By Michael G. Cummings of SAGE PDI, Inc. in St. Charles, IL. He can be reached at 630-572-4798 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Mike is the co-Author: Best Practices In Building Your Professional Network for Attorneys, http://www.sagelawmarketing.com/networking_book.html
I recently had a number of occasions to talk in-depth with a dozen or so attorneys about their personal plans to grow their business.
Overwhelmingly, I found out that most of them secretly (and some not so secretly) wished that they never, ever had to market and sell in order to be a success. In fact, several detested the notion that they must be a strong business developer to make their way forward in the profession. Why?
1) They are already overwhelmed with work:
What I hear: I am already busy billing and trying to balance my work and life. Marketing and selling is just more work that I have to pile on top of everything else.
You are right. BUT, being a billing machine will only take you so far in the profession. And you will always be dependant on others for assignments and work. If you excel at business development, you can chose the clients you serve, do the kind of work you enjoy and be in control of your success. It is undeniable. Firms value the partners who attract clients, earn their client's loyalty and serve all of the client's business needs they can.
In fact, business development is a natural growth process for those who want to successfully practice law. You will simply leverage the work you currently do to other attorneys and take on greater responsibility for managing relationships and finding more clients to serve.
Actions to take: Start to do some business development each day. Build it into your daily to do list.
2) They didn't become an attorney so they could market and sell:
What I hear: I just want to do a superb job on my work assignments. This should be enough. Rainmakers and clients should seek me out simply based on the depth and quality of work that I do.
You are right. BUT, doing superb work is expected and the minimum threshold for satisfying clients. Clients tell us that an attorney's interpersonal skills, project management capabilities and business advisory prowess set them apart. You must know their business to earn a relationship with them. In addition, clients, allies and potential clients hire people not firms. So, it is up to you to build your professional reputation as well. Increasingly, relationship development, network building and reputation marketing are becoming part of your job description
Actions to take: Start by marketing to the clients that you are already working with today. Have a separate relationship-building "to-do" list.
3) They don't believe that can be good at business development
What I Hear: I'm not a rainmaker. I don't have the network. I don't enjoy networking. I'm just not a glib, self-promoter at heart. I don't enjoy meeting strangers and asking for their business
Now, we are getting to the heart of the issue. Many attorneys want to avoid business development because they don't see themselves as being competent in attracting clients. They feel that they have to change their personality to succeed.
You must realize that business development is simply a learnable skill. And superb business development simply leverages the skills that already make you a superb practicing attorney -- including being organized, working hard, listening, diagnosing client implications and finding solutions.
Rainmakers at your firm had to learn these skills over their career through mentoring, trial and error, discipline, persistence and hard work. The results you see today in terms of a rainmaker's prowess to attract clients and sell work is the culmination of years of skill building.
There is not a single type of rainmaker personality. You just have to learn how to bring in business with the personality strengths that you already have. If you are smart and driven enough to pass the bar and land a job at a top firm, then you are smart and motivated enough to be a business generator.
In fact, find a way to make business development fun.
Combine your personal interests with a business development purpose.
Actions to take: First find a mentor. Then have a CLE plan for business development. Start by downloading two free chapter(s) from the best book on rainmaking that I know -- "I Hate Selling" by Allan Boress - http://www.sagelawmarketing.com/salesmastery.html
4) They don't know what to do
What I Hear: OK, I know that I must market and sell. But, as an associate or new partner, what can I realistically do? Senior partners here just give me general advice like join an association, take a client to lunch, market myself inside the firm or stay in touch with friends from law school. What is most important?
The simple answer is to start to think and act like a rainmaker by developing your own personal marketing plan. This means deciding what you can do today, this week and this month to start growing your practice. Focus on 2 areas and build from there. First, market to the clients you already have. Second, develop a systematic plan to contact, nurture and expand your network.
Actions to take: Again, start by getting a mentor or coach to counsel you. Develop an action plan. If possible, get the help of your marketing professional to develop this plan. Start by downloading a chapter from our book: Best Practices in Building Your Professional Network.
5) They think that it is unseemly to market and sell
What I Hear: I feel that it just isn't professional to ask clients for business, seek out referrals or hawk business.
Let me ask you a couple of questions. Are the rainmakers in your firm unprofessional? Quite the contrary, rainmakers are among the most respected and influential people in the profession. Second, do you like to serve clients? If so, then somebody has to secure them as clients for your firm. If not you, then who? Do you want to work for a successful firm? Then you have to help make your firm profitable by adding clients and creating business. In fact, business development is a central part of being a true and accomplished professional.
Actions to take: Take a rainmaker to lunch. Pick their brain and see how they think about business development. Or sign up for our upcoming Web seminar with a panel of Women Rainmakers. http://www.sagelawmarketing.com/WebseminarA7
6) They think they are taking advantage of their clients, contacts and friends
What I Hear (especially from women attorneys): I often feel like I am crossing some boundary or abusing my friendships if I try to market and sell work to people I know. I feel like I am using them or betraying a relationship. What if they say they are not interested?
The root cause of this belief is that many attorneys see marketing and selling as convincing clients to hire them. And this translates into self-centered marketing and selling behavior. This is called bad marketing. Instead, true marketing and selling is helping clients to solve a source of their own business trauma, anguish or frustration. So, have a helping mindset, diagnose their points of "pain' and suggest solutions.
Actions To Take: In his book, I Hate Selling, Allan suggests that all professionals should market and sell as if they are "business doctors". Download a free chapter from his book to learn how.
The BAD news: Business development is no longer optional ...
The legal profession is at a tipping point. This is the conclusion that Lauren Stiller Rikleen reaches in her groundbreaking new book: Ending the Gauntlet: Removing the Barriers to Women's Success in the Law.
Demanding clients, maxed out attorneys, hyper-intensive competition, shifting demographics and increasing firm profitability pressures are causing massive pressures for change.
Her conclusion? The Sun Always Shines On Those Who Make Rain. All attorneys (especially women) must think and act like entrepreneurs. Increasingly, your success will be driven by your ability to bring in business. So, build your base of client relationships, establish teams of allies, grow your network of high value relationships, co-market with people at your firm and become a celebrated expert in your field. These results will help you to thrive in the uncertain times ahead.
Those who don't embrace these personal missions will be controlled by the whim of others and driven by the tidal waves of change.
Note: To learn more, get the CD of Best Practices of Personal Marketing for Women Attorneys.
The GOOD news ... You Can Do It!
Take the example of Jennifer Zimmerman. She was a 2nd year associate at a mid-sized firm -- and one of the few women working there at the time.
But, Jennifer thought and acted like an entrepreneur. She took the initiative and put together a program that created the economic results that her firm appreciates and rewards.
She decided to target local women entrepreneurs as clients. She garnered the support of her mentor who was a senior woman attorney at the firm. She lined up a team of firm colleagues (including the marketing director) as well as a few motivated women professionals at an allied financial planning firm. They formed an organization and put on series of programs for an elite group of women entrepreneurs. And she secured the backing and support of her firm's Executive Committee.
The result? The program yielded a new client per month for her firm. She established a strong reputation in the local business community and inside her own firm. She is the only associated to be named to the firm's marketing committee. And she received the origination credits that added to her compensation.
The good news is that there is nothing stopping you from doing the same thing. So, stop dreading marketing and selling. Embrace these skill sets as part of your job description and career success plan.
Start today by thinking and acting like an entrepreneur.