One of my favorite running jokes is “How do you know someone has run a marathon?”

“Don’t worry, they’ll tell you!”

And, we will.

But truthfully, if you’re a runner, you already know this – running has so many parallels to other areas of your life. I won’t get into them all here, lest I lose you, dear reader. Just trust me. And training and running for a marathon will teach you things about yourself that are irreplaceable. I’m embarking on my second training cycle at the moment and feeling every emotion imaginable. Fear, excitement, exhaustion (is exhaustion an emotion? I suspect all of us can identify with it after being in a pandemic), the list goes on.

Now, I don’t think we have necessarily the same emotions when embarking on a business development plan – but maybe some of us do! However, there ARE parallels between training for a marathon and being successful in your business development. Impossible, you say? Read on.

Tip One: You Need a Plan

While there seem to be some people who are natural runners and can head out and get ten miles under their belt without any issues or injury, for the rest of us, a plan is essential. There seem to be as many plans for running a marathon as there are marathons, but with a little research, you can find one that works for you and will give you a good solid training base in the time that you allot to it (and you do need to allot some time).

While I used a novice plan for my first marathon, this time around, I’m solidly in the Badass Lady Gang and will be working with coach Kelly Roberts for her 16-week marathon plan. My marathon is in the fall, so training doesn’t start until mid-June, so for now, I’m base-building (still under Kelly’s direction), with three strength training days a week, three running days a week (with one of them a quality day), three cross-training days, and lots and lots of foam rolling, PT, and stretching. It’s already night and day to my last training plan when I pretty much just ran and ended up with a hip injury that required surgery.

As you can see, my plan involves individual workouts, staying accountable (more on that in a moment), resting appropriately, and also and importantly, enjoying the process.

What does that have to do with business development?

Two important things. First, you also need a plan. While some people will have some luck if they go out to meet as many people as possible and tell them about the type of legal services they offer, lawyers are busy people. It’s FAR more efficient to have specific, measurable goals for your business development that allows you to focus your efforts clearly. With a strong strategy in place, you’ll never wonder how you’re going to achieve your goals because you’ll always have the steps in front of you to point you in the right direction.

As part of this plan, you want to include individual action steps that you can take – some of them will be things that you enjoy doing, and some of them will be outside of your comfort zone. Maybe it’s easy for you to author a blog post and then share that strategically, but it’s a little more challenging for you to quote someone you admire and want to get to know better and to follow up your post by reaching out to them to set up a meeting. Put both on your business development plan anyway. And this is where the second piece comes in handy…

Tip Two: Get Yourself a Gang

I don’t mean a literal gang but like the Badass Lady Gang. The gamechanger for me in my running has been the Badass Lady Gang, and joining the Team, which involved weekly coaching calls with other team members along with a dedicated private space in our online group. Not only do I now have a coach, who helps me with strategy, gives me a plan to work with (that is flexible to what I need), but I also have a global group of women to bounce ideas off of, stay accountable to, commiserate with, and who will cheer me on every step of the way. For my first marathon, I trained with a group of friends who had previously run marathons, and they were fantastic to keep me going and help me through the experience. But I also know that this time, there will be runners who will ask questions that I may not think to ask, who will share their own experiences, triumphs, and challenges. And we’ll all get to our respective starting lines together.

Business development, like running, can feel like a solitary pursuit, but it helps to surround yourself with people who are in this with you, and that you are accountable to. These can be colleagues in your office, or even a business development coach if that’s what helps you to succeed. We may still be working mostly remotely, so connect with your colleagues via Zoom or Teams, and arrange to meet monthly or quarterly, to share the steps you’re taking via email or the successes that you’ve had. Put together a shared google calendar that identifies the progress that you’ve made – you can keep it vague to allow for privacy, but others’ ideas may spark some progress for you, and vice versa. With a measurable plan that has specific, strategic goals and people that you can check in with, you’re far more likely to take the steps necessary to execute those individual steps and keep pushing forward. It may feel like you’re in competition with each other for the same business, but there is enough business to go around for all of us and the more we work together, the better we all are – as they say, a rising tide lifts all boats.

Tip Three: It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

For me, at least, this is true. For some runners, it is all about the short distance. But for me, I’m in it for the long haul – and not just with this race as my end goal, but with making running a part of my life as the end goal. Each run I undertake is a building block. There are setbacks – I’ve had to readjust at times, like the injuries I’ve battled over the last couple of years that required me to take time off and get serious about recovery. And there are lots of triumphs – when I first started running, I thought that I’d never be able to run 2 miles without stopping. And now, I’ve run a full marathon, I’m training for my second, and just received confirmation that I’ll be running the NYC Marathon in 2022.

I wanted results immediately. I spent a lot of time kicking myself for not sticking with running from when I first started (over ten years ago), and wishing that results would come faster. But slowly and surely, with the right plan, and trusting my body, my instincts, other runners, my coach, and what I’ve read, I’m seeing results. And I’m looking forward to not only the finish of my second marathon, but a lifelong love of running. Well, maybe a lifelong love/hate relationship with running, if I’m honest.

Business development is like this, too.

So many people will go to a networking event or meet a potential client or referral source, and even with follow-up, nothing will happen. They declare “THIS. DOESN’T. WORK.”

If I’d quit running the first time I went out because I could only manage thirty seconds at a time (seriously), I’d never be able to run more than 5.3 miles…which is what I ran on Saturday.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You have to commit to it because you believe it’s right for you. Identify which tactics make sense for you in business development – is it social media? In-person networking events (we’ll be back to them someday!)? Speaking engagements? Article writing? Other forms of content marketing? Are ALL of these tactics right for you? No – that’s the same with running. It’s not for everyone either. Maybe yoga is more your thing, or swimming or cycling. You know you feel better when you move your body, so you come up with the plan that works for you. Business development is the same. Create a plan with goals and a strategy, continue to refine that plan as you work it, and over time, you’ll find that you’re building business with the right people and seeing results for your hard work.

How else does marathon running parallel business development?

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Photo of Lindsay Griffiths Lindsay Griffiths

Lindsay Griffiths is the International Lawyers Network’s Executive Director. In this capacity, Ms. Griffiths is responsible for the oversight and management of day-to-day operations of the International Lawyers Network (ILN). She develops strategies and implementation plans to achieve the ILN’s goals, and handles…

Lindsay Griffiths is the International Lawyers Network’s Executive Director. In this capacity, Ms. Griffiths is responsible for the oversight and management of day-to-day operations of the International Lawyers Network (ILN). She develops strategies and implementation plans to achieve the ILN’s goals, and handles recruitment, member retention, and a high level of service to members. She is engaged in the legal industry to stay on top of trends, both in law firms and law firm networks.

In her role as Executive Director, she develops and facilitates relationships among ILN member firm lawyers at 90+ law firms in 67 countries, and seeks opportunities for member firms to build business and relationships, while ensuring member participation in Network events and initiatives. These initiatives include facilitating referrals, the management and execution of the marketing and business development strategy for the Network, which encompasses all communications, push-down efforts, and marketing partnerships, providing support and guidance to the chairs and group leaders for the ILN’s thirteen practice and industry specialty groups, the ILN’s women’s initiative, the ILN’s mentorship program, the management and execution of all ILN conferences, and more.

JD Supra Readers Choice Top Author 2019

During her previous tenure as Director of Global Relationship Management, the ILN has been shortlisted as a Global Law Firm Network of the Year by The Lawyer for 2016 and 2017, and included as a Chambers & Partners Leading Law Firm Network since 2011. She was awarded “Thought Leader of the Year” by the Legal Marketing Association’s New York chapter in 2014 for her substantive contributions to the industry, and was recently included in Clio’s list for “34 People in Legal You Should Follow on Twitter.” She was also chosen for the American Bar Association Journal’s inaugural Web 100‘s Best Law Blogs, where judge Ivy Grey said “This blog is outstanding, thoughtful and useful.” Ms. Griffiths was recently chosen for as a Top Author by JD Supra in their 2019 Readers’ Choice Awards, for the level of engagement and visibility she attained with readers on the topic of marketing & business development. She has been the author of Zen & the Art of Legal Networking since February of 2009.