As a prosperous lawyer, you would not have made it this far along your professional journey without effective goal setting. The exercise of identifying a goal, determining key incremental steps to take to reach that goal requires a deliberative process of mostly linear thinking.
Why then are so many lawyers unable (or unwilling) to attain the goals they set in building their practice through leveraging strategic business development tactics?
Goal setting is a crucial factor in any effective business development and marketing plan. The goal is typically along the lines of “build a healthy practice,” “get more clients” (as if they may be “gotten”), “generate more visibility for myself and my firm,” and so on.
While all of these goals are possible when supported by concrete marketing tactics, so many lawyers fail to attain their goals. What gives?
So many times, we hear “I’m so busy,” or “I’m not rewarded for non-billable time,” and I just shake my head.
Unquestionably, client obligations and commitments must be met, but if effective time management techniques are employed, it should not be to the exclusion of implementing concrete action steps (such as reaching out to two contacts every day) to build and grow a prosperous law practice.
By setting goals at the beginning of a business planning process, you decide what you want to achieve and then move systematically toward achieving these goals. Whether it is setting guidelines for yourself around how you want to proactively expand your network in a six-to-12 month timeframe or develop more work from select clients in 2018, you must set goals to help keep you on track.
Goals provide long-term vision and short-term motivation, and help you to organize your time and resources so that you can maximize your action steps. The following steps will help you get started in your goal setting.
Why Set Goals?
Quoting the great American industrialist Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” Love that quote.
Studies show us that setting goals is a significant contributor to success in personal and professional life. Goals provide direction and purpose to our lives. Not only is having goals important to success, but also setting achievable goals is important to reach your potential.
We find that the clearer we are about what our goals are, the faster we will achieve them. In addition, in doing so, we will generally be more happy and more successful when we achieve them. To that end, your health can depend upon setting and achieving your goals.
How to Set Goals
Before jumping ahead to tactics (the specific action steps you will undertake to accomplish your goals), the question, “What do I really want to achieve?” must be answered. The answer to that question is largely dependent on the stage of your practice and career. Whatever that may be, put a stake in the ground by declaring your goals, exercising a degree of realism at the same time.
While we advise that goals be realistic and attainable, you want to challenge and stretch yourself in the process. Be willing to extend a bit beyond your comfort zone. It does you no good to set goals that are beyond your realistic grasp, even with aggressive action steps to take you there.
The most productive way to state your goals is to actually write them down. Literally. Nothing like a good old piece of paper and a pen, or a keyboard and a monitor, whatever the case may be.
After honing in on your most important goals, the next step is to create a list of specific steps you need to take to achieve them. This is the proverbial where the rubber meets the road.
By breaking down the goal expand my network, you may want to consider the following action steps:
- Qualify who I need in my network to grow my client base
- Research the business/professional organizations these individuals join (think industry groups)
- Research local chapters of those targeted groups in your area and check event calendars
- Schedule event dates in calendar and plan to attend.
That is but one sliver of a “what next” action step. To outline a series of action steps to take in achieving a goal, continue to ask the “what next” question until you have broken each action steps into manageable tasks with a deadline by which you plan to complete the individual task. By following this simple step-by-step process, you are well on your way to achieving your goals.
Stay on Track by Prioritizing
To make your action steps more achievable, outline a timeframe, a way to track your steps further into smaller increments. For instance, instead of embarking on a yearly marketing plan, set smaller 90-day goals that may be broken down into monthly, and even weekly, goals.
As a lawyer coach, I am delighted when my clients approach their marketing plan execution in this manner, by sending me their monthly goals and then updating me as they accomplish the steps needed to benchmark the goal. By writing down and taking these deliberative steps, I know they are committed to reaching their overall goals and our work together is valuable and worthwhile.
Sadly, many lawyers I have worked with over the years readily plan their billable work but do not take the same definitive steps to plan their non-billable work. To paraphrase Harvard professor and business management advisor David Maister: “What you do with your billable hours determine your income, what you do with your non-billable hours determines your future. Think of those non-billable hours as investment time.” Seriously.
Turning Goals into Action
Here’s how to efficiently balance billable with non-billable hours and how to stay on track with the incremental action steps in the goal-setting process.
Step 1) Get Clear on What Your Goals Are
Begin by brainstorming potential goals. Think about what you want to accomplish in your practice such as the clients you want to work with, the type of work you want to do more of, the lifestyle you would like to enjoy. Remember, you can have more than one goal.
Once you have completed your list, consider and jot down why each goal is important to you and why you are motivated to achieve each goal.
Step 2) Draft Action Steps
This step is the “in the trenches” thinking, where you outline specific steps you will take to accomplish each goal. Often, I brainstorm with my clients step-by-step on how to bring measurable results to each goal. Over the years, we have found that it is not so much that clients don’t know what to do but rather how and in what timeframe to execute their specific action steps. It is best to be as specific as possible.
Step 3) Devise a Reasonable Timetable
Once you have written down your goals, why they are important to you (your motivation for achieving them) and the specific action steps you will take to achieve each goal, it is very important to write down the timetable for accomplishing the goals. This is a crucial step in the goal-setting process.
I provide my clients with an Action Plan Worksheet (example below) to facilitate the goal-setting process, so that clients can see at a glance what their goals are, and the associated action steps and timeframe for accomplishment. It is a very effective tool to stay on track.
Action Plan Worksheet
The best way to break each of the action steps into a reasonable timeframe is to plot out each into a weekly action plan—that is, what you will do each week to bring you closer to achieving your goals. If you break down each action step into minute pieces, you will avoid being overwhelmed, be more likely to accomplish smaller steps that add up to accomplishing sizable goals, and feel better about the goal-setting process.
One of the pearls of wisdom I impart to clients consistently is the importance of developing a “marketing mindset” in their everyday practice. Instead of taking off your lawyer hat and putting on your marketing hat, discipline yourself to integrate marketing activities into your everyday practice. It’s simple if you have broken down your goals into weekly action steps and you diary them on your calendar.
This is how you balance your billable and non-billable time—by disciplining yourself to execute on a daily basis just a nugget of your weekly action plan. Sometimes it involves no more than a phone call, jotting off a personal note to a client or reviewing a presentation outline. Small, simple steps taken every day in incremental fashion will propel you towards accomplishing your greater goals.
Results in building a profitable practice often do not come in big, grandiose actions but rather in the small and steady results that over time accrue into a solid practice. This is the philosophy that we tout as the Secret Sauce—success is predicated by the consistent, persistent massive amounts of action over a prolonged period of time.
As a part of devising a reasonable timeframe, you must make appointments with yourself just like you would for client meetings. You are doing this important work, so to be successful, you must honor yourself. Due to the nature of a relationship-building business, some elements are out of your control, which is no more evident than in fostering and nurturing professional relationships. It is only through consistent and persistent massive amounts of action over a prolonged period of time that you will reap rewards, so stay the course EVEN when there seems to be few results. It will come.
Step 4) Execute, Execute, Execute
This is where your commitment becomes evident. Are you honoring your goals by staying true to your weekly action plan? Are you taking at least one simple action a day towards accomplishing your goals? Jot it down to stay on track.
Clear goal setting begins with your decision of what you desire to accomplish. Then, it takes a detailed action plan to achieve your client development goals and the discipline and commitment to execute the plan. Not rocket science at all, but still a challenge for so many well-intentioned lawyers. Get up and get going, today.
About the Author
Kimberly Rice is president and chief strategist of KLA Marketing Associates, a business development advisory firm focusing on legal services, and is the author of recently published Rainmaker Road: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Prosperous Business. She may be reached at 609.458.0415 and firstname.lastname@example.org.