Long Run Business Development Efforts That Will Pay Off Over Time.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that some lawyers are making mistakes that will undermine their business development efforts. These are short-sighted decisions that may seem smart in the short run but will cause great damage over time.

Marketing Don’t #1: “It’s all about me” newsletters. A lawyer I don’t know subscribed me to his mailing list, using two of my email addresses. That’s a mistake (and probably illegal) in itself. Absent a business relationship, all newsletter subscribers should be subscribers by their request. Getting this right is critical. No one should ever be surprised that they’re receiving your newsletter.

But that isn’t the only mistake. The newsletter is short and well-written, but it only recounts what honors and accolades this lawyer has received since he last wrote. Since I don’t know this person, I have no interest in what he’s done. Even if he were an acquaintance, an entire email about “me, me, me” is unlikely to hold my interest. I’ve received this newsletter two or three times over the last year (I didn’t unsubscribe because I wanted to see whether and how the newsletter would change over time—but it hasn’t) and I have yet to read a substantive article or even comments that are directed to the reader.

The take-home message for you who send newslettersMake sure there’s something that’s designed to be helpful for the reader. Yes, share your news, and let your readers know that you’re up to good things, but don’t let that be the sole focus (or even the primary emphasis) of your newsletter. Write for your readers, not at them.

Marketing Don’t #2:  Skipping relationship-building on social media. This error shows up in two ways: adding a connection without engaging or making a connection and immediately making some sort of business pitch. (I’ve also been subscribed to a lawyer’s newsletter simply by virtue of having made the online connection—see mistake #1 above.) Making a connection without engaging in some way means that the connection is unlikely to do much of anything for you, but it probably won’t alienate anyone. But going directly to business certainly could. You wouldn’t walk into a networking meeting, meet someone for the first time, and make a business request while you’re still shaking that person’s hand, so don’t do the equivalent online.

Relationship-building online should follow a similar trajectory as relationship-building in the “real” world. Meet (or make the connection online), explore areas of mutual interest to discover what you have in common, whether you like each other, and whether you’d like to have a business relationship. That process can take minutes or months. But it’s only when that process is concluded (or well underway) that it becomes appropriate to look for referral opportunities.

Even better, of course, is bringing the process to culmination by asking how you might help the person you’re getting to know. One of the best, and most under-utilized, questions you might ask a new contact (virtual or in-person) is, “How would I recognize someone I should send to you?” If you ask this question of someone who is likely to be a good referral source, you will almost certainly have the question returned to you.

The take-home message for you who network online:  Don’t skip the relationship-building phase in online networking.

Marketing Don’t #3: Don’t forget that you must invest in your practice to see it grow. Several lawyers recently have told me this is not the time to be spending money on business development, a perception that started at the beginning of the pandemic. There’s no harm in hitting pause in periods of great uncertainty, but getting stuck there is certainly risky. Some lawyers are still holding the purse strings so tight that their metaphorical hands must be going numb.

I’m certainly not going to suggest spending money willy-nilly, nor would I ever recommend a lawyer extend him- or herself beyond the bounds of sound financial decisions. However, choosing not to spend money can be a short-sighted decision made from fear. Growing a practice does require making smart investments. Just like no wise lawyer would choose to go with a typewriter to save on the costs of using a computer, no wise lawyer would reject a practice-building opportunity simply because of a financial investment.

That doesn’t mean that you need to make the Bentley-level investment every time; sometimes the used Chevy is perfectly adequate and perhaps even a better choice. If you notice yourself thinking that an opportunity is just right except for the cost, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What’s the financial outlay?
  2. What outcome might I see?
  3. What’s the likelihood of that outcome?
  4. What’s the financial investment-to-payoff ratio?
  5. What are the non-financial benefits that would likely accrue?

The take-home for lawyers considering a practice-enriching investmentConsider not just what an opportunity costs but also what results it is likely to offer. Not all opportunities will be right for you, but don’t allow yourself to miss out on something that offers an advantage simply because it comes with a price tag.

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