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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.

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.

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.

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?

Business Development Trades in Promises

Sales. Selling. Sales pitch. How do those words come across to you? Positive, negative, or no charge at all? Studies show that a significant number of people have some bad impression about selling, though most people have no negative association with buying. (See Daniel Pink’s To Sell Is Human for more on this.)

But if you’re to grow your practice, you have to be able to secure new work, and that requires sales skills. I know, you didn’t go to law school to sell stuff (nor did I)… And yet, if you’re uncomfortable in a sales conversation, your potential client will perceive that discomfort and may think you’re uncomfortable with the matter or the client, or even that you’re trying to hide something.

I’m always on the lookout for alternative ways of looking at sales because you must master your comfort with the idea of sales before you can master the skill itself. And I found a new perspective in a recent article that you cannot afford to miss.

Here’s a teaser: “What we’re really trading in is promises.”

Take two minutes to read the post, then five or ten to contemplate its implications. It’ll change your perspective on both sales and client service.

 

Tuesday shorts 7/29/08 (happiness in the law, client relationships, Blackberry malaise)

I’m attending a conference this week, so I thought I’d load up a few links to good articles and blog posts some of you may not have seen.

Seven Simple Suggestions for Success and Happiness in the Law  The JD Bliss Blog recently posted a summary of a commencement speech by Stephen Ellis, a lawyer who has happily practiced for 36 years.  The suggestions are deceptively simple:

  • Be there for your clients when they need you.
  • Don’t be obnoxious.  Do a good job on the law, facts, and strategy, but don’t make it personal.
  • Be enthusiastic about your clients’ matters; ask how something can be done rather than rattling off reasons why it can’t.
  • Believe in your brain–some things people tell you really might not make sense.
  • Stay focused and stay with it–renew daily your commitment to good work and reliability daily.
  • Get “outside” yourself and participate in community events.  In addition to being a great way to meet more people and broaden your appreciation for your community, you have a lot to offer, and you’ll have fun.
  • Be nice.  In Ellis’ own words, “Cliche it may be, but being pleasant and friendly makes the day’s good spots better and the rough spots smoother. And that makes everyone’s life better–for sure yours.”

Well said!

Building strong client relationships  Frank D’Amore, founder of Attorney Career Catalysts (a legal recruiting, consulting, and training firm), published a helpful article in The Legal Intelligencer recently, discussing how a first-year partner who has landed a major client can build a solid, long-term relationship with the client.  (I particularly appreciated D’Amore’s reminder not to focus so heavily on any single client that business development efforts slow down or stop.)  To build a strong client relationship, D’Amore recommends:

  • Understand your client’s business and industry.
  • Keep your client fully in the loop about what’s happening in the matter.
  • Make your client look good at all times.
  • Maintain regular contact with your client, even when there’s a lull in the representation.
  • Consider how you might help key client contacts in ways that extend beyond legal services.

Stop blaming your Blackberry for your lack of self-discipline  Penelope Trunk, the Brazen Careerist, has a funny-because-it’s-true post about those whose lives are run by their Blackberries.  Yes, I understand needing to receive and respond to emails immediately sometimes, but anyone who’s ever complained about Blackberry bondage should read this post.  Just a clip (from the end of the post):

Blackberries are tools for the well-prioritized. If you feel like you’re being ruled by your Blackberry, you probably are. And the only way to free yourself from those shackles is to start prioritizing so that you know at any given moment what is the most important thing to do. Sometimes it will be the Blackberry, and sometimes it won’t. And the first step to doing this shift properly is recognizing that you can be on and off the Blackberry all day as a sign of empowerment.