Your Decisions Determine Your Business Development Success.

Making and executing decisions is a key part of practicing law. Litigators decide what strategy to follow on a case; negotiators decide where to stand firm and where to compromise; partners decide which associates are right for an assignment and advancement; patent lawyers decide which features of an invention to claim… And so on.

In fact, decision-making is one of the first practice skills we learn in law school. Did you ever witness the disaster that often followed when a student didn’t stick with an argument about whether and why a case was correctly decided? The professor would show that changing lanes repeatedly often leads to flaccid, half-baked arguments that fall apart. The student under questioning would discover just how accurate the phrase “hot seat” can feel, ending up exhausted and embarrassed. Sure, sometimes we make a mistake and have to correct it, but making and remaking a decision burns time and energy and rarely ends well.

Decision-making plays an important role in business development in two essential ways:

  1. Deciding to focus on BD and grow a book of business
  2. Deciding on a course of BD action and following through

Let’s look at each of these decisions and how they may fall by the wayside, undoing potential success along the way.

Deciding to focus on BD and grow a book of business

Most of us didn’t enter practice thinking, I can’t wait to do business development! Instead, something happens that prompts us to turn our attention from billable work to the process of bringing in that work. And we decide to focus on BD and growing a book of business… or do we?

The word decide comes from the Latin decidere, which is a combination of two words that mean to cut off. (See the brief discussion about the meaning of the word decide.) In other words, to decide on a course of action is to cut off other options.

But when it comes to focusing on business development, many lawyers reverse course when they get busy with billable work and deadlines. Far from having cut off the option of not focusing on BD, these lawyers justify why they have to step away from BD “for now” until they get past a busy period. Sometimes they never resume BD focus, and sometimes they repeatedly dip in and out of focus. In either case, they never come close to reaching momentum.

Deciding that things are just too busy to focus on business development feels like a valid decision, perhaps even a necessary one. After all, you can’t slack on billable work to chase new work, and meeting deadlines is crucial. This can feel like an inescapable Catch-22, but there is a solution.

Decide on small, discrete steps you can take to keep your business development work going even when you’re busy, and then do them. These steps may feel too small to matter, but they’ll keep your BD work alive until you can resume focusing on it. Read more about how to use Teeny Tiny containers to accomplish your BD goals even when you’re too busy to do as much as you’d like.

When you carve out a “no matter what happens” block of time for business development, even if it’s just a few minutes, you’re affirming that BD is a top priority for you. You’re executing the decision you made to focus on BD and grow your book.

Deciding on a course of BD action and following through

When you began focusing on business development, you probably created a BD plan to execute an underlying strategy. (If that isn’t how you began, we should talk so you can set yourself up for success in 2023.) Your plan likely includes several buckets of activities, such as networking to meet potential clients and referral sources, following up with key contacts so that you remain top-of-mind, writing and speaking to build your professional profile, and so on. You started executing your plan, but something happened…

Perhaps you didn’t see the results you were expecting or perhaps you had a new idea that seemed like a better approach. Maybe a colleague mentioned something that led to new business, or you read an article with some fresh ideas, and you think you should shift your plan to incorporate those ideas. After all, you don’t want to waste time on something that isn’t working when there’s something better to try, right? Well, yes and no.

Landing new business takes time. How long this takes depends on a wide variety of factors, but most lawyers find that establishing a flow of new business takes longer than they’d dreamed it might.

Business development success lies in having a solid strategy and consistently executing actions to affect the strategy. It takes time to see the results of your actions, but it also takes time to put in the effort necessary to even hope to see results. Frustrating but true.

I recommend my clients work on their business development plan for three months and then evaluate what results they’re seeing. Sometimes that’s measured in new business, but especially for more high value/low volume practices, that’s measured in a wider network, in more conversations about business and how to get in line to pitch a new matter. The three-month evaluation is about whether you’re seeing results, not whether you’re getting new business. If there are no results, then we have to evaluate whether it’s the plan/execution that’s faulty and a change is required, whether skills development is needed, or whether there’s something else going on. If there are some results, I counsel my clients to keep going.

The second evaluation period comes at six months. Are you seeing measurable results that indicate that you’re on the right track? Have you been invited to pitch or join a potential client’s panel of law firms? Have you built inroads in a group of potential clients and begun to develop strong relationships? Are you speaking on a bigger stage (which might be literally speaking at larger gatherings or possibly in smaller groups of carefully targeted contacts)? Have your relationships with your A-list deepened?

After engaging in this analysis, the next question is whether the results are strong enough to indicate that you should stay the course. It’s a more quantitative time in vs. results out inquiry.  Finally, you look at the list you’ve been keeping of other ideas and determine whether you should stop something you’re doing and try one of them instead.

If you try a new idea before giving your old plans a fair trial, and especially if you do that over and over, you won’t hit momentum and you will undercut any potential of harnessing the power of consistent execution. Instead, you’ll jump from one plan to another then to another, expending lots of energy and investing lots of time and getting few results.

The Bottom Line regarding your BD plan

Take consistent action with your business development plan. Decide to engage in BD with consistency, and you’ll see results. But if you keep changing plans midstream and discover that your results are lacking, question the strength of your decision first.


Setting Aspirational Plans?

Nearly two years ago, I began spending time on creative writing for the first time in many years. I certainly wrote while I was practicing law — memoranda and briefs galore! —and I’ve written voluminously for my business (The Reluctant Rainmaker, among other books and articles) and for the nonprofit I founded. But this kind of writing is different: it’s something I want to do, it’s a bridge to a future that I want to live, and it’s something with no urgency whatsoever.

Does that remind you of the definition of business development? Your situation might be different: particularly if you’re a sole practitioner, if you’re working in an eat-what-you-kill firm, or if you’ve lateraled (or merged) into a new firm and need to establish yourself, business development may be not just urgent, but also important. For many lawyers, though, business development activity is calculated to reach important professional and personal goals, but it isn’t urgent.

That’s exactly why it’s important that you set your schedule so that you have dedicated daily or near-daily time for business development work. In the absence of outside motivation, your commitment to the time you set aside on your calendar may be the only thing that ensures you move forward on your BD activity. Of course, you’ll miss a scheduled BD block sometimes, but when it’s on your calendar, you’ll have an immediate prompt to get back to it at your next scheduled time. By calendaring this important task, you’ll ensure that it gets done.

There’s a danger to this approach, though: the aspirational plan. I define an aspirational plan as a plan that only the perfect you can accomplish on the perfect day. If your schedule is already busy, deciding to add in an hour a day of BD work is probably unrealistic. Deciding that you’ll have a BD lunch every day is probably unrealistic. Deciding that you’ll start a blog or podcast and post every week? Probably unrealistic unless you have remarkable support, a list of topics, and a carefully laid business development plan to ensure that the work gets done.

Aspirational plans are dangerous because they feel like they’ll guarantee progress toward your goal; the truth is that unrealistic plans (the perfect me on a perfect day plan) will be thwarted because it’s unrealistic, and you will likely end up discouraged. You may even look at not following an aspirational plan as proof that you don’t have the time (or, worse, the ability) to build your practice.

A creative writing tool I’ve learned from best-selling author Jennifer Louden is applicable here: the Teeny Tiny container. A Teeny Tiny container is a short period of time for writing or BD that you can keep no matter what. It’s less time that you think will be useful, possibly as little as five minutes. My Teeny Tiny containers are usually 15 minutes.

Teeny Tiny containers of business development activity delivers results because you’re committed to the time, you build a track record of success with keeping that commitment, and you can knock out small tasks like a catch-up email or chip away at larger ones like investigating conferences where you might speak. You may not see results from a single Teeny Tiny container, but the time adds up, and you may find yourself committing to larger periods of time as you build your BD skills. This business development process, setting short but inviolable blocks of time for BD, works even if you’re subject to demands from a court, clients, more senior lawyers, or anyone or anything else that may upend your plans at a moment’s notice: barring extraordinary circumstances, we can all find five or ten minutes.

For this approach to be successful, however, you must have a clearly defined business development strategy and a set of tasks that are calculated to affect that strategy. You must know what you’re going to accomplish during your Teeny Tiny container; otherwise, you’ll waste your time deciding what to do or working on uncoordinated BD tasks that keep you busy but don’t actually move you forward. Be sure that you leave breadcrumbs as you close your time each day so that you can get to work immediately during your next time block.

Finally, during your monthly review, look at how the Teeny Tiny containers have worked for you. Track your completion percentage (number of containers you planned minus the number you missed, divided by the number planned and multiplied by 100) to see how well you kept your commitment. If the percentage is low, try again with a smaller time block or reduced frequency. Look at your accomplishments during the month, including things like the number of contacts you made, progress you made toward writing or speaking goals, etc. Finally, if your completion percentage is high (90% or more), consider whether it’s realistic to increase your time commitment. If it’s low (under 50%), consider whether you should reduce the amount of time or the frequency of your containers so that you’re able to keep your commitment.

As a result of keeping Teeny Tiny containers, I’ve completed more than 20 essays in the eight months (one of which has been selected for publication) and begun outlining a book I’d like to write—all while running my business and a small nonprofit, planning a wedding celebration and honeymoon, having two rounds of Covid, coordinating treatment for a geriatric dog and cat, and more. I guarantee I wouldn’t have accomplished as much without this approach. I’d love to hear your results if you give it a try.


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

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.