Don’t try to do it all at once.

Two levels of activity can completely undermine your business development efforts: doing too much and doing too little. Think I just won the obvious award? Stick with me for a minute. 

It’s no secret that doing too little business development activity means you won’t build the kind of practice you want without some kind of miraculous intervention. If you want word about you to filter out so potential clients come looking for you, you’d better help that word spread. And if you think you’re going to inherit a book from a retiring mentor, you’d better have a parallel plan since clients don’t always follow even the best-intentioned inheritance plans. If you sit and wait for clients to come to you, you may find yourself waiting for drips of business that will never quench your thirst. 

But can you fail to build a book because you’re doing too much? You bet. Even if you’re a brand new solo practitioner without much billable work, your time and energy are limited. This is especially true for midlevel associates in larger firms: you have billable responsibilities, administrative responsibilities, professional development responsibilities, and you may well be busy personally as well, with a young family or supporting elderly relatives. And it’s true for every lawyer during certain phases of practice. 

If you’re just starting to take on a particular business development activity (or to take on business development in general), you may be tempted to jump into the deep end and cram in as much work as you can that might lead to business. Unfortunately, that isn’t how business development works in most practices. Taking on too much at once is overwhelming and discouraging, and it’s more likely to lead to a crash-and-burn than to a brightly burning flame that will power your practice. 

Taking on too much at one time is a sure recipe for disaster. You start out with great intentions, and maybe even clear plans, but everything falls apart with one little slip. (This is why challenges like a Whole30 often don’t work either: imperfection means failure.)

Business development is a career-long marathon, an endurance race that requires you to keep moving no matter what. If you try to complete that marathon in short order, you’ll discover it can’t be done. And far too often, those who try to do it all burn out and give up, at least for a while. So take a step, then another, and keep moving as those steps begin to form a road to success. 

Action step: what are you planning to start, or what business development project has stalled?  Break it down into doable steps and calendar those. Keep your commitment to yourself and your plan, and you’ll see real progress without angst or burnout.

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