In a previous post I suggested that you establish a weekly time budget to invest in your practice growth. Specifically, a "not to fall below" weekly time commitment to pursue the delta between how much business you aspire to, and how much you have now.

For example, if you reliably bring in $300,000 per year and aspire to bump that to $500,000, we're talking about the amount of additional time you'll budget each week to pursue the $200,000 difference. (The reason we do this is a) few lawyers know where the current $300k comes from; b) it would be hard to figure that out; and c) it won't help much if we did, so we'll focus on the $200k that we'll generate "by strategic intent.") Our experience is that most lawyers’ budgets are between one and five hours per week, with the overwhelming percentage at three hours.

If you’re the only one doing the selling, and only for three hours per week, it will take a while for that solo salesperson to produce what you want. You need a larger (virtual) sales force. Let me explain.

Stripped to their essence, all practice development strategies are designed to create a large virtual sales force, i.e., a network of people who are talking about you in the right context, to the right people, and getting you included in the right conversations with those people.

In my view, there are only two core strategies, with variations on execution:

  • Vertical Market Position: You focus on an industry sector; pick an issue that constitutes a reliable Door Opener for your most important service; and consistently talk about that issue via established, trusted communication channels to demonstrate Relevance and earn a chance to be seen as potentially Useful.  Over time, you become positioned as “the [issue] person.”  As stakeholders reach the point where the Cost of Doing Nothing about that issue forces them to consider their solution options, for those exposed to you, your name reliably is indexed to that internal conversation.  To the degree that you’ve positioned yourself, everyone involved in the solution conversation becomes part of your referral force or sales force.
  • Disciplined Fence-Riding:  This is an organized process for managing the frequency and content of your interaction with clients, contacts and friends. In consultation with your coach, you analyze the existing relationship, and create an individual, sustainable approach to strengthening or redefining each one in support of your strategy.

Because your relationship is with the market rather than an individual company, vertical strategies require heavier front-end time investments and take longer to work, but once established are lasting and very defensible. They have lower maintenance time requirements over the long haul because you’re only maintaining one relationship.

Fence-riding produces the quickest returns, but because it entails so many individual relationships, it requires a permanent maintenance investment.

Either strategy alone, pursued consistently, will yield the sales force we need.  To produce immediate results that finance the longer-term strategy, most lawyers begin with fence-riding while they figure out their choice of industry and market position. Over time, as their market position gains traction and produces reliable demand, they're able to selectively reduce their fence-riding investment.

There's no need to go it alone. You can develop a virtual sales force. The most important step is the first step, so begin by creating a list of your contacts. In two weeks, I'll show you how to cull the list to those who will actually help you.

Mike O'Horo

Thanks to all the lawyers who provided feedback in our recent survey. As a result, we'll reconfigure RainmakerVT courses to reflect how you said you want to use them. Stay tuned.