Legal Business Development: Be A Master Relationship Builder

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Few would argue that the core of legal business development is… relationships. How you build them, nurture them and value them is the difference between lawyers who are serious about building a successful practice and others who just give it lip service. Inc. Magazine contributor Minda Zetlin looks inside the success of Mobile Deluxe, a tremendously successful gaming company, to examine founder, Josh Hartwell’s secrets to becoming a master relationship builder. Zetlin explains…

How did Hartwell launch a successful mobile gaming company–with no outside funding–five years before Apple opened the App Store? Before he launched, he used his connections to get a commitment from the then-largest game publisher.

He made those connections by becoming a master relationship builder. Here’s how it’s done:

1. Never miss a chance to widen your circles. ‘When you’re starting out, the best approach is to do a great job, but don’t limit your interests to what you’re doing,’ Hartwell advises. ‘Every relationship should help form concentric circles around you and further help you expand beyond your comfort zone.’

2. Treat every relationship like it matters–because it does. That means not only customers and bosses but also the people who work for you and the people who are trying to sell you something or are asking for your help. ‘People who are your peers or may be reporting to you today will rise through the ranks and may become decision makers at other companies,’ Hartwell notes.

3. Build relationships with as many different types of people as you can. Learn this skill as fast and as early in your career as possible, Hartwell says. ‘In games, system developers are different from programmers, who are different from artists, who are different from marketing people, and within those groups people are very different. Make it a practice early on not to just focus on the people with whom you’re comfortable. Find out about other types of people and how to have relationships with them.’

4. Be persistent–but not too persistent. ‘Relationship gauging’ is Hartwell’s term for finding that delicate balance between being effectively persistent and obnoxiously pushy. The best way to tell if you’ve gone too far is by watching someone’s body language when you meet in person. Early on, he says, some people he had contacted too often made it clear from their reactions on first meeting him that they were already displeased. ‘That helps you figure out where the line is,’ he says now. On the other hand, it’s important to follow up a first contact attempt. ‘You’re not being persistent enough if you get no reply and don’t follow up,’ he says. ‘Don’t ever assume one message to a person is enough, and there are not many cases where two is too many.’ Past that, it depends on the person and on how long you wait between follow-ups, he says.

Hartwell’s method isn’t “rocket science.” What it is, is a mind-set. Many times I have clients tell me that they can’t start their practice until they have a website. In my book that is never the first step. The first thing to do is start making phone calls and building relationships. And as Hartwell did…make that a habit.