Posts

On Strategic Planning

When I begin working with a new client, someone who wants to build a book of business (or a bigger book), the first thing we do is to build a strategy. I’ve written extensively in the past on the process of developing a strategy for business development. (See, for example, Chapter 3 of The Reluctant Rainmaker and the blog posts How Do You Choose Biz Dev Strategy and What’s Your Strategy?) And yet, what every client wants, quite understandably, is a plan of action items that they can do to build the practice. In fact, we talk about a business development plan more than strategy, and it’s a BD plan, not strategy, that I urge lawyers to revisit on a regular basis. What gives?
 
A BD plan is only as good as the strategy that underlies it. Without strategy, a plan is just an uncoordinated task list of actions that you think will bring in more business, but the actions don’t function together or reinforce one another, nor are they pointed to a specific outcome other than more business.

Succeeding in business development requires strategic planning; creating a plan that flows from your strategy comes next.
Strategic planning can be difficult (usually is, if it’s done well), and it’s easy to slip into developing a task list instead of a strategy because that creates the illusion of being more productive.

So how do you know when you’re truly engaging in strategic planning?

I ran across this terrific video from the Harvard Business Review called A Plan Is Not a Strategy. In the video, Roger Martin, former dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, distinguishes strategy from routine planning and highlights the fallacy of what we usually call “strategic planning.”


Martin defines strategy as an “integrative set of choices that positions you on a playing field of your choice in a way that you win.” (Emphasis added.) A strategy is coherent and doable, but it’s also built on a theory about why this is the best playing field for you and why you’re better than anyone else on this playing field. That theory can’t be proven in advance, so it’s a calculated risk that must be tested.
 
A plan, on the other hand, is composed of discrete, concrete action steps that you can complete. The outcome of those actions must be projected, but it is not guaranteed, and unless the individual steps are tied specifically to a strategy (do this to accomplish this aspect of the strategy), the plan lacks an internal coherence. It’s a task list that defines how to use the resources at your disposal, including your time and budget.
 
And so it follows that strategic planning is the process of defining a strategy and then building a plan to implement that strategy.
 
An example of strategic planning: Beginning at 4:05 in the video, Martin discusses how, years ago, almost all airline carriers were building plans like one another to grow their market share. More routes, better customer service, steps designed to improve on what was already existing. These carriers had a plan designed to further a long-ago defined strategy.
 
But Southwest was an upstart that defined a new playing field (point-to-point flights, rather than hub-and-spoke, for one example) that would allow it to reach a desired type of customer (the group of fliers who essentially wanted a more convenient mode of travel than Greyhound without dramatically increasing the cost). In other words, Southwest built a strategy, whereas other airlines simply continued to implement their growth plans. Changing the curtains, if you will, as opposed to placing the window in a new location.
 
A key criticism of law firms and lawyers is that they tend to follow one another, building a better version of a fairly uniform concept of how to build a practice. Although the planning is often described as strategic planning, it’s usually planning for an old strategy or creating a BD plan that isn’t closely tied to any strategy at all. When did you (or your firm) last take on a review and, if necessary, an overhaul of the strategy underlying your business development plans? Do you know what the current strategy is, beyond seeking clients who need X kind of work and can pay Y kind of dollars?
 
One line makes this a must-watch video: “While you’re planning, at least one competitor is working on strategy.” Query which camp you (or your firm) belongs to and what result that’s likely to achieve.
 
Note that I’m not saying you necessarily need to abandon your current strategy and adopt a new one. It may be that you’ve been through the hard work at least somewhat recently and have a strategy that allows you to distinguish yourself from other lawyers and law firms—to win on the playing field of your choice, to use Martin’s words. If that’s the case, check your BD plan to be sure that it’s designed to meet your strategy.
 
But if you haven’t recently revisited your strategy to determine whether it’s on point—or if you can’t clearly articulate the strategy underlying your BD plan—take this as your sign that it’s time to enter a true strategic planning process. Check out the video for a primer on how to develop a strategy that makes sense for you.

Biz dev is a marathon.

A friend recently ran her first marathon. She didn’t know how it would feel to run 26 miles, and she was concerned about giving up partway through if she started to feel too tired. She even used a marker to write on the inside of her arm, “Your mind will give up before your body. Don’t stop.” She not only finished: she finished almost 15 minutes faster than she’d imagined she might.

Her tip? Don’t let the mind run the show when it’s tired, stressed, and worried. Make a commitment to action and keep going even when it gets hard.

That approach works for literal and metaphorical marathons. And that’s another reason why it matters so much that you have a business development plan with clear interim and ultimate goals: you’re less tempted to stop even when it gets hard if you can look to your interim goals to mark progress and focus on your ultimate goals to provide continues motivation. (Your ultimate goal means not originating and/or serving $X of business, but doing that so that you can make partner or pay cash for your kids’ college tuition or stay at the Four Seasons on your next vacation.)

Here’s the bottom line:

How do you distinguish yourself?

Do you ever feel that you’re just one lawyer in a large sea of clones?  Hundreds or thousands of other lawyers may occupy the same niche that you do, and you may wonder how to set yourself apart. The challenge lessens if you have specific expertise in a niche, but re-emerges for everyone at some point in business development.

Here’s the bigger problem: lawyers’ websites often read almost identically. Everyone has “years of experience” that will “create value” for their clients through “excellent client service.”  Important, necessary, but oh-so-very-dull, isn’t it?  In today’s economy, if that’s all you can say about yourself and your practice, you’re in trouble.

If you fail to differentiate yourself from other lawyers and law firms, you’ll fail to capture attention—or if you get attention, your audience may not be able to remember who you are. Of course, you must follow certain ethics rules, but looking like everyone else will do you no favors.

So… How can you differentiate yourself? While the options are potentially limitless, three examples may help you to create your own ideas.

  1. Narrow your niche. You can speak to a specific audience (same-sex parents for estate planning purposes), a specific legal need (helping closely held or family businesses navigate sale or purchase), or a specific part of practice (appellate litigation). When you go narrow in scope, you must go deep in focus so that you become the leading voice in your field. Going deep offers strong content marketing opportunities, and you can distinguish yourself by speaking with laser focus
  2. Create a unique experience for your clients. What can you offer clients that other lawyers can’t or don’t? The opportunities vary widely by practice area, but any value-added service is a good step toward differentiation.
    And remember: how you practice is just as important as what you do in practice. Be attentive to the habits that may set you apart from others. Opportunities to set yourself apart abound: quick responses to telephone calls and emails, regular case updates, and educational resources on topics such as how to prepare to give deposition/trial testimony or what to consider when getting ready to make estate plans, to give a few examples.
  3. Become active and visible in the community. Volunteering, serving on boards, or working with non-profits in other capacities is a good way to become known. It provides a context and opening for conversations that reluctant networkers may find more comfortable. Your pro bono work may even present you the opportunity to offer guidance and suggestions that serve as a taste of the service you offer clients. Moreover, you may have opportunities to speak or write through these channels, both of which will serve to raise your profile. Just a caveat: if you expect this community work to support you in building your practice, make sure there’s a logical nexus either by topic or overlapping audiences.

What’s not on this list? General descriptors that suggest you’re smarter or savvier than other lawyers without something specific to back it up. Your strategic insight may in fact differentiate you from others, but your target audience won’t believe you if you tell them. Demonstrate these qualities by sharing representative matters or an article that share your strategic approach.

Successful lawyers are clear about what makes them different from others, and they know how to communicate that persuasively. If you want to differentiate yourself from other practitioners, it’s imperative to connect with an internal compass that will point to what does indeed make you different. If you don’t know what that is, you won’t be able to convince anyone else. Get feedback from colleagues, clients, and/or an outside source.

Not the same year-end pablum again!

We’re at the tail-end of the year, a busy time whether you’re celebrating with family or pushing to meet a year-end matter deadline. This time of year, the ‘net is awash in articles about evaluating last year and prepping for the new year that are just warmed-over from previous years. Ugh! Who has time? But…

Here are two articles worth making time to read this week because they’ll challenge your way of thinking:

  • Paying the Smart Phone Tax by Seth Godin. I essentially run my business from a smart phone, and I rely on it for critical news about a terminally ill family member. When I saw the title of this post, I immediately worried about a financial tax on my phone, but the post itself points out a much more significant price to pay from overusing it.
  • The Four Hardest Questions to Answer at the End of the Year by Michael Bungay Stanier. We all reflect on the closing year as a new one approaches, and our questions tend to scratch only the surface. As Stanier argues, asking only “what did you do” and “how did it go” allows you to avoid going deeper into what’s really going on. He recommends four alternate questions:
    • What do I need to kill off?
    • Where have I stayed stuck?
    • How did I let myself down?
    • Where are you really headed?

Read the article for further explanation of these questions, and then answer them honestly to gain deep insight leading into purposeful action. I particularly like Stanier’s suggestion that you answer the questions out loud to a trusted friend or colleague.

These two articles got me thinking in a fresh and challenging direction. I’ll be working on Stanier’s four questions next week. Will you join me?

Is It Time to Upgrade Your Work-from-Home Clothes?

This week’s blog post is by Janet Valenza, Founder, President, and Designer of GOGOgracious™, the women’s clothing brand and direct selling company. 

Janet and I have had a couple of virtual “get acquainted” coffees recently, and I appreciated her suggestions for dressing in a way that’s both comfortable and professional while working from home. Your appearance is part of your brand, so getting this right really matters. Enjoy her article on a challenge many of us are facing during these Zoom-centric days.

And please remember to join my colleague Ivy Slater and me on December 17 for Implementing Your 2021 Vision for a Profitable Practice, the next webinar in our series Building a Profitable Practice in Uncertain Times. Learn more and register HERE.

 

Is It Time to Upgrade Your Work-from-Home Clothes? 

by Janet Valenza

A couple of my clients said to me lately “I don’t need to buy clothes anymore; I’m not going anywhere.”

For me, “not going anywhere” isn’t the issue.  I’ve learned that looking my best means feeling my best.  Getting dressed fully in the morning gets me jazzed for the happiest, most productive day.  This attitude was in place long before the pandemic, and it held true regardless of whether I was spending the day working at home or in the office, running errands, lounging, playing, going to dinner, or some combination of the above. And, of course, if you’re working with clients, being well-dressed for working from home is non-negotiable.

There’s scientific evidence to back this up.  A recent article for the Wall Street Journal cites a study by Dr. Adam Galinsky of Columbia University in which he concludes,  “An elevated cohesive casual look signals the brain for higher productivity.”  He goes on to elaborate that when we have dressed appropriately for the day’s work, we think at a higher, more creative level.

Yes, we all have a lot of Zoom calls right now.  And granted, looking good on Zoom is important, whether you’re meeting with clients or colleagues.  But as Dr. Galinsky discovered, it’s not just about how we appear to others on Zoom calls.  And it’s certainly not about dressing from the waist up.

The goal. I believe. is getting dressed every day for work so that we feel comfortable and also look like a leader, inside and outside the home, on and off Zoom.

Here are some simple suggestions to accomplish that goal, beginning with what’s likely already in your closet.

  1. Start with the first layer. For women, that means a comfortable sports bra and some leggings. For men, it’s a tapered stretchy activewear pant.
  2. Add a fitted (can be loose around the middle but not boxy or baggy) tank top, or racerback top. For men, choose a nice T-shirt.
  3. Take a look in your closet and pull out any shirts or tops with a collar.  Why a collar, you ask?  Because a collar highlights the face on Zoom calls and, more importantly, lends leadership presence.
  4. Evaluate each shirt to determine if it’s knit or woven. Wovens are often stiffer and more formal.  Think cotton shirt.  Knits are generally softer, stretchy, and more casual.
  5. Eliminate the wovens. They’re simply too formal for work-at-home wear.
  6. Layer the collared knit shirt over your initial layer.

Presto! You’re comfortable, Zoom ready, and proud to go outside! See the example below of client Sharon looking smart in the GOGOgracious™ black and white knit shirt.  She is comfortable, yet she looks like a leader. You can find even more examples in this widely-shared Facebook Live.

Janet Valenza is the President of the women’s clothing brand GOGOgracious™.  She helps dynamic women, who are frustrated with shopping, look great in less time.  Find more examples of how to dress well and comfortably (plus opportunities to ask questions) by following Janet’s Facebook page and find her on LinkedIn and Instagram or email her at janetv@gogogracious.com.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving or just going about an ordinary Thursday, please know how grateful I am for the opportunity to serve you through this blog.


P.S. The next installment of the webinar series:

Implementing Your 2021 Vision for a Profitable Practice
The webinar is scheduled for Thursday, December 17th at 1 PM ET/noon CT/10 AM PT.

Click here to register.

What the Tough Mudder can teach you about biz dev.

I recently talked with a friend who completed a Tough Mudder. For those of you who aren’t familiar, a Tough Mudder is a 10-12 miles obstacle race through a variety of obstacles (such as sprinting through a field of live wires) and, you guessed it, lots of mud. Aside from the obstacles, two aspects of Tough Mudder are legendary: the focus on teamwork (“no mudder left behind”) and on overcoming fears through the obstacles.  And it’s definitely tough—or so I hear since it isn’t exactly my cup of tea.

Here’s what my friend told me that made me think of the business development journey: “I came to appreciate the obstacles because every time I made it through one, I knew I was that much closer to the end. When I was in the middle of it, I couldn’t really tell how far I’d gone or how much I had left to the finish line, but the obstacles helped me know that I was actually making progress.” It’s a useful lesson.

Here’s what the Tough Mudder can teach you about business development:

  • Approach the race as a marathon, not as a sprint. Although the Tough Mudder is “just” 10-12 miles long, expecting to whip through it would be a huge mistake even if you run that distance every weekend. Likewise, business development will last for the rest of your private practice career, and you’ll run ragged if you behave as if it’s a goal to be conquered in the short term. Keep your eye on the long-term view even while working to overcome each immediate obstacle.
  • Overcome your fears. I have yet to meet a lawyer who built a book without having to face difficult and uncomfortable situations. You need grit and consistency to power through those situations just as you do during the Tough Mudder to jump from a tall platform into ice-cold water and then run to climb a scaffold and slide down a pole through a ring of fire.
  • Realize that you can’t do it alone. To succeed in building a successful practice, you’ll need help from mentors and colleagues who can give you suggestions and feedback, professional friends who can make introductions and open doors for you, and referral partners who can help you meet the right contacts and potential clients. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to succeed alone—and you’d be wise to be invested in your teammates’ success as they are in yours.
  • Take the steps necessary to prepare. Training for the Tough Mudder might include cardio, weight lifting, and bodyweight exercises, along with finding out the best clothes to wear during the race and other “real life” tips. Preparing for business development may include designing your strategy and laying your business development plan, improving certain skills (networking skills, for example), learning about general principles of marketing, studying your target client’s likely concerns and goals, learning more about business principles, and so on. Whether it’s a Tough Mudder or business development, you can’t expect to go from zero to win without significant preparatory work.
  • Have a clear objective in mind. In most races, your time is your measure of success; in Tough Mudder, success might be measured in terms of your teamwork or even by overcoming the one obstacle that terrified you. Your personal definition of success should govern your business development efforts as well. You’ll likely approach business development differently if you want to become an equity partner at a large firm than you would if you want a more lifestyle-oriented practice. Knowing your “why” will let you be sure that you’re working to create the kind of success that matters to you.
  • Decide that you will succeed. Whether it’s the Tough Mudder or building a clientele to support your practice, you will hit obstacles—literal and metaphorical. It won’t be easy. At times you’ll wonder why you started this journey and you’ll consider abandoning it. Only your decision to persevere will keep you from giving up. Decide early and don’t look back.

Whether you’re training for a Tough Mudder or (like me) can’t imagine taking on that challenge, absorbing these lessons will help you build a successful practice. What else would you add?

One size never fits all.

There’s no secret about which activities are helpful for business development, right? Pick up any law practice management magazine, flip to one of the zillion practice-related websites and blogs, or read marketing suggestions for other professions, and you’ll find all kinds of activities that work for landing new business.

The challenge can be finding which activities work for you. There’s no one-size-fits-all template for business development. When it comes to finding your best process, you must start with self-understanding. What are your skills and opportunities for attaining credible visibility? How do you best interact with people?

It is possible to enhance and even change your natural tendencies—if, for example, there are good indications that speaking would be a productive activity but you’re not a skilled speaker. However, you’re unlikely to succeed unless you first believe you can succeed. Here’s why:

 

How do you see yourself when it comes to business development? To get a clear view, download and complete The Reluctant Rainmaker business development plan template. Part one is all about identifying attributes of yourself as well as your practice and your target clients, and part two helps you to use that information to build a plan that actually fits you.

Don’t fall for a paint-by-numbers template that fits everyone and therefore fits no one. It takes work to design your unique strategy, but that’s the only way to succeed.


P.S. Mark your calendar for the next installment of the webinar series, Mastering Your Time for Greatest Profit: Blending Year-End Billable Responsibilities and Holiday Relationship Development to Build Your 2021 Foundation.

The webinar will be held on Thursday, November 19 at 1 PM ET/noon CT/10 AM PT.

Click here to register.

Project Your Power

Leadership presence, which includes the ability to project power, is critical in any kind of interaction, whether you’re speaking with one person or to a crowd of 1000.  Failing to exhibit the kind of power that demonstrates self-confidence may leave your audience uncertain about your skill, but overdoing a display of power may come across as arrogance, which is a turnoff for almost everyone.

Amy Cuddy’s presented her research on “power poses,” which demonstrates that adopting or even just visualizing a confident pose delivers self-assurance in one of the most viewed TED talks of all time.  One of the fascinating aspects of that research is that taking a “power pose” can affect levels of testosterone and cortisol. In other words, this is not just a “fake it til you make it” shortcut: taking a powerful stand causes physiological effects that can change how you present yourself and thus how others perceive you.

Stanford professor Deborah Gruenfeld, who spent years studying the psychology of power, discovered that simply understanding the research is not enough to reap its rewards. She eventually teamed up with a theatre instructor to teach a Stanford Business School class called Acting With Power. Watch her micro lecture Playing High, Playing Low and Playing It Straight on YouTube, and you’ll pick up tips on how to project authority and approachability. It’s a worthy investment of time if you’ve ever felt a lack of confidence if you’ve ever received feedback that you come across as tentative, or if you’ve ever worried that you’re coming on too strong.

What does this have to do with business development? Simple: no one wants to hire or refer business to someone who may not be able to handle it. While leadership presence isn’t necessarily indicative of actual professional skill, it’s the stand-in that others will evaluate (consciously or not) as they decide whether you’re trustworthy.

Take a few minutes to check out these resources, and if you’re uncertain about how you come across (especially in situations that are uncomfortable to you), ask a trusted colleague. Your presence will have a significant impact on your career, so don’t delay.


P.S. Mark your calendar for the next installment of the webinar series, Mastering Your Time for Greatest Profit: Blending Year-End Billable Responsibilities and Holiday Relationship Development to Build Your 2021 Foundation. 

The webinar will be held on Thursday, November 19 at 1 PM ET/noon CT/10 AM PT. 

Click here to register.

Getting real about connections

He spent the first 45 minutes typing on his phone.

My college friend Helen came to visit me recently, along with her partner of four years whom I’d never met. Tom pulled out his phone as soon as he sat down and kept it out for almost the whole evening. When we tried to draw him into the conversation, he’d respond and then return to his typing, and when Helen prompted him to talk about his work, he pulled out his phone to show us some videos related to his job. Tom has a great smile and friendly eyes, but I didn’t get a feel for who he really is. Technology prevented the connection.

Now, you’d never spend time typing on your phone when you meet someone new for business development purposes, right? But think about these instances in which one might unintentionally let technology block a beneficial connection:

  • You’re attending a conference and you spend breaks checking your email and voicemail to avoid getting too far behind instead of chatting with someone new.
  • You make a new connection on LinkedIn (or other social media) but don’t take the relationship any further.
  • You email a client or contact instead of picking up the telephone—not because you know that the person you’re communicating with prefers email, but because it’s easier for you.
  • You have a follow-up plan in place for new contacts, and it relies primarily on email or social media.
  • You’re so busy processing email during a flight that you don’t even notice the person in the seat next to yours, much less speak to him or her.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these scenarios, but if they repeat frequently, you’re probably missing out on opportunities.

Especially in the early stages of building a business relationship, you’ll benefit from making the effort to interact face-to-face or by voice. Think about the contacts you plan to make this week and ask yourself whether a visit or telephone call would advance the relationship more effectively than an email.


P.S. Mark your calendar for the next installment of the webinar series, Mastering Your Time for Greatest Profit: Blending Year-End Billable Responsibilities and Holiday Relationship Development to Build Your 2021 Foundation.

The webinar will be held on Thursday, November 19 at 1 PM ET/noon CT/10 AM PT.

Click here to register.