Working Smarter not Longer

Column written by Marianne Trost and published in DRI Newsletter, May 2018

Estimates vary, but the marketing rule of thumb is that it takes an average of a half hour a day to maintain a book of business and two-plus hours a day to grow one. While this estimate takes into consideration time spent preparing a presentation, writing an article, attending networking events, perusing LinkedIn, lunching, making phone calls, and a host of other activities, 10 hours a week of non-billable marketing/business development time is still a lot of time that most of us do not have. How to manage it? Work smarter, not longer. The following tips can help you maximize the time you spend on business development for greater results: 

Get Clarity 

While it may sound a little counterintuitive, investing a little time upfront getting clear on your business development goals will save you time and energy in the long run. Decide who your ideal client is. Identify where they congregate. Put together a “Top 10” or “Top Tier” list of key client, referral source, and potential client relationships. Identify current clients with relationships that may be able to be expanded. Get clear on what type of work you would like to do more of, or less of. Knowing what you want (and what you don’t want) will help you guard against random acts of business development. Increased clarity will also help you focus your efforts and more easily recognize when you are getting side-tracked. 

Say “No” Graciously 

Many of us have a tendency to say “yes” more often than we wish. Because our days are already full, saying yes to something that is not aligned with your goals e.g. serving on a committee for “just one more year,” or accepting an invitation to a networking event where your clients, potential clients or referral sources are not present, can take away from time better invested elsewhere. Learning the art of saying “no” can help you save time and stay focused on higher return activities. You may also be able to offer the declined invitation to someone who would be a better fit for the opportunity or who would gain more from the experience than you would have, which will be a win-win for both of you. 

Work with What You Have 

While meeting new people and adding new contacts to your pipeline is important, stay mindful of the relationships you already have. Investing just a little more time in staying in touch, following up, and serving as a resource with people who already know you can go a long way. Getting back in touch with dormant clients, past colleagues, or reaching out to people with whom you already have rapport, even if you have been out of touch, can often yield results faster than starting a new relationship from scratch. 

Play to Your Strengths 

Identify the business development activities you do well and place an emphasis on those. If you excel at walking into a room and meeting new people, line up those activities. If you can whip off a client e-Alert in an hour, do that. If you are a strategic planner, use those skills on an impactful committee that requires them. If you prefer a more personalized setting, line up one-on-one time with key contacts. When you align your natural strengths with your activities you will find that it takes less of your energy to accomplish greater results. 

Distinguish Between Involvement and Business Development Strategy 

Being involved in an organization or serving on a committee doesn’t automatically translate into business development. It is important to take steps to get to know the individuals involved, establish rapport, learn about their business/interests, serve as a resource, ask for and make introductions, offer to help and support, and offer to fill legal needs as you uncover them. Simply attending doesn’t usually cut it. Make the most of your time by being mindful and strategic. 

Consistency over Time 

One of the biggest time drains in business development is losing momentum and then having to find an “excuse” to get back in touch with contacts. To avoid this, calendar to “ping” your contacts every few months. Ask yourself, “how long would need to pass before it would become awkward?” Then calendar your follow up for a date/time before you would reach that point. That way you won’t have to cross that threshold and spend precious time thinking about a topic for a follow up email that would have otherwise taken two minutes. 

Little Chunks of Time Add Up 

Waiting for the perfect time or waiting for a solid block of time in which to do “all” of your business development follow-up usually doesn’t work well. Rather, investing even 10–15 minutes a day over a period of weeks will add up and make a positive difference. Calendar your follow up for a time of day that requires the least amount of your focus and mental agility (i.e. save the best hours of your day for your legal work!) Making time to send even a few emails or leave a few voicemails or “share” a few posts on social media will help you keep the momentum going and save time in the long run. 

Reassess Periodically 

Circumstances change, industries shift, legal trends evolve, contacts switch jobs, organizational leadership transitions, even the composition of your law firm colleagues may change. Take time occasionally to think through how these changes impact you and what you need to do to maintain the relationships that you have invested in and proactively seize the new opportunities that change brings. Periodically cull efforts that are outdated and reprioritize to better position yourself to take advantage of new possibilities. 


At the heart of successful business development is the cultivation of relationships. That takes time, no matter which way you go about it. However, dialing into the efficiency of your business development efforts will help you work smarter without working longer hours. 

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-determination in their careers, and manage their advancement strategically.