Business Development: Fail to Plan and Plan to Fail
Time constraints, lack of organization, inability to measure value, tailoring for specific career level, difficulty managing expectations – we’ve heard all the reasons why business development plans aren’t factored into an attorney’s routine. But for a lawyer in today’s market, whether in a large firm or one-person show, a business plan is just as necessary as it is for any small business or corporation.
A plan helps you to identify your goals, focus your efforts and “keeps you honest” in terms of following through. We get it –time is money, which is all the more reason to make sure those precious minutes spent on business development are goal-oriented and streamlined. Plus, at the end of the day, or month or year (remember that business development does not happen overnight!), you should be able to measure your results and adapt your plan accordingly.
The creation of your business plan should not be a long process. Keep it simple. When it comes to your legal work, perfection is key; however in marketing and business development, flexibility is more important. Having the perfect plan isn’t the goal; developing new business and cultivating current connections is. Put together a focused, realistic plan and then use that plan to develop business. Bear in mind that this will be a working document that evolves with you throughout the next year.
Every journey begins with a first step. So, take a seat in your favorite thinking chair and ask yourself – what do I want? OK, before you start jotting down your lifelong dreams, let’s focus - what type of legal work do you want to do? Casting the largest net will not catch the most fish. Whether you’re looking to create a higher profile in an industry, or step into unchartered waters, your best bet is to start out with one or two areas where you’d like to focus and then develop a plan for each.
Once you’ve pinpointed what type of work you want to do, here are a few questions to answer:
- What types of prospects can give you the work you want?
- What industry are they in and who in the companies is making the hiring decisions? So often we have a tendency to connect with just anyone at a target company and forget that only a handful of those individuals are decision makers.
- What organizations do these prospects belong to and what publications do they read? Think industry associations, nonprofits, boards, etc.
- Can you become involved in the organization and seek a leadership role? Does the publication offer writing opportunities? A little Googling can go a long way. Fire up your computer or contact your friendly marketing personnel if you don’t know the answers to these questions.
- Who are your competitors, and how can you differentiate yourself from them?
- Does your attorney profile demonstrate experience in this area? If you don’t yet have tangible experience in the related field, does your profile show similar experience and interests?
- A new and improved profile is an important step toward reaching your goals. Case in point: Great Jakes, a law firm web and marketing company, published in the National Law Journal that “56 to 70 percent of the traffic on a law firm’s web site occurs in the attorney bios section.”
- Which marketing activities do you like or dislike the most?
- Do you hate networking but love presenting to a group? Do you enjoy writing but get butterflies just thinking about speaking to a crowd? Are you a leader who was born to sit on the board of a nonprofit? You will most likely complete the items you are most comfortable with. Remember – it’s all about you! (How many times can you actually say that? Relish in it while you can!)
- Love the one you’re with. No marketing plan is complete without showing a little love for your current clients.
- Extending invitations to firm-hosted/sponsored events and networking opportunities is a good starting place. Interested in social media? Subscribe to your clients’ blogs; create RSS newsfeeds on the company so you stay up to date on their current events; and/or connect on LinkedIn (remember, these activities can also be applied to prospective clients and contacts).
- What else can you do to add value to the relationship and demonstrate to your clients that you appreciate their continued business?
- If you’re spreading the love, don’t forget about your colleagues.
- One of our favorite terms as marketers is cross-selling. Who can serve as a referral source for you and you for them? Can you collaborate on articles? Presentations? Sponsorships?
Gathering these answers is a great start – but it’s only half the battle. Analyzing your responses will help you organize your thoughts. Start by jotting your responses down to identify specific goals and give numeric values if you are having trouble quantifying them. For example: x number of new clients this calendar year or x dollars of new revenue from current clients. Some key guidelines to keep in mind regarding your goal(s):
- Realistic – expecting to land 50 clients in one year may be a bit ambitious.
- Measurable – be specific, make them tangible.
- Meaningful – what will add growth to you and your practice?
Now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and dive in to organize your plan. This will be a learning process so you’ll need to decide what works best for you. Will you categorize it by type of contact – external vs. internal, new vs. current? By type of activity – joining organizations vs. social media, speaking vs. writing? Or maybe it’ll be a combination of the two. From there you can fill in the blanks based upon the answers to all of your questions.
Overwhelmed? That’s why calendaring time to work on your business development plan and scheduling tasks to follow up on your activities will be vital to your success. It’s one thing to create it; it’s another to follow through on it. Think of your plan as a habit and part of your daily routine rather than a chore. Calendaring will also afford you the opportunity to measure your success when all is said and done. Look at your deadlines and associated goals and determine whether they were met and if so, if they added to your practice. Analyzing those deadlines that you missed, goals you didn’t reach or activities that you skipped is equally important. This will serve as a tool for developing your next plan – a sort of “dos and don’ts” list.
So whether your plan is half a page or two pages, filled with membership applications or client networking opportunities, it must conform to you – your career level, your goals and your strengths.
Amy M. Galie is a Senior Business Development Specialist for 500-lawyer, 17-office Fox Rothschild LLP.
Amanda M. Steinbach is a Business Development Manager for 550-lawyer, 17-office Fox Rothschild LLP.
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