For lawyers and consultants at large and small firms alike, growing a personal book of business can be a challenge. Partners who are deeply engaged in complex technical matters and tending to the needs of their clients often relegate the important tasks of rainmaking and cultivating new clients to the back burner. For senior and junior associates and staff, developing the skills and having some successes along the way that allow you to point to concrete examples of rainmaking may even make or break your business case for partnership.
While there has been much talk in the press lately of the need for law and other professional services firms to seek out mergers to grow their practices, an individual practitioner has little control over these decisions. However, developing and improving the business development tools and skills you can use to grow your practice and to be seen by leadership as instrumental to the success of your firm in good and bad times is always possible. Most importantly, this is a skill set you can bring with you in your career.
“Business Development” is often the description used for expanding current client relationships and bringing in new clients, but what does that mean, really? Some people just seem to be wired differently or quite simply lucky, with a knack for “making it rain”. But business development is really just a number of behaviors that, when practiced regularly, can heighten your chances of being lucky, too.
Below is a list of ten behaviors often engaged in by successful business developers I have met along the way, and that I incorporate into my routine on a daily basis in my own consulting practice. True rainmakers incorporate as many of these (and others) as possible.
1. Do a great job for your clients, always: There is truly no more effective business development technique you can employ. The happiest clients are those with responsive advisors who listen and deliver, all the time. Becoming irreplaceable to your client is the best word of mouth you can have both internally at your client’s organization, and within their network.
2. Do a great job for your colleagues, always: Being responsive to your colleagues in serving their clients, not just your own, is vitally important to developing business opportunities for yourself. When you become the go-to resource in your subject matter for a peer, the opportunity to get involved in new projects with new clients and expand your practice is multiplied. When they call, be responsive and be your best. Finding opportunities to bring your colleagues into the matters you work on when they are the right resource can also help you expand your client base internally. After all, your colleague’s clients have already hired your firm, so a lateral introduction is much more likely to be successful than a potential client that is considering your firm and others.
3. Know your firm’s capabilities and overall value proposition, and listen: Many practitioners are masters of their own subject area, and understandably seek out opportunities to put their valuable skills to work. However, if you listen for opportunities that your firm is well equipped to handle outside of your subject matter area, your colleagues will have the opportunity to impress, and they will owe you the same courtesy to hunt for you while they are out in the marketplace. Remember, your clients don’t see the difference between your M&A practice, your estate planning practice, and your tax practice… they have a problem that needs to be solved. Be in a position to solve your client’s problems whether you do the work or not, and the word will get out.
4. Develop a network of service providers who do things that your firm does not do: There will be times that your clients will ask you for help that you are unable to provide. It may be a legal issue that your firm is not equipped to handle, or more likely, they might need the assistance of an accountant, a testifying witness, or even a dry-cleaner (I have had expatriates settling in the US working for my clients ask for mine). Developing relationships with professionals across a number of different practices and specialties can be key. It also provides you with an opportunity to help a client by making a connection for them. Remember, the key is to find service providers who will do as good a job as you would. If they perform, you will have both a happy client as well as a service provider looking for ways to say thanks for the referral. Seek out these types of service providers in number 8, below.
5. Help your clients and contacts when they are looking to change jobs: Nothing feels better than helping someone find a new opportunity. If one of your clients or a professional contact seeks you out looking for assistance in making a career move and finding a position, it always makes sense to help out without the expectation of quid pro quo. If you have been doing a great job for your client all along, it won’t be a stretch to get a bite at the apple when they find themselves at a new company that could use your help. If they are merely a contact you haven’t worked with in the past, my guess is they will be receptive to hearing about your offerings if you have been helpful to them. Be who you needed when you were looking for a job. Karma goes a long way.
6. Update your biography regularly and post on Linkedin and other social media: Your biography should be up to date and easy to follow. When people research you on your firm website or Linkedin, the types of matters you work on specifically, as well as your general skill sets should be clearly stated. With Linkedin you can also publish articles to reach out to your network (a friendly audience) and let them know the types of things you are working on and provide insights in your field of expertise. When it comes to posting updates on Linkedin, think about themes and headlines. These can help you brand yourself and associate your reputation with terminology that resonates with your target audience. For example if you are a transactional attorney working mostly in the M&A space, post articles about the big deal of the day, or the outlook in M&A activity in the upcoming year. Also, to the extent you have contacts who are interested in seeing your updates, it doesn’t hurt to read and share their updates as well. Reciprocity on social media becomes natural and is as easy as reading, clicking and sharing. People will associate your area of expertise with the posts you post over time.
7. Perfect your elevator pitch: It sound’s cliché, but it is very important. Many people struggle with this. If you can’t explain what you do clearly in 30 seconds or less, chances are whomever you are sharing it with will check out. Something brief and to the point that creates a little interest is good. Asking questions and letting the other person in the conversation go first can also be helpful in allowing you to tailor your elevator pitch so it will be more interesting or on point:
Other Person in the Elevator: “I am the CIO for a family office”
You: “Really, I’m with XXX and I just represented a family office…”
You get the picture.
8. Get out of the office and go to events: Not just events with a bunch of lawyers or practitioners like you. Other lawyers or consultants who do what you do are not likely to hire you, but if you attend a conference on innovative start-ups, or global warming, or healthcare issues in Europe, it is much more likely you will meet someone who might find a description of your service offerings interesting, and you might just learn something. I’m not saying don’t attend that NY Bar Association event for litigators like you next week, I’m just saying, diversify.
9. Be a connector: When you know or meet someone who you think might be good for someone else in your network to meet, introduce them. Connect them with email, go with them, follow-up. Be a connector. Seek out the same types of introductions for yourself. And above all, be positive! I have heard people anecdotally speak about making an effort to get out of the office at least once a month to meet someone new for lunch or coffee. As a former line partner at a global consulting firm where I had a formal role mentoring non-partners on the partner track to improve their business development skills, it became clear that regular and consistent connectivity was invaluable to them achieving their goals. Those who had one lunch per month out of the office did not have much to talk about. Networking, business development, rainmaking, whatever term you use to describe bringing opportunities to your firm is a numbers game (even for those “lucky” rainmakers). The more people and situations you come in contact with, the more likely you are to connect with an opportunity.
10. Stay Organized & Stay in touch: You may or may not have access to Salesforce or another highly integrated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool. That’s ok. Start your list today, and keep it updated. Find little ways to stay in touch. One of your clients is interested in acquiring a pharmaceutical company? Send them an article on the industry. Stay gently in touch over time. If they understand what you do and feel connected to you, they may even call you with a project out of the blue.
This stuff is not rocket science, it just takes some time, but you are busy. So five minutes in the morning, on your ride home in a cab, while you are on a conference call waiting for the client to dial-in, do one, or some of the things discussed above. Every day. You may not be the biggest rainmaker at your firm overnight, but when your practice leader stops by your office and asks you what you have been doing to generate business lately, you will have an answer that will be longer than your elevator pitch.
Compliments of Adelson Strategies – a member of the EACCNY