One of the best things about business development is also one of the worst: you have multiple strategies and tactics at your disposal to grow your practice. Sure, you can boil down all business development to just a few actions: get known for work in your area of practice, meet people who need your help or who know others who do, and communicate and, when and where and how appropriate, ask for business. But how do you get known? How do you determine who needs your help and who is in a position to refer others who do? And how do you get into the kind of conversation that might actually lead to business?
If you answer each of these how questions, you will likely find that you have numerous potential routes to follow. For example, if you do family law, you might market directly to the clients who might hire you by speaking at community gatherings, writing a column in a local blog or newspaper, having a recurring segment on the radio or a podcast, etc. Or you might market to family therapists by sponsoring and speaking at their conferences, by attending events that they attend and building relationships through networking, or by offering useful information that therapists might pass on to their clients. And the list goes on and on and on. You will almost always be able to identify several groups of people who could hire you or refer business to you plus plentiful avenues to reach those groups.
How do you choose what to pursue and what to put on the “maybe later” list? If you have data about what has worked well for you in the past, that’s likely the best guidance. (If you own The Reluctant Rainmaker, check Chapter 5 for a method of collecting that data.) But if you don’t have that data, it’s a tougher decision.
Many lawyers, natural overachievers that we tend to be, try to pursue all or most of those options, all at once, and end up diluting efforts with equally diluted results. And that tends to feed into the “I’m just not cut out to be a rainmaker” fear or the “I am too busy to do this stuff” resistance, both of which tend to lead to a drop-off in effort and a corresponding drop-off in results.
Instead of running into that wall, look critically at your options and ask these questions:
- Where are your most natural opportunities? If you’re deciding whether to pursue clients in the aerospace or medical device industries, which most naturally matches your background? Which industry is easier to get into as an outsider? Where do you already have more contacts?
- What offers the greatest continuity? As a general principle, if you’ve been successful in one area, you’d be wise to expand into related or similar areas rather than to do something completely different.
- What sounds the most appealing to you? If you’d rather poke out your eyeballs than talk with accountants or if you know you don’t have the time or interest in following up with people you meet in connection with a speaking opportunity, those activities likely will not be productive for you, however good they may look on paper. Choose something that interests you, that you’re willing to pursue. You don’t have to love it, but you have to be open.
- Where is your competition? Years ago, I looked into joining a biotech-related industry group that offered an associate membership for those outside the industry. As I read through the list of representative members, it was like a directory of firms that competed directly with mine. That isn’t an absolute “no,” but it prompted me to check out other opportunities and to find one with less direct competition.
- What offers the greatest likelihood of moving into a network that might lead to other opportunities? At the bottom, people are your greatest resource for new business. Look for routes that will allow you to develop a network of people who might hire you or refer business to you, who might introduce you to other opportunities and other groups, and who might function as your champion in some way. The easier that development, the more likely you’ll succeed in the process.
While you’ll want to consider other questions, these five will help you to narrow down the available opportunities. Once you’ve sorted through them in this way, choose one or two and focus on those for a period of six months, then evaluate your results. Sticking to a limited focus for a period gives you the best opportunity to concentrate your efforts and give it your best shot. If you see signs that you’re going down a path that will not be profitable, you can always drawback, but don’t get pulled into wondering if the other strategy you thought of would be even better until you’ve given the one you’re focusing on a fair trial. After six months (or less if you see signs of disaster), evaluate your results and decide how to shift your approach.