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“I’m too busy for business development!”

 

There’s one objection I hear more than any other from lawyers who want to grow their practices but find themselves stuck: “I’m too busy for business development!

That objection is often factual (sometimes there’s more billable work to do than any reasonable human can accomplish in a day) as well as an unassailable excuse for those who feel resistance to business development. After all, billable work comes first, right?

If you’re feeling a time pinch, consider these questions to determine how to proceed:

  1. Ask whether this busy period is a short-term situation or a long-term one. When might you reasonably expect that your load will be lighter? If it appears that this level of busyness is a new normal, you’ll need to revisit your BD plan and start fresh. A short-term adaptation can keep you moving forward according to your plan, but a long-term situation requires a fresh approach.
  2. Ask whether there’s a way to offload some of your responsibilities to create time for BD. Perhaps this would be a good time to focus your LinkedIn activity on sharing good content created by others (along with an insightful comment) rather than writing something new. Perhaps you could ask a colleague to write a newsletter article that addresses a topic of interest to your clients from another perspective so that you’re off the hook for drafting your own article. (Points as a cross-selling effort!) Or perhaps it’s shifting some personal obligations to free up time for BD.
  3. Determine how much time you can realistically devote to BD during this period and what to do for maximum effect. Whatever your answer may be to this question, block that amount of time out on your calendar and hold it as a high-priority appointment.
  4. Determine the highest value activities that you can complete in the time available. Your BD plan is a living document, so go back to it and re-examine your priorities. If you’ve decided to create a document or course to guide potential clients through an issue related to your practice, for example, you’ll need to decide whether that’s an important enough investment to devote your limited time to it. Unless you’re at the beginning of your BD journey and focusing on establishing your platform and professional brand more than working to bring in new business in the short term, you’ll reap the most benefit from person-to-person contact. Revisit your “A list” and calendar reminders to communicate with those high-value contacts. Set aside 15 minutes for a catch-up call with one of them. Schedule coffee with one of these contacts to explore mutual interests and opportunities. Remember, people are the route to new business, so when you’re busy, be sure you’re staying visible to your most valuable connections.
  5. Calendar a date to re-evaluate your workload. The mistake I see too many lawyers make is putting BD on hold “temporarily” while they’re busier than usual and never moving back to the activities they’d planned. Without some defined end to the busy period (preferably a date to revisit the workload, but possibly also a defined benchmark such as the close of discovery in a large case), it’s easy to let the busy period expand… and expand… and expand. At some point, the hiatus will become so long that resuming BD activity feels like you’re starting from scratch, and that may be a daunting prospect to face. Know how you’ll identify the end of the hiatus and trigger your return to regular BD activity.

Finally, when you’re too busy for regular BD activity, cut yourself a bit of a break—but not too much. Don’t fall prey to all-or-nothing thinking. Business development is a long game, and you will likely go through several periods of reduced activity when you’re unusually busy. As long as those periods are limited and you focus on high-value activities, you can continue moving forward with success.