A junior lawyer recently asked: What’s the one thing you wished every attorney knew about business development? She is at that point in her career where she needs to start bringing in new clients and new work, and wants to do everything she can to move quickly to the next stage.
I told her that while there isn't one single idea that could guide the business development efforts of every lawyer (except, perhaps: it's all about relationships), what really matters is understanding how to turn relationships into work. Everyone is different and approaches BD in different ways, but if you keep the following five points in mind you will be both more successful at landing new mandates, and less susceptible to discouragement when things aren’t going your way:
1. The Pitch Starts When You Say “Hello”
The way you talk about yourself, about what you do, about how you spend your free time: all of that matters when you’re establishing a new relationship. That doesn’t mean you have to script everything you say, or practice the story of your grade school championship-winning goal six times in the mirror, but it does mean that you should never forget that you’re always on stage.
2. You’ve Got to Actually Do It
Lao Tzu was right: a journey of a thousand miles does start with one step. And the best business development plan in the world won’t get you any new clients unless you actually take that first step, set up a first meeting or make a first phone call or send a first message. Yes, your plan is important, but it won’t make a difference unless you execute. Just do it.
3. Do Your Homework
I’ve said it before, but the more you know about your clients and potential clients, the more you increase your chances of business development success. Sure, it can be a lot of work to find then read all the recent news available about a potential client. To sort through your firm’s CRM to identify colleagues with contacts at your target then ask them about their experiences. To figure out how often a prospect has been sued in your jurisdiction then identify the courts, judges, and results of those complaints. But it will be worth it, because you’ll gain useful intelligence about the company that will make your conversations more valuable to them.
4. Practice Trumps Theory
What you learn about developing new business when you sit down for lunch, when you stand in front of an audience, when you tell a potential client how you would solve her problem, is always more valuable than what you’ve read – or what you’ve been told – about doing those things. Keep track of what works and what doesn’t, so you can make your next pitch even better. And be flexible when things don’t go as planned, because they rarely will.
5. There Are No Silver Bullets
Successful business development is not about joining the right organization, about publishing in the right trade journal, about being named a superstar lawyer. Sure, those things can help, but success comes from hard work, from perseverance, from setting meaningful goals and doing what it takes to achieve them. Luck sometimes has a part to play, but more often than not, that luck can be traced back to, well, hard work.
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[Lance Godard is a business development manager at Fisher Phillips. Connect with him on LinkedIn.]