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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.

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?

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.

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: What’s today’s biz dev goal?

In the northern hemisphere, we’re looking forward to winter, while southern hemisphere dwellers are looking toward a summer break. Wherever geography may place you, at some point or points over the next couple of months, you’re probably going to be facing an even stronger than usual collision of work, personal commitments, and culture-driven expectations.

It’s easy to let business development take a back seat during this time (or when you’re especially busy otherwise), but instead of dropping back simply because you can’t squeeze in a lot of activity, set one simple goal a day. Get in touch with someone you’ve been meaning to contact, send a useful resource, put some time into turning your LinkedIn connections into real relationships.

Here’s why:

Your task: for the next thirty days, select and accomplish one strategic business development action each day. If it doesn’t work for you, you can always go back to spasmodic action… But chances are that you’ll see significant benefit from this simple approach. And if you don’t know how to select the right step, check this post I wrote in 2019.


Mark your calendar for the next installment of the webinar series, Embracing Virtual and Remote Networking which will be held on 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!

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.

 

Plans are useless, but…

I see two huge mistakes among lawyers eager to build a book of business:

  • the urge to jump into action without designing a plan, and
  • the tendency to plan and revise and plan some more without ever moving to action.

Today I’ll offer another perspective on planning, from Dwight Eisenhower:

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

In other words, when circumstances change and disrupt your carefully-laid plans, the process of assessing all of the factors that affect your practice will show you how to adjust. (Want to know more about how to create a plan? Check Chapter 3 of The Reluctant Rainmaker.)

How effective is your practice planning?