Doing business development is hard work with a long-term payoff that can make the process frustrating. Although a few forward-thinking firms are creating a sales function in the marketing department, the reality is that the burden of generating new business falls entirely on the shoulders of partners and senior associates.
Yet as I’ve written, lawyers frequently make one of a number of common mistakes when they try doing business development, which leaves them frustrated because the effort fails to produce results. As a result, too often it becomes a hit-and-miss effort that they don’t work at consistently. Indeed, this may well be the biggest obstacle standing in the way of attorney’s success at generating new files from current, recent or past clients.
But there is a time-tested approach to avoid the inconsistency problem: Perhaps more than anything else, working with a coach helps nearly every attorney boost the effectiveness of their business development activity.
For attorneys, working with a coach is like having a personal “marketing nudge,” helping you stay focused, committed and productive.
But the question you first need to ask yourself – and answer – before even looking for a coach is how committed are you to finding new clients as well as attracting more work from your current client base. Without that pledge, the process will simply waste your time and money.
Take our interactive survey, “Am I a Good Candidate for Marketing Coaching?” to find out if coaching is for you.
If the answer is an honest “110-percent!” here are ways that a good coach will nudge you to work at business development consistently:
- Objective Setting – Set broad objectives with you detailing what you plan to do in the next one month, three months, and six months out. Your list will be reviewed in your weekly phone call with the coach, and be prepared to have your wrists slapped if you start missing targets on a regular basis.
- Reconnecting with past clients – Re-establishing a connection you haven’t spoken with for a while can be highly productive. Chances are they have legal issues, and the coach will help you develop a way of using the call to re-establish a relationship, which will lead to new work.
- Analyze Referral Sources – Ensure that you create a list of referral sources to connect with, and work with you to build a way of creating relationships with each over time.
- Build A Contact Network – Help you establish a viable network of contacts that are in the sectors you serve if a commercial lawyer or who become aware of failing marriages if you do family law.
- Review Past Week – Through weekly phone meetings, review with you what you accomplished the previous seven days; if you missed your goals, the coach will discuss with you why you didn’t achieve your target and help lay out a plan to make up for lost time.
- Use Social Media – Build a social media calendar with you including using Twitter, LinkedIn and a regular blog on your website, and then help you use each to engage with clients, contacts, referral sources and prospects. Done properly and regularly, you can almost be guaranteed that you will start generating new files.
- Celebrate Success – Finally, and as important as anything else, a good coach will help you celebrate successes and, just as vital, do a post mortem on efforts that didn’t seem to work so you’ll do better the next time around.
Your Coach: The Right Fit
Not every coach is a good fit for every lawyer. It’s important to be able to establish a solid rapport with your coach, and that starts with good chemistry between the two of you. There are a few things to look for when talking with a prospective business development coach:
Experience with law firms and attorneys – Like any relationship with a mentor, a colleague or even a spouse, the one you build with a coach becomes an intimate one. As a starter, for this to happen it’s vital your coach has first-hand knowledge of the business of law. As my colleague Terrie Wheeler has written, among other reasons this is crucial is to keep you from accidentally stepping over the line of what your bar association or Law Society allows when it comes to lawyer promotion.
Takes an innovative approach to traditional business development issues – Law is littered with copycat business development and marketing. You don’t want a coach who is going to teach you to do the same thing as every other attorney on the street is trying. To help you be innovative and original, your first one or two sessions will likely involve the coach asking a lot of questions so he or she can help you create and implement a unique plan.
Mutual respect and trust – Just as your coach needs to respect you, you have to work with someone you trust and respect implicitly. You’ll be sharing a lot of information about your practice with them so you need to trust that they won’t share this with anyone – especially other clients they work with. Likewise, the coach needs to respect you as a professional who’s devoted to expanding your practice.
Someone who helps you with other business issues – Beyond the work they do with you to expand your practice, a good coach is able to help you decide if you should change jobs or firms, move your office and negotiate a more favorable lease, and other business matters related to your practice. If you’re in-house, a good coach will show you ways to raise your profile in the company and find new opportunities in the C-suite.
The monthly fee will vary, depending on the coach and how long you’re willing to commit to working with them; if you’re in a larger firm and a number of lawyers are enrolling at the same time, a discount may be offered.
Most coaches require that you sign a three or four-month contract initially. Why? Because if you’re not willing to make a 90-to-120-day commitment to your own business development success, the coach knows you’re not very serious about devoting the time or making the effort to succeed. Without that commitment, you’re wasting your money and the coach’s time.
Typically, the monthly fee ranges from $1,250 to $1,500; a few coaches charge as much as $2,000 per month but may offer a partial refund if you are not starting to see results by the end of the initial contract.
What you get is a one-hour phone meeting every week of the contract.
If you miss a meeting or have to reschedule, a good coach will recognize that sometimes conflicts arise at the last minute and will reschedule. But if you make a habit of missing or rescheduling sessions, they may start counting the session anyway.
If you connect with the right coach, you should start to see a payoff fairly quickly.
It may not be an immediate flow of new files – the “sales cycle” in law and professional services can be months long, sometimes years – but in less tangible ways such as reconnecting with a growing list of previous clients, starting to build a meaningful network of referral sources, narrowing the focus of your practice rather than trying to be all things to all clients, and so on.
The important thing is that the coach works with you to do the things you know you should be doing anyway. By keeping you focused and encouraged, the coach will help ensure that you succeed.
A coach is a proven way to avoiding inconsistency: More than anything else, working with a coach helps ‘most every lawyer boost the effectiveness of their business development activity.