Creating and Harnessing Momentum in Business Development

When an attorney is focused on business development and is implementing consistently a strategic plan designed to reach clearly identified goals, magic happens.  Often it’s magic that brings in new business, and for practices with longer sales cycles, it’s magic that first brings in connections and opportunities that eventually lead to new business.  The magic that always exists in the presence of consistent activity, though, is momentum.

Momentum is defined by the Macmillan Dictionary as “progress or development that is becoming faster or stronger,” and Merriam Webster adds that momentum is “strength or force gained by motion or by a series of events.”  Momentum is a force that seems to take on a life of its own.  In business development, momentum occurs when opportunities begin to flow from one another, introductions materialize, and all of the work that you’ve done yields a noticeable uptick in rainmaker results.

I’ve identified several steps to create momentum in business development.

  1. Develop a plan that includes activity in several complementary domains.  In other words, when you identify one activity to include in your plan, look for related activities that naturally build on that one.  For example, if you plan to write articles or a blog, look for ways to repurpose that content, perhaps by launching a newsletter (which is a good complement to a blog) or by speaking once or twice a year on themes that you’ve identified through your writing.
  2. As soon as you’ve decided to commit to an activity, put it on your calendar.  Momentum requires action, not just plans.  It’s easy to “decide” to have two lunches a week with good contacts and then to “decide” to start next week.  Or the week after.  Or the week after that… You know, when things slow down enough for you to catch your breath.

    If a commitment isn’t in your calendar, question whether it’s really a commitment.

  3. Take consistent, concentrated action.  One push may be all it takes to roll a perfect boulder down a perfect hill, but business development doesn’t exist in a perfect world.  Committing to an activity requires committing to consistent engagement.  One lunch isn’t momentum.  Five lunches might start to create momentum.  Twelve lunches in a month may be enough to get some momentum going: not only will you know that you’ll have lunch with strategically selected contacts three times a week, but you’ll be in the habit of mentally sorting your contacts to select the right lunch partners, identifying why you should meet, and planning what you’d like to realize from the lunch.  You’ll also likely get into the groove of offering and asking for assistance.

    Concentrated action is usually required to create momentum.  Taking action once a month is consistent, but unless the action is massive (such as hosting a seminar and then implementing a follow-up strategy that requires additional action) you’re unlikely to see momentum build.  In today’s world, our attention spans are shorter, and momentum both thrives on and creates attention.  Make business development your top priority for a set amount of time (the length of which will depend on your specific plan and practice) and that concentration may create the right content for momentum to blossom.

  4. Measure your results.  Tracking results quantifies outcomes (even when the only measurement is qualitative, as it often is especially in the beginning stages of business development) and helps to create momentum.  When you see that doing X leads to positive outcome Y, you’re more likely to repeat X.  Measurement also helps to avoid fruitless activity.
  5. Once a quarter, review your activity and results, looking specifically for synergy and complementary opportunities.  For example, if you’ve received several referrals from CPAs, perhaps you should consider how to spend more time with selected CPAs.  If you’ve sponsored a meeting, review the results of the sponsorship and your planned follow-up steps, then think about how you might build on that activity—for example, you might invite attendees to hear you speak on a topic of interest.

We all feel momentum when it happens: the phone starts ringing, one great idea generates another (and both get implemented), and you discover that your network of contacts really is a network that you can access.  Calculated steps can create momentum, but you must also prepare yourself to recognize it and to analyze what specifically created it.  When you’ve identified that what, make sure you build more of that into your plans.

A caveat about momentum, though: when it comes to business development, think of momentum as an accelerator, not as a continuous motion machine.  Remember that we commonly talk about losing momentum at least as often as we discuss gaining it.  Momentum leads to strong results, but it is not an independent force that will continue in perpetuity.

The key to creating momentum is also the key to keeping it going: consistent action. 

Do you have momentum in business development?  What would it take?  If you’re uncertain, a good place to start is by evaluating what activity has delivered the best results over the last six months and then asking yourself how you might create momentum around that activity.

Identify your Unique Service Proposition

Clients, especially those who are not legally sophisticated, often see lawyers as fungible… At least until they come to know, like, and trust a particular lawyer.

If you are simply one of a pool of fungible practitioners, you will be forced to rely on non-legal factors such as fee or fee structure, location, and sheer chance to stand out. To see how this problem manifests, look at a page of attorney listings in the Yellow Pages. (If you no longer retain copies of the Yellow Pages, visit and search for divorce or business attorneys in your local area.) What draws your eye—positive or negative?

Fortunately, you are not one fungible lawyer in a pool of thousands.  You bring some experience, skill, characteristic, perspective, procedure, or service to the table. What sets you apart from other lawyers in your practice area?    For example, if you are a divorce lawyer, perhaps you speak a foreign language or your practice focuses on collaborative law.  If you are a business lawyer, maybe you worked as a CPA before practicing law.  If you are a patent attorney, perhaps you hold a Ph.D. in some area of science or engineering. These attributes may benefit your clients, and they therefore serve to differentiate you from other lawyers.

When you have identified these points of distinction, you can build your marketing around them. Not every client will respond to every distinguishing factor, of course, but identifying factors that speak to your ideal clients allows you to market persuasively.

Action Step: List at least three attributes that distinguish you from other lawyers and benefit your clients. If you are uncertain what these attributes may be, ask your clients and colleagues. Create a value statement to identify how each point of distinction benefits your clients.  Then incorporate these distinctions and benefits into your marketing.

How Effective is Your Website?

Recently, I’ve searched several times for a lawyer (or other client service provider) only to discover that he or she doesn’t have a website, or that it’s woefully out of date.  In the past, websites were expensive to create and difficult to maintain, so web developers tended to charge quite a lot for their work.  Indeed, many would hold the websites hostage so that only they could make updates and changes.  No more!

The bottom line is that you must have an up-to-date website.  In today’s market, the failure to do so sends the message that you aren’t in step with today’s economy or even our modern culture.  Period.

Your website must connect with your potential clients and address their needs and questions.  For years, websites functioned as pretty (or not) online brochures.  No more.

Your website must let potential clients know that you understand their needs.  Programmers created a word I love: grok.  To “grok” (as best I, a non-programmer get it) means to understand on a deep, almost visceral level.  Your website needs to let your clients know you grok them and their concerns.

The first way to communicate deep understanding is to use website copy that talks to your clients about their concerns, not at them about your experience.  Which approach do you find more persuasive and helpful when you’re searching for something online you need?

Far too many websites open with something like, “Here at Black & White, our lawyers have 500 years’ experience in handling real estate, intellectual property, and personal injury matters.”  A potential client needs to know that you understand something about their concerns before they care about your experience or credentials.  Start where your clients are.

Two effective ways to communicate with potential clients via a website: describe client concerns using declarative sentences, or ask “pull” questions.  “Pull” marketing is marketing that is intended to prompt someone to self-identify as your potential client or to repel them if they don’t meet your client profile.  The purpose of these two formats is identical, and both can be effective.

As you’re drafting your website copy, pay attention to the number of times words like “you” and “your” are used compared to the frequency of “I,” “we,” “mine,” or “our.”  You should have many more “you” and “our” words than “I,” “we,” “mine,” or “our.”  Otherwise, you’re most likely talking at your readers, not to them.

What if you’re in a big firm and you have no control over your website?  If you’re in management, this is an issue you should examine.  If not, recognize that the website is unlikely to change based on the input from a single lawyer — whether associate or partner — and figure out how to make your biographical sketch more attractive to a potential client.

What should your website feature?

  • A home page that talks to your potential clients.
  • Biographical sketches of each key players, focused on appropriately detailed descriptions of the individual’s experience that will show a potential client the match between that experience and the matter he or she is considering.  The sketch should also include experience and credentials that serve as objective indicia of your competence.
  • If the firm is small, shorter sketches of the firm personnel that a client is likely to meet, especially those who are likely to be the client’s first or frequent contact points.
  • Articles written by or about the firm’s key personnel.
  • Presentations made by the firm’s key personnel.
  • Links to blogs maintained by the firm or its staff.
  • A subscription form for the firm’s newsletter, with a description that lets subscribers know what they’ll be receiving and an offer that will encourage subscriptions.
  • Directions to the firm’s office(s), including narratives for the most common approaches and a map.
  • Full contact information.
  • Appropriate language to comply with your state’s ethics rules.

Review your website today through fresh eyes.  Ask someone who’s never read it to take a look.  And then develop a time-based plan to ensure that you fix what’s broken.  If you don’t have control of your website (meaning that you or a staff member can update the website on a moment’s notice), you need to correct that immediately.  (Large firm lawyers are, of course, excepted from that rule.)

If you don’t have a website, or if your website is out of date and you need to start from scratch, drop me an email and I can make some cost-sensitive suggestions.

Enthusiasm matters in rainmaking and in client service.

How enthusiastic are you about building your practice?  Not how motivated, how determined, or how skilled, but how enthusiastic?

Enthusiasm has a bad reputation in our society and in professional circles specifically.  It’s often knocked as naïve or overly eager.  But the truth is, we enjoy enthusiasm.  Don’t you want to work with and for people who are lit up about what they’re doing?

Your clients want to work with someone who’s enthusiastic about working with them.  Whether you’re representing individuals or the largest corporations in the world, your clients want to know that you’re invested and even proactive… In other words, that you aren’t just dialing it in.

When I was in law school, I had a professor who was so enthusiastic about tax law that he infected all of his students.  We did the reading and showed up to class engaged and looking forward to his lecture and our discussions.  About tax.  (The now-me shudders just a little at the thought, but I was drawn in like everyone else at the time.)  In contrast, I had a few professors who were smart and knowledgeable, but their lack of enthusiasm left me feeling eh about their classes.  And I suspect that was ok with them.

Enthusiasm engages audiences and motivates action.

And that carries through to rainmaking.  Sure, it’s easy to create a “paint by numbers” business development plan that you execute without any particular sense of relish.  But when you can find a way to get fired up – whether it’s because you really enjoy meeting new people, you love being on a stage or teaching, or because you are passionately interested in your work or your clients – that’s when you become invested and when things can shift on a dime.

So, how enthusiastic are you?  It isn’t an idle question.

5 Ways to Generate Great Content

Content marketing refers to the process of generating articles, blog posts, presentations, and more that are centered on your practice area and that share substantive information useful to your audience.  This newsletter is content marketing, for instance.  When you teach a seminar to a room of clients, potential clients, or referral sources, that’s content marketing.  When you speak for a CLE program, however, even though you’re presumably delivering useful information related to your practice area, it isn’t content marketing unless you stand to get business or frequent referrals from lawyers.

Content marketing is a reluctant rainmaker’s friend.  When you offer valuable information to an interested audience, you’re demonstrating your knowledge, skill, trustworthiness, and approach-ability, among other qualities, without imposing on your audience.  You’re marketing with information that’s beneficial, and your audience usually appreciates your efforts.  (If they don’t, they’ll quickly leave your audience.)

Content marketing is effective because your audience is actively interested in the information you’re sharing and you’re demonstrating your value while marketing. 

But content generation can be the bane of a lawyer’s existence.  The content needs to be timely (or evergreen), relevant, easily consumed, and – most importantly – good.  If you imagine sitting in front of an empty computer screen, wracking your brain for an interesting topic you can cover effectively in the time allotted, trying to squeeze in one more activity in your already-overburdened schedule, you aren’t alone.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be so painful.  Most of my clients find that coming up with ideas is the most difficult part of content marketing.  Here’s how to make it easy:

  1. Use listening tools.  Twitter is great for tracking trending topics.  Skim or read periodicals relevant to your industry as well as some from outside your industry.  One of my favorites is Zite (available for the iPad, iPhone, and Android phones) a “personalized magazine” that pulls news from a variety of sources grouped by the categories selected by the user.
  2. Use your clients’ questions and concerns.  You probably field questions day in and day out.  What themes do you notice?  What questions should your clients be asking?  If you’re stumped, skim your outbox.  You’re almost certain to find topics suitable for content marketing.
  3. Ask your clients what they’re thinking and wondering about.  Not only will you learn more about your clients’ needs, which is a great business development activity in itself, but also you’ll notice themes that interest your clients and are ripe for content generation.
  4. Review a book or service that your clients will find useful.  Chances are that you’re aware of sources that your clients don’t generally follow.  (That’s why I review business books in this newsletter.  Most lawyers don’t read these books, and I often get notes of thanks for highlighting useful information.)  Bringing information they might not discover otherwise adds value.
  5. Myths, misunderstandings, and outright lies.  Chances are that there are some incorrect but commonly-held beliefs or approaches related to an issue that your clients face.  Sometimes it’s a simple factual misunderstanding or misinterpretation, and sometimes it’s all about the deeper truth.  Debunk those misapprehensions or challenge the common wisdom.  When you explain myths and truths, you can quickly get the attention of your audience.

Whatever methods you use to identify content topics, keep a running list of your ideas.  You’ll probably find that the best ideas occur to you while you’re exercising, showering, watching TV – anything except sitting at your desk.  Use Evernote or a simple Word document to list your ideas.  That way, when you are in front of the blank computer screen, you’ll have a list of ideas ready to go.

How Thin is Your Margin?

Michael Hyatt is one of my favorite leadership bloggers.  The former chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, Hyatt holds the belief that leaders must be thoughtful and purposeful, and his posts range from philosophical to tactical.

One post this week has been so impactful for me that I have to share it with you: How to Create More Margin in Your Life. “Margin” describes intentionally-created space in a schedule, designed to accommodate the unexpected. As Hyatt writes:

Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of you. And no one seems to appreciate the fact that you are a finite resource. (Perhaps you don’t even realize this.)

That’s why creating or re-visiting your Ideal Week is so important.

Hyatt explains how to design an Ideal Week schedule that takes into account daily themes (Fridays for appointments, for example) and daily focus times for each domain of life (self, work, and family/friends/planning).  He then schedules key times based on his goals and priorities (and these times are broadly described), leaving “margin” for the unexpected.

I’d tweak this approach, to allow for daily margin during the regular workday.  In other words, rather than scheduling a full four hours for writing, I’d set aside three hours as a fairly non-negotiable minimum I’d expect to attain each day, and then block the fourth hour for margin.  On an ordinary day, that fourth hour might be occupied with writing as well, but it could also be devoted to the priority question from a client that requires time for a response.

I highly recommend Hyatt’s post as a source of both inspiration and direction on time management.  By blocking time for what matters most, leaving time open for the things that inevitably crop up, and seeding accountability (by directing that you share the Ideal Week with your team), Hyatt has created a tool that will be useful for getting the “must do” tasks done without getting burned out.

First Things First

There was a time when I spent an entire weekend outlining and getting started on writing two books. They were both about business development, of course, but one was designed to be an idea-generator and action-prompter, while the other was more of a teaching book. I got outlines done for both and started working on the actual writing. By that Monday morning, I was really ready for a weekend. (Ooops.)

The reason I started two books at once was because the subject matter was so intertwined that I needed to rough out the scope of each before starting to write. And as I did that, I started thinking of related articles and blog posts I should write, seminars I should offer, and how to incorporate the information into a workshop that I was doing at the time. I ended up with my desk covered in notes, windows galore open on my computer, ideas exploding every few minutes, and way too many avenues to pursue.

At first, the energy was seductive: I was excited and everything was flowing, so I kept working on multiple ideas at once…

But then, everything shifted.I started feeling confused as to which idea belonged to which project, I lost sight of which project should take priority, and I couldn’t decide whether one idea was reinforcing another or simply repeating it. UGH. 

Have you ever felt like that when it comes to business development?
 Especially when first diving into rainmaking activity, some lawyers get neck-deep in activity without a cohesive plan that defines objectives, priorities, and strategy. And sometimes, even successful rainmakers can have so many ideas that it’s hard to know where to start… And so all those lovely ideas go to waste or, worse yet, get partially implemented without the necessary support to reach the goal.

When I realized that I was falling victim to idea frenzy, I stepped away from the desk to clear my head. When I came back, I cleared my desk and my screen, leaving only the text of one book and a gathering place for notes and ideas for other projects. That allowed me to focus, and I was able to make a substantial dent in writing. Better yet, I could see how each project fit into the overall picture, and I could assign priorities.

Do you ever get deep into business development activity and find yourself spinning? That’s a symptom of an unclear (or nonexistent) plan or attempting to implement all parts of a plan at once, without regard for priorities.But the fix is simple: stop, consult (or create) the plan, and then move forward deliberately. (Just don’t deliberate when action is needed.)

Start the New Year by Evaluating Your 2019 Results

I hope you took time over the last few weeks to think about how 2019 went for you and your practice, and especially about what you’d like to do differently in 2020. Change requires action, but unconsidered action relies too heavily on luck.  That’s why planning is a must.

Have you ever been so eager to get somewhere that you just jump into the car and strike out, thinking that you’ll get your bearing and figure out the directions as you travel? A few years ago, I was speaking in Knoxville, Tennessee.  My host drove with me from the hotel to the restaurant where I was speaking, and I was to drive back to my hotel alone. I wasn’t familiar with Knoxville, and it took me more than an hour to get back to my hotel — a trip that should have taken only 20 minutes.  I needed a “You Are Here” indicator, which prompted me to get a GPS unit soon afterward.

This same principle applies when it comes to business. If you don’t know where you are now, you’ll find it hard to take meaningful action.

Take these steps for a quick review: 

  1. Complete the Law Practice Profitability Audit.  This assessment will show you exactly where you’re succeeding and falling short in your business development efforts and how to move forward.
  2. What was your 2019 practice revenue?  How much did you bill, and how much did you collect?  (If a larger firm associate, how much time did you bill and how much time did a supervising partner write off?)
  3. How did you get those clients?  Specifically, what was most successful?  What was least successful?  (If a larger firm associate, consider assigning lawyers to be your internal clients.)
  4. What specifically do you do to serve your clients well?  What could you do better?  (For extra insight, ask your clients!)
  5. Who contributed to your success?  How have you acknowledged those people?
  6. What mistakes did you make, and how might you avoid them in the future?
  7. How did you invest in growing your practice?

While a full review will include additional questions, this short form will give you the foundational information you need to move forward in 2020. Don’t skip this step.

Addressing burnout: your productivity depends on it.

Burnout is a real issue for lawyers. Just about every lawyer has at least an occasional period in which it seems that work is pressing 18-20 hours a day, and most of us know intuitively that it’s important to recover following that kind of exertion.

But what about the kind of day-to-day grind that can cause low-level burnout? Especially in the economic environment that’s existed over the last few years, many of us are delaying or even skipping vacation and working as much as possible, in part from fear that even a tiny “misstep” could jeopardize an entire practice.

Back in 2007, Chuck Newton posted on the “Cure for Lazy Lawyer Syndrome.” It’s a terrific article that describes with a visceral clarity what it’s like to struggle with low-grade burnout:

You know something is wrong. You intend to get into work early to catch up, but fail to do so. You just cannot seem to make yourself finish that brief that is due in a week. You avoid phone calls you know you should take. You take a phone call and you know should make a note, but you just cannot make yourself get around to it. Then you forget the necessary details. You know you should call your client, but it is so-o-o-o inconvenient. You start to feel overwhelmed and you cannot find a starting place from which to even begin to catch up. You are just feeling tired, depressed and rundown. Vitamins do not seem to help much.

Does that sound all too familiar? As I’ve noted before, the issues that arise in consulting with my clients tend to be cyclical, and this level of burnout seems to be pervasive right now.

Low-level burnout is especially challenging in the context of business development, especially for reluctant rainmakers.  If you’re not seeing enough results (or not seeing them fast enough), it’s easy to get sucked into taking on more activity—often without pausing to create a strategic plan—that gets almost frenetic. Without a good plan, it’s often random activity that leads to random results, which leads to burnout plus a sense of I knew I wasn’t cut out to be a rainmaker failure.

Chuck’s post offers a solution, and he’s hit the nail right on the head:

My suggestion is that you will feel better about yourself, your practice and your competence if you will concentrate harder on the practice of law for shorter periods of time.  When you are in the zone, be in the zone.  Focus, but not so long that you get eye strain.


Short times away from your work (and I mean absolutely disconnecting from your work) will help you to be more productive and energetic back at your work.

Chuck emphasizes that this advice is especially important for “home office lawyers, connected lawyers and Third Wave lawyers.” But to my mind, it’s critical for all lawyers, especially since most of us are now “connected” most of the time.

The idea of short periods of intense focus alternating with period of complete disengagement can be applied in any practice setting.  The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz uses the analogy of sport to promote the proposition that “full engagement” requires selective disengagement from work.  If you’re feeling burned out, set aside a weekend to read and reflect on this book.

The risk of low-level burnout is that it makes everything less pleasant; it leads to reduced energy, reduced efficiency, and reduced productivity; and if left “untreated,” it can lead to major burnout.  My late father, who was also a lawyer, gave me much good advice, but one piece is especially relevant here. Make it a habit — an occasional habit, but a habit nonetheless — to escape from the office midday, whether it’s to see a movie, to visit a bookstore or museum, or to take a walk somewhere. Although the escape is great therapy to cure burnout, it’s even better applied to avoid it.

How to adjust for chaos

In the past, I’ve shared that I’d joined a gym, and I drew some parallels between getting into the regular gym-going habit and regularly engaging in business development. If you missed those notes, you can read them here and here, and I recommend you do so.

When things went a bit haywire in my personal life and got frantic with business, I quit going. Isn’t that the story? I worked out on my regular schedule while I was away on vacation, but when I got back to “real life”, real life crowded out my goals. (At least, that was my story. The truth, of course, is that I allowed that crowding out to happen.)

The lessons I’ve learned from this experience apply equally to business development.

  1. Take full responsibility for your choices. I would love to blame circumstances for my gym interruption. And, in fairness, I could – life threw several big curve-balls that boomeranged around over and over. But if I blame circumstance, that puts circumstance in the driver’s seat and I can only play along. Thanks, but no. I’d rather take responsibility for my choices because doing so creates an easy-to-see opportunity for change.
  2. Do what you can even when things fall apart. Even though I wasn’t able to stick with the workout schedule I’d planned, my fitness goals remained important and so I focused on eating well rather than using my “inability” to go to the gym as license to abandon the goal completely. Results? I went down 30 pounds since I started going to the gym, despite the 3 months of not working out. And my first day back to the gym was much easier than it would have been had I used the lack of workouts as an excuse to spend time with my pals Ben and Jerry.
  3. Get back to your plan as soon as you can. The more fully you observe the first point, the quicker “as soon as you can” is likely to occur. But even when you lose sight that the timing is largely within your control, keep a sharp eye for the first opportunity. As soon as you see it, seize it.
  4. Consider whether the disruption reveals the need to revise your plan. I was going to the gym for an hour a day four or five days a week.  That pace isn’t realistic for my life right now. However, I can revise my plan and go two or three times a week and supplement with neighborhood walks. That change takes account of my own changed circumstances and makes it much more likely that I’ll stick to the plan.

Let’s face it: sometimes we let life or business get in the way of our goals. If you keep these tips front-of-mind, however, you’ll find a lot more success even when you might be tempted to throw in the towel and wait for things to settle down.

What suggestions do you have for staying on track under adverse circumstances? Leave them in the comments. I’d love to hear what works for you!