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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.

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.

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.

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.

Want change? Think goal, not tactics.

What if you could make it easier to change your habits and meet your goals? That’s the promise of The Key to Lasting Changes: Think Goal, Not Tactic on the Harvard Business Review Blog. Elizabeth Grace Saunders. The post’s author proposes three steps to help “identify tactics that will actually work for you and keep your focus on your big objectives:”

  1. Determine which goals you’ve been unable to meet despite your best efforts;
  2. Brainstorm other tactics you could use to achieve your goals; and
  3. Test one of your hypotheses.

As Saunders recognizes, change will always require discipline, patience, and practice. In other words, change requires effort, but it doesn’t have to be hard.

I’ve been using these steps recently to change a long-standing but detrimental habit of using my email inbox as a tickler file. Using a new folder for items that require follow up and an If This Then That (IFTTT) recipe to create a reminder on my calendar, I’ve been able to clear those items from my inbox. Not only is my inbox cleaner (which feels good), but I’m better at follow-up. That’s a huge win.

What would you like to change? Give Saunders’ process a try. I’d love to know how it works for you.


The next installment of the webinar series, Embracing Virtual and Remote Networking is tomorrow, October 15th at 1 pm EDT.

Click here to register.

Legal Marketing: How do you handle silent rejection?

It’s hard to hear “no” when you’re working to increase your visibility through speaking or writing or when you’ve asked a potential client for new business. But as difficult as it is, you probably hear “no” on a regular basis. In fact, if you don’t get turned down at least every now and again, you’re probably playing it too safe and not pursuing enough opportunities. You’ve likely come up with some methods to handle that disappointment.

But how do you handle it when you’ve made an overture and all you get back is silence? Do you assume rejection? Do you follow up, or follow up again, and how do you avoid becoming a pest? Do you take a new approach and see if that gets you further? Do you tuck tail and give up? Ugh—these are tough questions.

Consider these questions when silence is the only answer to an inquiry: 

Diagnostic questions: What (maybe) went wrong?

  • Was your overture interesting enough? Did you offer a juicy tidbit designed to pique interest? For example, rather than simply describing an article you’d like to write on some aspect of law, offer the same description plus a snappy tentative title. If you’re requesting a meeting with someone, be sure you’re offering a good reason for your contact to give up the time to meet with you.
  • Was your request clear enough? Instead of asking for a short meeting, ask for a 15-minute meeting. Suggest a target length for the article you’re proposing. If you’re inviting someone to speak on a panel, suggest a couple of topics she might consider. Details yield specific thought, and you’re more likely to get a response if it’s clear what you want and why.
  • Did you choose the right method of communication? Sometimes you’re stuck with a prescribed format (how to submit an article proposal, for example), but take the time to think it through when you have options. If you know the recipient, what mode of communication does he prefer? How likely is it that his email inbox is overflowing and yours simply got overlooked in the volume?

Prescriptive questions: What can you do now?

  • Might you follow up to try again for a response? Follow-up is fairly easy when you have a somewhat close relationship with your contact or when your contact actually suggested you be in touch. Even without some previous connection, you can typically follow up once (and, depending on the circumstances, perhaps twice) even on a cold contact. If you’ve pinpointed a potential problem with the diagnostic questions, edit your request and try again. To avoid looking like a pest, give serious thought to calling if you’d previously emailed or vice versa. Pay attention to the way you phrase your follow-up: consider the difference in tone between “my email dated 9/1/20 may not have reached you” vs. “you may have overlooked my email dated 9/1/20.” Whatever you do, think pleasant, not pushy.
  • Do you have some other reason to be in contact? Be careful with this approach, because it can backfire if you’re clearly manufacturing a reason to communicate with the person. However, if you have an article that they might find useful or if you bumped into a mutual acquaintance who shared some interesting information, pass that along with a gentle reminder about your initial request.
  • Look for another route to that person. Especially if you’ve made a cold contact, look for a way to network into the connection. Check for mutual connections on LinkedIn, for example, or ask around in your firm or circle of acquaintances. Finding someone who can introduce you or promote your request can be an effective way to gain attention.
  • Let time pass, then try again. When you can’t follow up again, make a note on your calendar to get back in touch in a few weeks or months. End-of-year and summer holidays are often a good time to get back in touch with someone thanks to cultural expectations. You might also watch for an announcement or publication that affects your request or for some suggestion that your contact was involved in something time-consuming that may have prevented a response. One of my clients was frustrated by the lack of response from a distant friend until he discovered that the company in which the friend was an executive had just negotiated an agreement to purchase a competitor. That news both explained the silence and opened an opportunity to get back in touch.

Most importantly, don’t take silence personally. Chances are good that your contact was simply too busy to respond to you. Even if the silence was intentional, the lack of an explicit rejection leaves the door at least cracked for a future attempt at communication.


P.S. If you missed the first session of the webinar series, “The Human Touch of Rainmaking”, it’s not too late!

You can catch the replay until Sunday, October 4th. 

Click here to watch it.

 

P.P.S. Mark your calendar for the next installment of the webinar series, Embracing Virtual and Remote Networking which will be held on October 15th. 

More details to come!

What if small talk fails?

Relationships are at the heart of business development. That’s true regardless of the length of your sales cycle, meaning the typical amount of time required for a potential client to move from first encountering you to hiring you. It isn’t necessary to build a deep and personal relationship in all cases, but you do have to have enough of a relationship to allow your potential client or referral source to know and trust you.

Whether your potential client first finds you online or offline, one-on-one conversation is where a true connection may bloom. Most commonly, you’ll find that the process of building a connection takes time. (That’s why follow-up is so critically important.)

You’re probably aware that small talk paves the way for follow-up contacts. Through small talk (conversation that meanders through a variety of topics at a relatively surface level), you learn more about your conversational partner. You discover mutual interests and experiences, and you start to build a common bond. Through follow-up, you develop that bond, and over time a relationship flourishes… And you’re off to other business development issues. (If small talk isn’t your strength, you’ll find plenty of resources online that can help you improve your skills and increase your comfort.)

But what about those situations in which small talk fails? Perhaps small talk isn’t culturally accepted or, despite your best efforts, your small-talk skills aren’t creating an easy flow in conversation. In these instances, you’ll need to find ways in addition to small talk to establish and deepen connections.

The Harvard Business Review article Building Relationships in Cultures That Don’t Do Small Talk offers good tips for recognizing a no-small-talk culture (something that you should already know based on your due diligence) and for adapting. The most important two sentences in the article apply to relationship-building generally, not just across cultures:

One essential piece of advice is to take a longer-term perspective on developing relationships. If you assume that relationships and rapport can indeed be developed in a matter of moments, you’ll inevitably be disappointed.

The article goes on to suggest several tactics to use in the absence of small talk, including working to ensure that “your colleagues see you as someone worthy of having a relationship with, even if it’s not going to happen immediately,” finding impersonal topics for conversation, and knowing when it’s acceptable to build personal relationships.

Use these tips when small talk fails you, but also incorporate them into your relationship-building approach even when you get things going with chitchat. The better you are at adapting your approach to your new contact’s style and the more alternatives you have in mind for building a solid foundation for your relationships, the stronger your network will be.


If you haven’t registered yet for the first session of the webinar series, “The Human Touch of Rainmaking”, it’s not too late!

The webinar is TODAY at 5 pm EDT/2 pm PDT so mark your calendar. 

Click here to register. 

Do you think about what you’re doing?

How often do you think about what you’re doing? Probably more often than you should.

Consider this quote:

 

When it comes to business development (and practice in general), building good habits will help you to accomplish the tasks you want more consistently. For example, if you make it a habit to connect with a new contact on LinkedIn and to send a “nice to meet you” note, then to update your contact management system and calendar a keep-in-touch schedule, you’ll never let a great new connection slip through your fingers. If you routinely enter your time at the end of each day, you’ll never have to spend an entire morning (or more) to recreate your records at the end of the month.

What’s your agenda?

One of my favorite questions is, “What’s your agenda?” I’ve noticed, however, that we tend not to ask that question of ourselves often enough.

Setting an agenda is a classic time management strategy. If you’re looking to make meetings shorter and more productive, circulate an agenda in advance and expect everyone to come prepared. If you want to make your day more productive, set your own agenda. Of course, other issues may arise in the course of the meeting or the day, but if you set your agenda first, you’ll at least know what you intended to accomplish and you won’t lose track of necessary tasks.

Knowing your agenda is critical for networking. Meeting new people requires you to have a sorting agenda in place: do you want to meet lawyers, bankers, or parents? Are you interested in officers in closely-held businesses, or would you prefer to meet officers in public corporations? Knowing who you want to meet will help you to identify the best groups to investigate and to target the right people for follow-up, which is where the networking magic happens, if at all.

Having an agenda is the difference between effective follow-up meetings and purposeless coffee dates that accomplish nothing. If you have some idea of what you’d like to discuss during a follow-up meeting, you’ll be able to tailor your conversation to be sure that you ask the right questions or offer the right information. It’s easy to wing it for follow-up meetings, but taking a few minutes to think about what you want from the meeting will make you much more effective.

Finally, when you’re talking with someone with whom you’re considering joining forces (for marketing or to form a new practice, for example) ask them directly (or ask yourself) what their agenda is.  Poorly phrased, the question is a bit confrontational, but the more you know or intuit about someone else’s objectives, the better your decisions will be.

Take a few minutes to answer these questions (or others that fit your circumstances):

  • What’s your agenda for today?
  • What’s your agenda for your practice?
  • What’s your client’s agenda?

Share your best ideas with your best clients.

When do you share your best ideas? BTI Consulting, a group known for its deep research in client satisfaction and preferences, reports that:

“[j]ust over 2/3 of clients tell us the best new ideas they see coming from law firms happen during an RFP process. Somewhere among the sea of bland boilerplate submissions lies one scintillating idea, suggestion or nugget. One firm invested the time and energy to simply blow their potential client away.”

Being the firm that came up with an amazing nugget is great, but as the BTI article continues, “why wait until an RFP to strut your stuff?” RFPs may be a necessary part of business, but preserving—and perhaps expanding—client relationships is critical to a prosperous practice.  (The article is directed to large firms, but the principles adhere to small firms as well.)

Read the article for a suggestion on how you can do better by proactively sharing your best ideas with your best clients. In the meantime, ask yourself…

  • How often do you offer the “scintillating idea, suggestion or nugget” in an RFP? How can you increase the frequency?
  • How often do you proactively bring an idea, an insight, or an approach to your clients? The BTI article focuses on corporate counsel, but regardless of your practice area, you must spend time thinking about what will make things better for your clients. For example, a litigator might recognize a trend in litigation and offer that to clients to help them avoid unnecessary suits.
  • If you tend not to have repeat business from core clients, identify your ideal client profile and ask what would blow that kind of client away. In other words, is there a new process or resource that would be incredibly helpful?
  • More globally, what do you do when you’re trying to win business that you might do to strengthen the relationship with your current clients? Building a relationship with a current client will, in general, deliver much better results than trying to land a new client. (That doesn’t mean you need not pursue new business, though.)

Offering something eye-catching in an RFP is good, but bringing the nugget to a current client is even better. Read the BTI Consulting article, then apply it.