If there is anything the past year has taught us, it is the importance of having a book of business to help navigate waters during challenging times. As you work toward further developing your practice in the new year, consider these tips to maximize your efforts.
#1 Clarify your Goals. Invest time upfront to get clear on what you want your practice to look like next year, the year after, even five years from now. Who is your ideal client? What type of work do you want to be doing for them? What practice area(s) do you want to grow? Do you want to expand or retract the areas of law in which you focus? Know what you want and why. Then select business development efforts that are aligned with those goals and support your vision for the future.
#2 Plan. Planning does not need to be complex or time-consuming. Even a simple list of business development action items is a good first step to translating your goals into reality. Make sure your plan includes Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely action items with stated target deadlines. List action items that will strengthen your relationships with existing clients, internal contacts, other contacts, potential clients, referral sources and alumna. Identify specific networking, writing, speaking, online social media, sponsorship and community involvement activities that will help you grow your existing relationships and develop new ones.
#3 Serve Your Existing Clients Well. Estimates are that as much as 80 percent of new legal work comes either from, or through, existing well-served clients. While it is prudent to invest some time and money into activities that attract new clients, make sure you are serving your existing clients exceptionally well. Go the extra mile. Take care of loose ends. Clear up miscommunications or missteps, if they occur. Find out what your existing clients’ perceive as their challenges or opportunities in the coming year and align yourself to support and assist them.
#4 Commit to Follow Up. Without adequate follow- up, most business development efforts fail. Send a thank you note after a contact attends your presentation, make a phone call and introduce yourself to someone who was recommended to you by a mutual contact, schedule a lunch with a client, send an article in the mail with a personalized note, follow-up by email to check in with contacts, immediately create a list of action items after attending a networking event and then do them. Staying in touch increases your chances of being in the right place at the right time for new work.
#5 Calendar and Stick to It. Treat business development as a necessary time investment in the future of your practice, not something that now and then fills “down-time.” Tag each contact and business development activity with a calendar date. Execute on each item as it comes up on your calendar. If you need someone to help you with accountability, find someone to make certain you stick with it. Block off specific time on your calendar to work on the future of your practice. Even setting aside thirty minutes a day will result in ten hours of business development time a month.
#6 Replicate What Works. When deciding how to spend your business development time, e.g. preparing a presentation, networking, writing an eAlert, taking someone to lunch, participating in community activities, etc., prioritize those activities that have yielded results in the past. If you don’t know what those are, take time to review the source of your work over the past few years and determine how it came to you. Build from that platform. Add in other activities, but don’t lose sight of what has worked for you.
#7 Collaborate. Make the most of your limited time. Collaborate on business development activities that will naturally help you take a relationship to the next level. Consider co-authoring an article with a potential client. Co-attend a CLE with an in-house counsel contact. Invite a referral source to serve as a co-panelist. Co-sponsor an event with a client. Planning and executing on a co-project create a mutually shared experience that can leave a lasting, positive impression.
#8 Ask for the Business. Don’t assume that your clients and contacts know you want to serve their legal needs. Ask for the business. Let potential clients know you would enjoy working with them. Tell your contacts it would be a pleasure to support and assist them. Make sure your clients know they are valued. Say thank you. Show your appreciation regularly. When you deliver a good result, tell the recipient you would welcome the opportunity to assist again. Be proactive in seeking work – your competition is.
#9 Strive for Consistency, not Perfection. Consistency in business development will move you closer to your goals than perfection. It is better to arrive at a networking event a half an hour late and work the room than to not show up at all. Writing a short client alert on a hot topic is better than deciding to write an article that never gets written. Scheduling coffee with a contact is better than never finding a time to do lunch. Don’t wait for the perfect business development opening. Be consistently proactive.
#10 Make the Most of Your Non-billable Time. There are never enough hours in the day for business development. Prioritize your efforts. Strive for face-to-face time with clients. Seek opportunities to interact with contacts. Carve out time to do those business development activities that you do best. Focus on a few key venues and work them well. Record your time. Periodically assess what’s working and what’s not. Don’t be afraid to change it up and try something new. After all, it’s not only the start of a new year, it’s the beginning of a new decade
Marianne Trost is an internationally recognized business development and career management coach, trainer, speaker and author. An expert in the industry, Marianne’s mission is to provide lawyers with practical tips, guidance, inspiration and support to grow their own books of business, create self-de- termination in their careers, and manage their advancement strategically.