoff ratio.  Simply put, what results will your investment of time and energy buy you?  Is there another activity that likely has a better yield?  Your goal is to determine whether a given activity is likely to move you closer to your rainmaking goals in proportion to its expense in time, energy, and money, recognizing that your estimate is only an estimate.

Although each business development plan is unique, the most successful plans tend to have a distribution of high, medium, and low investment/result ratios.  High-yield activities tend to indicate low-hanging fruit, meaning opportunities that will likely result in new business reasonably certainly and reasonably quickly.  Medium-yield activities are more uncertain and take longer to show good results, and low-yield activities tend to be experimental or subject to removal from your list.

Some general guidelines are useful here:

  • Activities with clients are the most valuable activities you can do. The more you can do to develop a client relationship, the more likely you are to retain that client’s business and to receive more business and referrals from that client.
  • Activities with “warm contacts” (those with whom you already have some relationship) have a higher yield than activities with strangers. Developing relationships with others and enhancing the “know, like, and trust” factors is almost always more valuable than one-time meetings with complete strangers.
  • Writing and speaking tend to be time-intensive activities with low immediate payoff. If you are looking to generate business quickly, writing and speaking rank as a low-yield activity.  If, however, your goal is to enhance your credentials, writing and speaking can be high-yield activities.
  • One-to-one activity generally has a higher value yield than one-to-many. . .
  • But group participation is more valuable if you hold a leadership position. If you hold a leadership role in an organization, you will become known to more people more quickly than you will if you meet other one-on-one.
  • Sometimes an activity’s value cannot be measured in purely financial terms. For example, a client may request that you speak at a conference, and doing so would be a favor to that client.  While you are unlikely to see any financial value directly traced to delivering the favor and the presentation, the client’s gratitude may be equally valuable.

Look at your business development plan and begin making an estimate of the investment/result value of each activity that you have planned to incorporate.  If you’re not certain how to estimate that value, no worries.  The Reluctant Rainmaker includes a chapter that will teach you how to track your activities so you can make an estimate of the dollar-value of each hour you spend.

To my U.S. readers, I wish you a safe and happy 4th of July celebration with friends and family!

Top 10 Tips to Overcome Overwhelm

Overwhelm can tank a day faster than just about anything else.  When you have more email than you can handle, an out-of-control task list, and phone calls that just won’t stop, it’s almost impossible to operate effectively.  Even if you manage to limp along, you may find that you’re distracted and that things are falling through the cracks.  Over the years, I’ve honed in on a variety of methods to beat overwhelm, and these are the top 10, based on my own experience and client feedback:

  1. Move.  Overwhelm tends to cause paralysis, and the fastest fix is a quick burst of activity.  Walk around the block or your office floor, dance for 30 seconds (close the door!), or do 10 jumping jacks.  Get your blood pumping.
  2. Lift your mood.  Overwhelm brings a heavy energy.  Use music, fresh flowers, aromas, or whatever works for you to get a lift.  I keep a bottle of orange essential oil at my desk because I find that a drop of two perks me up almost instantly.
  3. Focus intently for a short time.  After my computer a telephone, my most-used piece of office equipment is a digital timer.  When I feel stuck, I’ll set the timer for 45 minutes and power through that time, knowing that I can take a break as soon as the timer beeps.  I also compete against myself using the timer to see how quickly I can sort through papers or complete other dreaded tasks.  The timer gets me going, and I usually keep going (thanks to momentum) after it sounds.  Here’s the one I use.
  4. Clean it up.  Clutter reduces productivity and creates overwhelm.  If your desk is messy, set aside 15 minutes to clear it off, even if that means stacking papers and moving them to the floor.  If your email in-box is so full that you feel anxious when you open it, set aside an hour to tame it.  (Don’t know how to accomplish that in an hour?  Help is coming soon.)
  5. Call in the reinforcements.  Find the right help for the source of your overwhelm.  Perhaps your assistant can help your clear your desk, or a colleague may be able to give you feedback to help cut through mental clutter.  When you feel overwhelmed, it’s hard to see outside the bubble of stress.  Get some help.
  6. Dump it.  One common source of overwhelm is the mental task list.  When you’re juggling “must do” items in your head, fighting to remember all of them, you’re pulling energy away from productive activity to simple memory maintenance.  Do a brain dump and get the tasks on paper and free up your mind for more useful work.
  7. Get out of the office and do something else.  Admittedly, you can’t always implement this tip, but it can be very effective.  Have you ever noticed how often brilliant ideas strike while you’re in the shower, running, walking the dog, or doing other activities unrelated to work?  When the body is working and the mind is free to wander, creativity flourishes.
  8. Access a different part of your brain.  One litigator I know uses art to focus himself before trial.  Art allows him to pull back from the logical, analytical side of his brain and bring forward the emotional and creative parts.  What can you do to bring balance?
  9. Mind map.  If you’re searching for an elusive link between facts or trying to form a creative argument, try using a mind map.  Get a clean piece of paper, draw a circle in the middle of the page and label it with the problem or circumstance you’re contemplating.  Think about related subjects, actions you could take, and people who might be helpful in addressing the issue, and draw lines and branches to represent the ideas that come up.  If you’re really stuck, you may find a mind map more useful than an ordinary list.  Click here for a video on this technique.
  10. If you’ve tried several of these approaches unsuccessfully, you may be exhausted.  Think of your energy as a pitcher of water.  If you pour and pour and pour without replenishment, the pitcher will empty and nothing you try (except adding more water) will allow it to pour more.  If a quick break or quick spurt of energy doesn’t refresh you, your pitcher may be dangerously close to empty.  Identifying that spot and taking action is a critical professional competency.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed in your practice and uncertain about how to turn things around, perhaps we should talk.  Whether you’re trapped in the day-to-day minutiae of a subprime practice management approach or looking to improve your practice as a whole, click here to arrange your complimentary 30-minute consultation.

Is It Too Late?

I gave a 1-hour presentation about rainmaking in the Chicago office of a large law firm, and following the presentation, a lawyer approached with a question: Is it ever too late to rebuild professional relationships that have languished?

The short answer is that it depends on the relationship.  The deeper the relationship, the more likely it can be resurrected.  If, however, you meet once and fail to follow up, or if you follow up only once or twice, the relationship will lack the firm footing necessary to allow it to flourish following a period of silence.  That said, it never hurts to try to rebuild a relationship, particularly if your sole reason for reconnecting is to re-establish communication and not to seek a favor.

So, what can you do to rebuild a connection that has faded?  The simplest, and often the most effective, approach is to do precisely what you would do with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time: pick up the phone and say, “I realized it’s been a while since we’ve spoken, and you’ve been on my mind.  Is this a good time to talk for a few minutes? How are things with you?  What’s new?”  If several months have passed since you were in touch with this contact, you may even begin the conversation by re-introducing yourself.  (This is where my recommendation to maintain a database of contacts proves especially helpful: you don’t have to try to remember when and where you met.)  You may experience a few awkward moments as your contact gets back into the connection, but most people will pick up relatively quickly.

If, like many lawyers, you’d rather do nine hours of painstaking document review without a coffee break than pick up with phone, you do have other options.  For example, you might consider the following:

  • Send an email to reconnect.  You might suggest talking by telephone and either arrange a time or let your contact know you’ll be calling.  While you’ll still have to pick up the phone, you’ve created an expectation that you will call, and chances are good that you’ll avoid an awkward beginning.  If you suggest that you’ll call, though, you absolutely must do so – or run the risk of looking like a flake.
  • Send an article or other resource that will interest your contact.  The resource may address a legal or non-legal issue, but it must be tied in some way to a conversation you’ve had with the contact.  Attach a note that says, “I remember talking with you about [topic of resource] at [wherever you had the conversation] and thought of you when I saw this [resource].  Hope it’s useful!”  By doing so, you not only reconnect by offering assistance, but you do so in a way that will bring your conversation back to your contact’s mind and refresh the relationship.
  • Issue an invitation.  You might invite your contact to an open house or to attend a CLE or other seminar of interest with you.  Be sure to attach a note, if you deliver an invitation by mail or email, saying that you look forward to reconnecting; this personal touch will indicate to your contact that your interest is genuine.
  • Seek out news about your contact.  This may be a more challenging approach if you’re seeking to reconnect than to maintain a relationship, but it’s worth a quick search to see whether your contact has been in the news recently.  You may find news of a professional event (an honor awarded, a trial won, a leadership position attained) or a personal event (a new marriage, a new baby, a recreational or community activity).  Such news offers an ideal reason to get in touch again.

Take a few minutes this week to review your list of contacts.  With whom should you reconnect?  Choose three to five people and reach out to them.  Building and maintaining your network is always a valuable activity, and keeping relationships alive will often pay off (often in unexpected ways) over time.

Profitable Networking

Having a robust and well-tended network of contacts is a professional necessity. Whether you’re looking to grow your practice, to find a new position, to join a club (literally, or a “club” of highly-regarded writers, speakers, etc.), or just about anything else, you may find that your success depends on knowing people who can facilitate the process of helping you get what you want.
 
Having a strong network requires, of course, the act of networking. But networking is somewhat unappealing to many peoplenot least because if not done well, it’s nothing but a massive waste of time.
What’s a would-be networker to do?

Start by reading this Q&A recently published in the Washington Post. Although it’s directed to an established attorney who’s fielding networking requests from people who seem to want something, it by implication carries good points for the person making contact with someone he or she would like to get to know.

Need more pointers? The Reluctant Rainmaker includes a chapter on networking, you can find more suggestions on the Fleming Strategic blog, or if you’d like to design a strategic networking plan and hone your skill, schedule a complimentary consultation with me here.

Beyond Strengths and Weaknesses

Last week I spoke with a client who was struggling with his business development activity.  Nate (as usual, the name and identifying details have been changed to protect his privacy) had experienced great success in converting acquaintances who heard him talk about the kind of matters he handles into clients, and he decided that if speaking casually to small groups works well, speaking formally to large groups would deliver even better results.

As it turns out, though Nate is a spellbinding speaker in small, informal groups, something happens when he steps onto a stage.  Nate transforms from an assured, confident, knowledgeable lawyer who can chat at length about his clients’ legal issues and possible solutions into a stiff academician who says “therefore” and “whereof” entirely too much.  He becomes (I hate to say it, but I’ve seen it firsthand) dull.  When he speaks to large groups, nothing good comes of it.  The audience gets restless, and no one calls Nate for help afterward.

This isn’t news to Nate.  I gently broached the subject after I saw him speak, and before I got very far, he beat me to the punch – sort of: “I know, I know, I was a terrible speaker last time.  But I’ve figured it out, and the crowd next week is a new group of people, and this time, I’m going to impress them!”  Nate recognizes that speaking to large groups is not his strength, and yet he continues to use that approach, thinking each time that he’ll finally nail the presentation.

The problem is that we tend to talk about strengths and weaknesses as if a weakness is just an undeveloped strength.  Not so.  Sometimes, a weakness is an inability, pure and simple, that can be corrected only by bringing in assistance from another resource.  Here’s what I explained to Nate (with thanks to Don Blohowiak, a coaching colleague who shared this useful framework):

Potential refers to your native capabilities than can be (but have not yet been) developed.

Strengths refer to the capabilities that you execute competently to masterfully.

Limitations refer to the capabilities that you have in short supply.  Some limitations can be developed, and others will require replacement from another source.

Absences refer to the capabilities that you simply don’t have.  There is no shame in lacking capabilities.  No one has all of the capabilities possible.  Instead, the task is to find someone whose capabilities are complementary to your absences.  (If, for instance, you are leading a client service team and complex accounting is an important part of the matter, if you lack masterful accounting skills, you must find someone who can bring that competency to the team.)

Weaknesses refer to the capabilities that you pretend to have but cannot actually execute.

Using this model, Nate’s speaking to a large audience is a weakness (as he recognized) but because he pretended that he could correct it, the weakness could not be eliminated.  Nate was failing at business development because he was leading from a weakness and pretending it was a strength.

Review your business development plan, your professional development plan, your career strategy plan – any plan at all that reflects your goals – and ask these questions:

  • What are my strengths?
  • How are my strengths reflected in my plan?
  • How can I develop my potential so I can deploy those capabilities in my plan?
  • What weaknesses am I denying?
  • Do my priorities coincide with my strengths?

If, like Nate, you lead from weakness, you will produce only frustration.  Spend some time in honest self-reflection and look for opportunities to shift what you’re doing based on your natural and developed capabilities.  And, if (like Nate) you find that you’ve been pretending that you are developing your weaknesses, stop pretending.  Shift your approach.

Managing Up

One of the interesting things about practicing law is that, until relatively recently, little discussion occurred about how to advance in practice beyond becoming a top-notch practitioner.  Other skills have always been required (including, for example, the ability to communicate well and to lead well), and it’s quite clear that more is needed now.  Client development skills are critical, certainly, and getting a tremendous amount of press especially in this economy, and the same is true for client service skills.

Yet something else is required beyond client- and practice-centered skills.  A lawyer who wants to advance in his career must possess the desire to grow professionally and to serve as a key member of a team, whether that team is staffing a case or running an office/firm.  “Managing up,” a concept often discussed with respect to corporate careers but rarely so in law firms, is an important skill in achieving that level of advancement.

“Managing up” may be defined as the strategies and skills that a more junior attorney can apply to develop a strong working and collegial relationship with more senior lawyers.  This isn’t a concept limited to associates or to new lawyers, though; it’s something that any lawyer working with a supervising attorney should consider.  “Managing up” is applicable for all kinds of law firm work, substantive and administrative.

You’ll recognize some of the aspects of “managing up” as skills and strategies that smart lawyers develop and use.  My hope is that by using the term “managing up” to encapsulate them, one concept can be used to describe quickly a variety of behaviors and considerations.  Much has been written in the corporate literature about managing up, and it would be impossible for me to write a single article that would cover the subject fully.  So, today’s discussion addresses it on a conceptual level, with some concrete ideas and suggestions.

When considering how to “manage up,” one question rises above all others: what will be most helpful in this situation to the supervising lawyer?  And that question breaks down into a number of sub-questions, such as:

  • What will best serve the client?
  • What is the client’s ultimate goal?  Think beyond the immediate to what really matters for this client.
  • What best serves the supervising lawyer’s style?
  • What does the supervising lawyer really need, and will the client pay for that?  If not, how can you adapt?
  • What does the supervising lawyer need to know?
  • How can you advance what the supervising attorney is trying to accomplish?
  • What can you do to best contribute to this team in a way that the supervising lawyer will appreciate?

For example, if a litigation client’s ultimate goal is to protect its legal interest while doing minimal damage to an important business relationship, that client will likely approach the litigation differently than if the goal is to cause maximum pain to the other party to force a business outcome.  To serve the client, and also to serve the supervising lawyer, most effectively, you need to know about the ultimate goal as well as the immediate goal of the matter at hand, and you need to know at what point the supervising lawyer will be acting from the primary motivation of each goal.

For a quick summary of basic “managing up” strategies, review the table of contents for Michael and Deborah Singer Dobson’s book Managing Up: 59 Ways to Build a Career-Advancing Relationship with Your BossI can’t vouch for the book (I haven’t read it), but some of the chapter titles give sound-bite reminders of effective strategies.

Work on your habits

So you want to grow your practice… What’s your focus? You could answer that question with many different right answers.

This short blog post from Chris Brogan offers one answer: Focus on your habits. It isn’t rocket science to understand that your likelihood of success (in business development or otherwise) increases substantially if you have a good plan in place and you execute on your plan with consistent activity. 

Brogan’s post is unique in that it will help you quantify the habits you need to develop. That’s important because (as the old saw states) what gets measured gets done. Read the post for more and to learn what it means to focus on “the number before the number” to reach your goals. Reading the post will take less than 2 minutes, and you will find it’s time well spent.

Silence May Not Mean Satisfaction

You’ve probably heard it before: it’s much easier to source new business from an existing client than from a non-client. 

You may also know that many clients judge their experience based largely on the day-to-day interactions between you – how well you serve the client, in other words.  Studies show that clients unhappy with the service they receive will not necessarily share that displeasure with you unless it becomes so pronounced that they’re ready to discontinue the relationship and hire someone else instead.  That’s the wrong time to learn that your client is dissatisfied: it’s usually too late to correct the problem and save the relationship.

Last week’s travel reinforced each of those points and, by analogy, provided some insight into what goes right and what can go wrong with client relationships.

Thanks to all the travel I do, I’m a platinum member with Delta.  Some months ago, I had to fly another airline between LA and San Francisco, and it was an eye-opening experience.  It was all about customer service:

  • When I checked in, the agent asked how I was and looked at me while I answered.  The agent chatted with me as he quickly and accurately checked me in and printed my ticket.  He answered my several questions with humor and good information.  This is, unfortunately, not a common experience for me while traveling.
  • Boarding was fast and easy, the seats were comfortable, and the flight was on time despite a late take-off.
  • The flight attendant was pleasant and helpful.
  • My luggage arrived, and it did so quickly.  (Unfortunately, I now mentally bid farewell to my belongings when I have to check a bag, having had two bags delayed for days and one permanently lost.)

Both airlines have always met the key objective of getting me to my ticketed destination safely.   I like Delta (at least, I’m not terribly dissatisfied with Delta) and yet my short trip with Virgin America made me ready to consider choosing to fly with them when I have that option.  And I noticed the differences highlighted above when I next flew on Delta.  It would be a stretch to say I’m now a customer by convenience rather than loyalty, but it would be completely accurate to say that if the circumstances were right, I could be wooed away by another airline.

Could your clients be wooed away?  Have you recently reviewed your client service standards (with help from your staff, if appropriate) to be sure that your clients receive what they need from you?  A few common areas to consider:

  • How quickly do you return telephone calls and answer emails?
  • Do your clients know the people in your business with whom they may need to talk?  An introduction can help clients feel comfortable talking with others; without one, they may feel foisted off or that they aren’t important enough to talk with you directly.
  • Do you make clients welcome and comfortable when they visit your office?
  • Do you communicate with the frequency and in the mode your clients prefer?

These are just a few examples of areas to consider when you’re evaluating your client service.  This week, take a fresh look at opportunities to serve your clients more effectively.  You might even consider asking a few clients how satisfied they are.  (Use an open-ended question like, “Janice, I’d like to make it as easy as possible for you to work with us.  Is there anything I or my staff could do to provide you with better service?”)  Don’t assume that your clients would let you know if they were dissatisfied.

Acknowledge all of the feedback you receive from clients.  While you may be unable to incorporate every suggestion, failing to acknowledge your clients’ responses may deal a fatal blow to your relationship.  And if you can’t incorporate a suggestion, consider explaining why and making an alternative proposal to meet the client’s concern.