Don’t Underplay Yourself

When a law firm hires me to work with a junior associate, very often one part of the engagement centers on the associate’s leadership presence and self-confidence – how he or she presents to others.  (Of course, that focus is not by any means unique to junior associates.)

Although reviewers may use a variety of words such as proactive, poised, assertive, or self-assured, they’re usually looking to see to what extent the lawyer is able to present as a leader, as someone who is sufficiently self-confident to inspire others’ confidence.  Such a person typically contributes to conversations, asks insightful questions, and is willing to express an opinion or espouse a position. 

Interactions with someone who lacks this level of confidence tends to leave others (supervising lawyers and client alike) uncertain of the message being conveyed.  Does a lack of contribution indicate lack of comprehension?  Boredom?  Something else entirely?  It may be difficult to interpret what what’s happening, but the result is a lack of clarity and an unwillingness to rely on the lawyer whose self-presentation is found to be lacking.  The consequences can be significant, including unduly slow career progression (or even being fired) and difficulty in building client relationships. 

For instance, I was working with one client (let’s call him Tom) who was hoping to make partner and entered coaching to strengthen his performance so he’ll be a strong candidate.  He’d picked up on some comments that made him question whether he was viewed as partner material.  I found Tom to be intelligent, personable, and funny.  I also noticed that when I’d ask him a question about his work, he downplayed the role he’d played.

It puzzled me, because I could tell from the kind of work he was describing that he was a heavy lifter on the cases, but to hear him talk he was simply supporting work done by others.  One day, Tom said that a particular concern he held about making partner was that it didn’t seem like anyone regarded his work as being important or notable.  He explained the evidence for his feeling, and then I asked his permission to share an observation.

I told him that when he described his own work, he minimized and understated his contribution.  To hear him tell the story, he contributed little more than hours – and certainly nothing critical in terms of strategy or deep analysis.  But when I asked specifically and pressed, he’d tell me about tasks he’d done and decisions he’d made that were quite high-level.  My assessment was that because he was so careful not to overstate his contribution – and perhaps so uncomfortable being in the spotlight – he didn’t give a fair opportunity for someone to understand the kind and level of work that he was doing. 

We devised a plan for Tom to share more about his work, and he discovered that when he changed his communication style and became more open about what he was doing, people began to appreciate the scope of his work and to understand what he was capable of doing.  He got more and better work, and he felt that others’ perception of him was more accurate. 

Michelle, another client, was upset to receive a review that indicated that some clients didn’t want to talk with her because they felt that she didn’t have a sufficient grasp of the right legal strategy to accomplish their aims.  When pressed for details, a reluctant partner admitted that although he knew Michelle understood exactly what was at stake and how to advance the clients’ interests, her comments were so often peppered with words like maybe and possibly and her inflection was so often questioning that she just didn’t seem to be sure of what she was saying.

The result was that her communications undermined his confidence in her even though he knew she was almost invariably right about what she was saying.  After making a concerted effort to notice the habits that the partner identified, Michelle started speaking with more authority and more clarity, which over time (and along with other changes that Michelle implemented) increased the confidence that others put in what Michelle said. 

How do you know if your presence isn’t as strong as it should be?  Here are three common signs: 

  1. You create “wiggle room” with your word choice or with your vocal inflection.
  2. You feel the urge to speak up or to ask a question but you stop short – and then someone says what you’ve been thinking, and you feel frustrated. (Or you do speak up but your comments aren’t much noted, and then someone says effectively the same thing and gets more attention.)
  3. You find that you generally speak much less often than others in a meeting. (But this can be a sign of strong presence if, when you speak, others give significant weight to your comments.) 

If you recognize yourself in these signs or if you’ve received feedback that you need to be more proactive, perhaps we should talk.  While learning to project more confidence and a stronger leadership presence requires stepping outside a comfort zone, the impact can be dramatic.  Your job and your client relationships may depend on your ability to inspire confidence.  Ready to take the first steps?  Click here to schedule a 30 minute complimentary consultation.

Find Your Weekly Minimum

What happens to your business development activity when you get busy?  If you’re like many others, you may find that it slips.  I’ve had more than a handful of clients who hire me to ramp up their rainmaking, and they succeed – right to the point that they’re so busy they pause and start backsliding.

We’ve all been taught that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and there’s truth to that.  I’m no hunter, but we all know intuitively that if you focus exclusively on the bird in hand and ignore all the others, you’ll have to start from scratch when you need to find another bird.

 “I’m going to pause for a little while, just til I get this work off my desk.”  That’s one of the most dangerous statements you can make.  Throw that out too often, and I can almost guarantee that you won’t get the results you want from your rainmaking efforts.  You’re likely to end up tired, behind the 8-ball, stressed out, and feeling like a failure.  And here’s why…

When you “hit pause,” you’re not pausing at all: you’re just stepping into the feast/famine cycle.  In this cycle, you need new business so you start business development activity; you grow your practice, only to slack off when you have substantial new business on your desk and you turn to getting the work done, which causes you to drop back on your rainmaking activity; and the result is that the flow of new business drops and at some point you realize you need more business – and the cycle starts again.

Fortunately, there’s a simple way out to interrupt this cycle.  Identify the minimal amount of rainmaker activity you can do and still generate new leads and new referrals.

  • You might find that you get referrals and new business from current clients, and so you might decide that, no matter what, you will make time to take one client to lunch each month and to plan a phone call to check in with others once a week. (And if you get significant additional work from current clients, you’re in a great position, because that means that you have an opportunity to engage in business development activity every time you do billable work.)
  • You might analyze where your clients have been coming from and discover that your blog is generating a lot of calls that lead to business. If so, you should ensure that you post at least weekly, and you might even investigate hiring someone to help with SEO or AdWords, to gain additional visibility.
  • You might discover that you have an effective follow-up system and that you can expect to get measurable new business after speaking. Develop a system that allows you to send out proposals to speak on a regular basis, and ensure that you speak at least quarterly.

As long as you have a reasonable rationale for your minimal level of rainmaking activity and you stick to it, you’re likely to avoid the feast/famine cycle.  You’ll continue to see some variation from time to time, but when you’re strategic and consistent, those swings will be much less significant.

Here’s your checklist for determining your MERA (Minimal Effective Rainmaker Activity):

  1. Review the sources of your business over the last two years. What activity generated the most business?  What generated the least?  Be sure to distinguish activity that’s slow yield from activity that’s low
  2. Set a minimum activity level in the top producers. Calendar whatever it is that you’ve determined you’ll do, and don’t allow yourself to delay, even when you’re busy.
  3. Delete all other rainmaking activity from your calendar… FOR NOW. This approach is not designed to generate the most business possible.  It’s designed to defeat the feast/famine cycle.  It contains the seeds for long-term success, but you’ll need to do more in the long run to produce maximum results.
  4. Set your date for re-evaluation and don’t get complacent. The only downside to MERA is that you can lull yourself into thinking that any activity is adequate for any circumstance, and that just isn’t true.  MERA is only for the times when you’re tempted to press pause.

If you don’t know how to determine what activity is most likely to yield results for you, you’ll have trouble with this task.  Building a practice requires you to know what produces results so you can do more of that. If you don’t, we should talk. Click here to schedule a free 30 minute consultation.

What’s your 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 businesses.

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 would-be 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.

Sometimes seeing the right question is as simple from 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?  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.  You can schedule your complimentary consultation here.

Trivial Pursuits… Again?

In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it. — Robert Heinlein

You may be wondering how this relates to the law. Practice keeps you busy.  Really busy. Aside from the rare (and, frankly, frightening) slow times that crop up occasionally, there’s always something to do, whether it’s advancing a particular case, wooing a potential client, or putting out an administrative fire. There’s a great deal of urgency to practice. The danger, though, is that urgency can overwhelm what’s important, creating irreversible delay.

Huh?

I’ve posted at some length about Stephen Covey’s four quadrant time management system on my blog, and I’d encourage you to review that post or one of the other descriptions of the system. Today’s quote leans into that urgent/important distinction, because daily trivia is often urgent, it often draws us in, and we can easily become ensnared in the urgent and lose sight of the important.

The clearest way to keep in touch with what’s important is to have, as the quotation says, clearly-defined goals. I recommend you set SMART goals.  SMART Iis an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based, and SMART goals thoughtfully set function as a declaration of what is important to you.

When you declare what’s important and what you intend to accomplish, and when you create a strategy for reaching your goal (because goals without strategy are just dreams), you’re well on the way to knowing how to function in Covey’s Quadrant II.

Staying in Quadrant II takes determination, of course, especially in the face of urgencies that threaten to pull you off task. But commitment to a goal and a vision of how that goal will serve you can draw you forward.

Let’s get real.  What about those times when the “urgent and important” necessarily crowds out the “non-urgent but important”?  It happens to all of us, and I’d even venture to guess that it happens more often to lawyers than those engaged in other kinds of work.  What then?

I recommend you have a back-up plan, or a maintenance strategy.  If you’ve been working on business development activities and you get swamped with a closing or a trial, decide where to set your minimum weekly requirements.  Will you take a half-hour to connect with contacts by phone?  Will you send a helpful article to a potential client?

As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter so much what you do as it matters that you do something.  Whether your focus is rainmaking, professional development, or looking for a new position, you need to persevere even in the busy times.  Far too often, putting activity on hold means putting it on the back-burner until it’s cold, and then you have to start again, with no momentum to help you.

Take a look at your calendar.  What busy-ness might derail you in the next three months?  Decide now how you’ll handle it.  Planning ahead is planning for success.

And to close with another quotation: If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

Listen up!

Business is the greatest personal development tool that exists.  The moment you take responsibility for your work and for generating and serving clients, you become your own best asset.  That’s why you must invest in yourself.  If you don’t grow, your business won’t grow.  Give that some thought the next time you’re faced with an opportunity that will move you forward and you decide to let it pass because you “can’t afford” it.

To thrive in business you must master many different skills and attitudes, one of which is the ability to relate well with others.  Communication skills are especially important in business development as well, because without knowing what a client is thinking about and what the client’s objectives are, it’s impossible to know whether and how your professional skills can help that client.  Rather than focusing on what you seek to communicate to the client, though, begin by letting the client speak.

Expansive questions allow the client to guide the conversation as she prefers, and asking follow-up questions will draw out the necessary information.  Depending on the context, the following questions serve as good conversation-starting questions:

  • What are your ultimate objectives here?
  • How does this matter fit into the broader business context?
  • What are you most concerned about here?
  • How long has this problem been going on?
  • What do you need from this situation, and what would you like?
  • What are the biggest obstacles you see?
  • How will it impact your life and your business to solve this problem?

Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in asking a “brilliant” question or a question that reveals how much you know.  Aim instead for open-ended questions that focus on the matter at hand and provide space for a client to move into broader business concerns.

Follow-up questions can be as simple as:

  • Tell me more?
  • What else should I know?
  • What’s an example of ___?

Your goal is to get the facts and concerns that the client holds and to draw out as much information as possible.  Simple questions are usually best.

But asking simple, open-ended questions isn’t enough.

It’s human nature, especially when we want to appear knowledgeable, to listen with half-attention while planning the next thing we might say.  Half-listening is almost more dangerous than not asking questions, because if information is conveyed and you ignore it, the client will feel disregarded — poor grounding for any relationship.

Instead, listen deeply to your client.  What is he really saying?  Do his words, tone of voice, and body language match?  If not, what question can you ask to clear up the conflict without putting the client on the defensive?  It’s important too to listen beyond what’s said, to gain an appreciation for what’s unsaid and what context is being shared.

Two exercises to strengthen client communications

 Start by noticing how much you talk in a conversation.  The goal when you talk with a potential client or are deepening your relationship with a current client is to talk for only 20-40% of a conversation.  To draw out your client, ask questions only for the first part of the conversation, until you understand the client’s concerns and goals.

To strengthen your listening skills, insert a few seconds’ pause before you speak.  The pause shows that you are absorbing what’s been said, and it allows you just to listen without needing to plan a response until you’ve heard everything the other person intends to say.

Incidentally, although these skills are critical for client service, you can also use them to strengthen relationships with your colleagues and in your personal life.  Once you start to notice the pattern of conversational give and take, you’ll probably notice how eager many people are to talk rather than to listen.  Notice the effect when you listen deeply and probe gently to find out what really matters to your conversational partner.

Your assignment this week: listen to your clients and potential clients.  Deeply.  If you know listening without interrupting is a challenge for you, you might even train yourself by holding a pen between your lips while you’re on the telephone.  (I wouldn’t recommend this in a face-to-face meeting!)  When you go to remove the pen, be sure it’s time for you to speak.  If not, pat yourself on the back, and keep on listenin’.

You failed? Congratulations!

I don’t encourage failure… Mostly.  It’s helpful to assess and mitigate the risks of failure when you’re stepping out with a new activity.  There’s no glory in the “ready, fire, aim” approach when you have the time and the ability to do some (but not too much) preparatory work that increases the odds of success.

BUT.

If you’re not failing despite doing some prep work, you’re probably not taking big enough steps.  Please, don’t fail because of laziness, intellectual or otherwise.  But recognize that if everything is going so swimmingly that you’re not failing at all, you’re leaving something on the table.

You cannot succeed unless you’re willing to fail.  Be willing to take a risk.  The more you do, the higher the risk of failure – and the higher the chances of success.

This video (which happens to be an advertisement for Nike) brings it all home.  Take 31 seconds to watch.  Yes, now.

By nature and by nurture, we’ve been trained to avoid taking risks.  Sure, it’s safer to do only what you know will work (even though sometimes you’ll be wrong about that, too, especially where people are concerned) but you’ll also miss a lot of opportunity.

An example for your consideration.  Referrals and introductions often come by email – “Bob, meet Susan, I think she may be able to help with your blah blah blah question.”  If you’re Susan, an email is the safe response to that introduction.  But a telephone call is often a more engaging and helpful response.  There’s risk involved: what if Bob doesn’t want the introduction or the help?  What if Bob is too busy and a call is an interruption?  That’s a risk I’d suggest you take almost every single time.  Sometimes you’ll fail, but (if you handle the calls well) the successes will outweigh the failures.

So, this week, ask yourself where you’re stopping yourself because you might fail even if you prepare as well as you can.  Specifically with business development and client service, what might you do differently if you were willing to fail?

Don’t aim to fail.  Do take some risks and accept that you may fail before you succeed. 

How to Reach a Leadership Position… Quickly!

Working on a professional association committee or project is a good way to get leadership experience quickly. The reason is simple: because of the number and variety of professional associations (such as the ABA and local bar associations, the International Coach Federation, Professional Photographers of America, Licensing Executives Society, etc.) and the number and variety of sections and committees within each, leadership opportunities are numerous.

Why should you consider involvement in a professional association?

  1. To grow your professional network. Having a broad group of colleagues will prove useful over the span of your career in ways you probably can’t even imagine right now. Networks are useful if you need to refer a client to someone in whom you have confidence, if you’re visiting another part of the country (or world) and need business resources, if you’re looking for a new position, on and on and on.
  2. To contribute to the profession. The work produced by each group will vary, but you may have an opportunity to contribute to a report studying the challenges faced by women attorneys of color, the latest revision to substantive or procedural rules of your profession, or to track legislation that effects your clients. You can use your skills and develop them further through this work.
  3. To advance your business development goals. If your practice is supported by referrals from colleagues, professional associations can create the opportunity for you to become known by your potential referral sources.  (But note: if referrals from colleagues are uncommon in your field, don’t hide out in a safe professional group and pretend you’re going to get new business there.)
  4. Because it’s fun. When you find a group that’s a good fit for you, networking and conferences become a time to reconnect with friends and accomplish something of professional benefit. That’s a good deal!

So, how do you get started?

  1. Identify the groups that might be a good fit for you based on your goals and interests. Do you want to be involved with a local group or a national group? (If you’re looking to create a referral network, this is probably the #1 question you’ll need to answer.)
  2. Next, identify a subgroup of that organization that you find interesting. Look through the sections, committees and subcommittees, or the list of projects that the group maintains. Your goal is to identify a small working group that will be a good fit for your skills, your interest, and your goals — in that order.
  3. Working groups almost always need help. Perhaps you’re already a passive member of a group, receiving information and maybe attending CE programs. To reap the benefit of membership, you must be active. Decide how much time you have available and what kind of assistance you’d like to offer. You may be able to get a feel for current projects from the group’s website.
  4. Contact the leader of the subgroup you’d like to join and volunteer. For all but the most prestigious groups, I can almost guarantee that a committee chair’s favorite words to hear are, “I’d like to help!” Find out how you can make a contribution. Look for something fairly short-term, so you aren’t boxed in and you can prove yourself quickly.  And, of course, do a great job.
  5. Attend the business meetings of your selected group. Most professional organizations meet at least annually, and those who attend are the leaders. If you want to become a leader, meet them. Learn more about the group’s activity, who’s involved, what its history is, and how things operate. Ask about the leadership track — how might you become a committee leader, a Section leader, or an association leader? Contribute to the conversation and volunteer where appropriate. Show your interest and your ability.
  6. Once you’ve taken on a few projects and done well, you will start to advance. Depending on the group, you can probably expect to become a subcommittee vice chair (or some equivalent title) within a couple of years, and sometimes much faster. Should you choose to advance in leadership, you’ll know much more about how to do so in your selected group; if not, you can probably continue at your current level of involvement and accrue additional benefits.

Meeting Client Expectations… Or Not.

One of the top client complaints received by bar associations across the country has to do with lawyers’ failure to return telephone calls.  I haven’t seen statistics, but I suspect that clients also complain about lawyers who fail to answer email.  Clients expect that their lawyer will communicate with them in a timely manner, and on the surface, just about all lawyers agree.  And the same is true for other service providers, including those who don’t have a professional oversight board of some sort.

But we’ve all had that annoying client.  You know, the one who is constantly on the phone or sending yet another email with an unnecessary question or comment.  The one who is so insistent on knowing when a task will be completed that it may feel like you won’t have time to do the work unless you “ignore” the client for a while.  And even if you don’t have one of those clients, you’re probably still swimming in telephone calls and emails – we all are these days.

So, how do you deal with client expectations about communications?  If you meet every expectation, you’ll add dramatically to your workload and you may worry that your clients will dictate how you operate your business; if you don’t meet expectations, you may find yourself on the wrong end of a complaint, or you may discover that dissatisfied clients are telling their friends and colleagues about your [perceived] poor service.

Have a conversation with your clients about communications at the time of engagement.  The most dangerous expectations are those that go unexpressed.  If, for example, a client is expecting a weekly check-in and you don’t realize that, it’s probably a safe bet that the client will quickly feel dissatisfied and either start clamoring for attention or silently smoldering.  If you ask what the client expects, you’ll have an opportunity to meet that expectation.

And, you may choose not to meet the client’s expectations.  When there’s nothing pressing, for instance, you may not communicate with the client for some period of time.  If you bill based on time, unnecessary communications will run up your client’s bill (perhaps creating greater dissatisfaction), and if you use a flat fee arrangement, unnecessary communications can eviscerate your profit.

When you discuss expectations, you can respond to what your client expects by sharing your own expectations.  Some clients will be satisfied when they understand when and why you communicate (especially if you agree to communicate in the manner your client prefers), some may negotiate with you in some way, and some may choose not to hire you.  Regardless of the outcome, both of you will come out ahead for having had the conversation.

How committed are you?

Be committed.  What’s the first thing you think when you think of commitment in the context of your business?  Without commitment in three particular areas of business, success is unlikely.

  • Commitment to succeeding in the business. What’s your backup plan if your business doesn’t prosper?  Some professionals (especially the risk-averse, like lawyers) need to have a backup plan to feel secure, but having an acceptable fallback can in some instances be a sign of serious trouble.I recently spoke with a lawyer who commented that she was excited about opening her own practice and determined to make it work, but that if things didn’t go well, she was could always go back to the job she’d left.  Plan B so permeated our conversation that I virtually guarantee she’ll be back at the job within a year.  And that’s ok, except that she’ll return with a feeling of failure if she doesn’t recognize that she was never really committed to building her own business.

    I don’t know a single person (especially over the last couple of years) who hasn’t wondered at least occasionally what if this doesn’t work… But having a clear fallback position makes it too easy to put that plan into action instead of executing the plan to make the business work.  The reason is often simple: Plan B is familiar and safe, which may not be the case with one’s own business or practice, especially during the start-up phase.

    Let me be clear: sometimes a business doesn’t work or a practice lacks the clients to survive, and you still have to pay the mortgage.  If that happens, adjust course.  You may need to take on some part-time work or even throw in the towel on the business.  But if you’re starting every week (or every day or every project) with Plan B in mind, you’ll end up with Plan B before you know it.

  • Commitment to business development. To get consistent results, you must be consistent with your business development efforts.When I consult with a potential client who wants to bring in more business, I always ask questions to uncover not just what business development activities they’ve tried, but how consistently – and when a business is underperforming, consistency is always lacking.

    Create a schedule of your activities, divided into daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly activity.  Otherwise, you’re leaving it up to chance.  Even when you’ve developed a habit, a change in outside circumstances can undermine that habit, and you’ll never even notice unless you have a system in place.

    One client wrote articles for publication every other month, but when the journal that published those articles went out of business, he neglected to put writing for publication on his task list, and guess what?  It just didn’t happen.  He searched out a couple of journals eager to publish his articles and added writing to his quarterly task list so it wouldn’t slip through the cracks again, and his stalled list of publications began growing again.  Checklists and schedules will help to keep activity consistent.

  • Commitment to clients. I have observed professionals who are so committed to growing their businesses that they focus almost solely on getting the next new client, leaving behind current clients.  Some professions mandate a minimum level of client service, but when’s the last time you felt good about receiving adequate service?To succeed in business, make it part of your habit to deliver exceptional client service.  That means providing the substantive service the client needs, plus providing it in a way that surpasses need.  For example, one of the top complaints about lawyers is that telephone calls go unreturned.  (I haven’t seen statistics, but I imagine unanswered emails are a growing area of dissatisfaction as well.)  Of course, you must respond in some way to your clients’ communications to provide adequate service.  Take adequate to excellent by setting a policy that you or someone on your staff will respond to every client communication within X amount of time, and then stick to that policy.

    For ideas on crafting service that will delight your clients, read Seth Godin’s excellent book Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable.

How committed are you?  Are you willing to do what it takes to grow your business or your practice, applying a “no excuses” approach?    

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.