Growing the business and contributing to the firm’s top line is every lawyer’s responsibility, regardless of seniority level. However, if business development is not near the top of your task list and you regularly put it off to another day, you are not alone. For inspiration to tackle business development, look to Mark Twain, who said:
If it’s your job to eat a frog, it is best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.
So start each day with a business development activity. In fact, it is something you need to do every single day, even during the weekend, to transform business development from obligatory tasks to an essential part of your practice. The accumulation of many small touch points and increased dialogue with internal and external clients leads to success—not emailing a 40-page firm profile to prospects or responding to every request for proposal that comes through the door.
If you are thinking “But I am doing a lot of BD already… I write articles and email alerts and blog posts, I attend industry events, I go for meals and drinks, I give presentations, I provide free training… what more can I do?” Whether you are this active or not, the better question is “What can I do differently to be even more effective?”
Here are three ways to consistently ensure you are eating your frogs:
- Plan: Put time in your calendar for BD activities, setting yourself achievable daily, weekly and monthly targets.
- Track: Record the time you spend on BD, monitor the variety of what you do, and identify which activities lead to opportunities.
- Vary: Engage in a variety of activities—you can do 40 to 50 small things in under 30 minutes which don’t require significant budget or preparation.
The first step is to honestly assess how much time you currently spend on business development, what you accomplish with the time and how effective it actually is. Then you can figure out how to spend more time and on what types of activities.
If you are not consistently spending time on business development, commit to spending a set amount of time every morning, six days a week. For example, if you already engage in two hours a week of activity (one day over a month) or you attend one conference a month with no other activity in between, then a minimum target should be 20 minutes per day, every day. As you become comfortable with this pattern, you can add (not substitute) a longer activity every week, such as attending a networking event in the evening, taking a client for lunch and the like. Eventually, you will average an hour per day, which adds up to over three days per month. At that point, you will notice some real shifts.
After setting targets, tracking is an easy second step. Think about starting an old fashioned BD diary or spreadsheet, where you record what you have done each day, along with ideas for additional action. As this habit develops, you may find yourself worrying when you have nothing to write about. Consider sitting with your peers or team over lunch to share some of what you are doing, and solicit ideas and feedback. In any case, you now have a simple plan.
If you are wondering about that third step, the various small activities, well, the easiest ones involve pinging (a “ping” is a virtual “poke” (email, instant message, etc.) usually sent for reminder purposes).
Ping constantly. Reach out regularly to your contacts. And not just when you need something. Send emails, text or instant messages. Post comments on LinkedIn or mail a handwritten note. Email an article you believe will interest a contact—think work, but don’t forget family, food, travel or sports, etc.—and highlight what you think will be most interesting. Text to organize a drink or a coffee, use instant messages or LinkedIn to stay in touch with those you just met at an event, post an alert to all your virtual friends, and do not forget birthday cards or cards congratulating them on a new job.
Picking up the phone can feel like a stretch but will bring you great rewards.
Consider calling rather than emailing when you have work issues to discuss with a client. When you call, make sure to spend a few extra minutes asking how they—and their business—are doing. Ask if there is anything else they need help with, personally or professionally. This is not a “sell” but a demonstration that you care about their needs and what is happening in their world. The advice they may need is the name of a Parisian restaurant for an upcoming business dinner. Remember to use the phone around major holidays, significant corporate events, conclusion of matters and the like. This is a great activity to use internally and externally.
Meeting face to face can be an even bigger challenge in our time-starved global environment. Do it.
Simply spending time in the client’s office may seem unnatural to 85 percent of lawyers, but is a normal activity for most rainmakers. Try to meet in person when you can, especially while you are doing their work. When onsite, don’t be in a rush, allow time for conversations in the lobby, corridors and cafeterias. Try to sit a day a month at a client’s office, even if you are doing other client’s work, getting to know the people and the business. Always ask if you should see additional people while there.
All of these activities, particularly when conducted with existing clients, augment your billable work rather than distract from it. Many can be done as you work with your clients. They are part of building the relationship, keeping you top of mind for when business opportunities arise.
Above all, these approaches differentiate you from other lawyers who think they excel at BD, but who only engage in such activities when their billables are low. Through systematic and consistent action, you won’t come across as desperate.
Think in terms of touch points and dialogue rather than selling the firm. Do it daily, and you will end up liking those frog legs!
About the Authors
Joe Maguire is senior manager of professional development and continuing legal education at Reed Smith LLP. He can be reached at 202.414.9484 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Anne Marcotty is a marketing and sales consultant to law firms and other professional services firms. She can be reached at email@example.com.