You may be confident that you have this “business development” thing down pat – but are you sure? In today’s guest post, we are welcoming back ILN marketing professional, Joanne Thorud, Director of Marketing with Davis Malm & D’Agostine in Boston, who is sharing some excellent and easily implemented tips for getting your business development plans right.

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Whether you are a seasoned attorney with a sizeable book of business or a younger associate just beginning to hone your technical legal skills – or somewhere in the middle – you need a strategy to develop your networks and clients.

There was a time when doing good work was enough to maintain clients and gain new work.  Today’s legal landscape, however, is more competitive than ever, fueled by firms and attorneys stepping up efforts to: engage clients and prospective clients; respond to client demands and offer value-add products; and incorporate business intelligence technologies to help analyze client behavior and size up the competition.

So how do you remain competitive?  Plan, execute, and adapt.

Plan

Some attorneys prefer to keep a detailed plan that outlines specific goals, target clients, activities, deadlines, and follow-up action items.  Others are just as successful using a short, simple “to do” list or spreadsheet that they can easily reference.

The key is to develop a strategy and put it in writing.  Having a written plan will help you track your progress and hold you accountable.

When developing your plan, be sure to set realistic and measurable goals. If you assign a deadline that you know you have no chance of making, or set out to do an activity that you have no desire to do, then you’re dooming yourself from the start.

Simply saying, “I want to get new business in the next six months” is not a plan.  You may, in fact, obtain new business in that timeframe, but it will be difficult to pinpoint exactly how you acquired it, unless you can tie it to specific actions. If you don’t know what works, you can’t repeat the steps – and knowing what doesn’t work will save you from wasting time.  That’s why tracking activities is key.

Setting attainable and quantifiable goals will prepare you for success. These could include:

  • acquiring two new developer clients in the next six months;
  • introducing partner X to client Y to cross-sell our employment practice;
  • increasing receivables by 20% next quarter; or
  • gaining two new matters from existing client “X” by the end of the year.

Execute

Once you develop a plan, the next step is to focus on how you are going to execute it.  Some questions to ask yourself are:

  • What are my strengths? It is important to identify what you are good at and focus on activities that play to those strengths.  If you like to write, seek publishing opportunities or contribute to a blog.  Younger associates should think about offering to co-author articles with more senior associates or partners, taking on the laboring oar by suggesting a topic, doing the research, and drafting. If you like to present, find organizations that host programs (ideally, industry organizations that focus on your target clients).
  • Who do I want to represent? Determine who your target clients are and find ways to meet and interact with them.  Industry organizations, non-profit boards, professional organizations, and your current referral sources can be avenues to meeting new targets and strengthening relationships.
  • What type of law do you want to practice? Think about to distinguish yourself from your competition, look to fill voids in where people need expertise in niche areas, and keep an eye out for emerging trends and industries where you can become known as the go-to attorney for certain types of work.
  • Am I taking care of all legal needs of my current clients? Clients may require legal representation beyond your practice area. Visit your clients in their offices – off the clock – to discuss ongoing matters and things that may be on the horizon for them.  Knowing the full scope of their needs will allow you to bring your firm colleagues onto the client team or refer work to attorneys outside of your firm, if necessary. Getting to know the full scope of your client’s business and personal needs allows you to expand your role as a trusted legal advisor.
  • Do the attorneys at my firm know about my practice? Internal marketing is just as important as external. You and your colleagues can be a great source of business for one another, but you can’t refer clients if you don’t know about each other’s practices and the clients you each serve. Going to lunch, dinner, or events can go a long way in building relationships and getting to know more about the people with whom you practice.

Adapt

Your plan should not be thought of as a static document.  Just as you review your website bio periodically, so should you review your business plan to see what is working and what is not. You may think that an activity will produce certain results, but it doesn’t turn out the way you expected.  That’s ok.  The key is to be flexible and adjust as you go.

Conclusion

There is no one-size-fits-all plan or magic formula to developing business. The key is to identify your strengths, plan activities accordingly, and be patient.   If you do things you enjoy, chances are you’ll be motivated to engage, and the efforts won’t seem like work.  When you’re surrounded by people who share a common interest and you enjoy being with, communication comes more naturally and relationships build organically. The bottom line is that you need to do what works best for you, but, most importantly, do something.


Connect with Joanne on LinkedIn.