As originally featured in “Forbes” on September 8, 2017.
A few months ago, I shared a cab with one of the country’s most successful lawyers. Clients treasure his intellect and young lawyers jostle for the chance to learn from him. His practice consistently handles a number of very high-profile matters. For the entirety of the cab ride, I observed as he typed away on his iPhone, only to break for a conference call with a client. Later that day, when I mentioned to a colleague that I was working with this successful lawyer, they remarked, “He’s a really lucky guy. He has a phenomenal practice.”
Luck, maybe. Hard work, definitely. Discipline, absolutely. It takes all of those things (but mostly hard work and discipline) to build a practice. Today, there is no such thing as inheriting a bulletproof book of business and there are no shortcuts to growing a practice. For most of us mortals in professional services, marketing skills — communications, business development and sales ability — are not innate reflexes with which we were born. Still, these capabilities can be taught and developed.
While one-on-one business development coaching is the gold standard in helping professionals develop new skills, due to cost or circumstance this support may not be easy to access. If you are unable to hire a personal business development coach, here are some ways to get started with a few self-coaching exercises.
Create a vision.
Today people are talking about IoT, CRISPR and VR, but in the 1960s the buzzwords were “creative visualization.” Much of what that concept illustrated can still be used today: Think about and visualize where you want your career or business to go and what types of clients you want to have on your roster. Even if the goal you’ve created changes midway through your game plan, by projecting and working toward where you want to be in the marketplace, you create the impetus to keep moving.
Have a written plan.
My dad’s advice to me for most of life’s conundrums was to put a plan in writing. This is especially relevant advice in terms of marketing efforts. If you’re not part of a large organization, you may not have access to research or business planning; however, whatever your situation, identifying a few key points as to how you expect to grow your practice is a good place to start. Placing some key objectives and steps in ink, and forcing yourself to think about those steps, is a significant move in the right direction. According to a recent study by the Dominican University of California, you become 43% more likely to achieve your goals and dreams simply by writing them down on a regular basis.
Devise a routine.
Just like committed Olympians, successful business developers often have routines. One consultant I know maintains a list of her key clients and top prospects on her desk. At the beginning of every week, she reviews it to remind herself to connect with those people or take time to consider their key issues. Others set up calendar systems to help periodically touch base with their contacts. While the time between engagements is when most business communication quiets down, it is not a rest period for business developers. It is the perfect time to be in touch. Focused routines in business can make a big difference in achieving goals.
Darryl Cross, author of Cultivating Excellence and owner of consulting firm HighPer Teams, says, “Consistently high performers in any domain have two common characteristics: They focus on actual performance versus potential and they don’t try to get better on their own.” Cross believes, “Setting goals, studying concepts and modeling others only increases potential.”
Those with business development instincts are generally the first ones to sign up for presentation or pitch training when courses are offered at their companies. They are confident enough to continue to look outside themselves with the desire to grow. Look for these opportunities within your network.
According to Natalie Loeb M.S., founder and lead consultant of Loeb Consulting Group LLC, “Successful executives, business leaders and established lawyers use one-on-one coaching as a tool to increase self-awareness.” Loeb explains, “This new skill then provides them with a competitive advantage. The enlightened executive can seamlessly and effectively adapt in the moment in a way that leads to increased trust and ultimately increased business.”
Provide exceptional client service.
There is no getting around the fact that there is a lot of competition for clients these days. A recent Thomson Reuters ’s report stated that while larger law firms are continuing to grow in terms of revenue and demand, midsize and smaller firms face a different picture and growth has been much slower. Client service is one way in which single practitioners and companies can differentiate themselves. The best professionals treat clients like they are the center of the universe. They offer innovative suggestions for problem-solving and are uniquely aware of the client’s agenda. Service can (and should) trickle down throughout the entire organization. From the moment the client enters the firm’s office building, they should be treated like they are valued.
Pay attention to feedback.
One of the greatest tools marketers can access to help grow and develop business is feedback. Feedback allows us to spot potential problems and unearth new ideas. Much of what we are learning about this concept comes from industries outside of traditional professional services.
Greg Furman, founder and chairman of the Luxury Marketing Council, points out that a recent survey developed by the organization showed the simple task of listening to be the most powerful client service and retention tool. “Organizations that strategically commit to talking less and listening more are happier places and more profitable,” says Furman. “Importantly, their clients are dramatically more satisfied, loyal, higher-spending, more-willing-to-refer clients like themselves. The advice is simple: Listen!”
If you want to be a successful rainmaker, it’s important to know that you can (and need to) take certain steps to create your own form of luck.