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In his book, “The First Billion is the Hardest,” Mr. Pickens offers a couple of dozen “Boone-isms,” one of which seems appropriate for us today: “When hunting elephants, don’t get distracted by rabbits.”

This is the time of year when many lawyers and their clients (belatedly) reflect on the just-concluded year and try to sharpen their plan for this one. Too often, though, these plans yield little more than a litany of ill-defined activities, such as:

  • bar & civic organizations to become active in (whatever that means)
  • seminars to participate in
  • articles to write
  • clients to visit
  • prospects/referral sources to entertain
  • companies to target for new business

I've made my share of enemies by declaring this pro forma approach arbitrary, largely useless, and the sort of thing that guarantees failure.  Why do I describe it so harshly?

Well, we can begin by asking, “On what basis will lawyers decide what to write in the blanks on these forms? What goal will these activities support?”  Too often, that question is greeted by a blank stare.

We can go on to ask why these lists always contain a whole lot of WHAT advice (“Attend seminars.”), and virtually no HOW advice (“Predict the long term legal implications of a current business issue; test that hypothesis with a prospect at a targeted networking event, then begin a sustainable, yet non-‘salesy,’ business conversation with said prospect.”).

The unstated assumption behind such lists seems to be that any marketing or sales activity is worthwhile, that even a non-plan is better than no plan.  I strongly disagree. 

Here's how to simplify this process to get the most focus bang from your planning buck:

  1. Declare your 2015 goal in specific, measurable economic and strategic terms.
  2. Identify the single most influential obstacle you must overcome to reach it.

Here's an example of the kind of goal-precision I'm suggesting, and the biggest obstacle to accomplishing it:

Goal: "Add $150,000 in new litigation business from oilfield-service companies based on the emerging problem of producers attempting to cancel service contracts now that oil prices are projected to remain low."

Obstacle: Service companies fear retribution from oil producers should this drop prove temporary.

For example, your solution might be a communication strategy designed to enable companies who share your worldview to discover you as a kindred thinker. If so, you'd shun any speaking or writing opportunities that don't reach this segment, and accept only those that focused on the strategic issue of low oil prices and other threats to oil production. 

By focusing on the most significant obstacle, you assure that all of your investment and activity support the same purpose. If you’re making discernible progress against the primary elephant obstacle, you won’t be as tempted to divert your efforts in pursuit of each tactical rabbit that scoots across your path all year.

As always, the final step is: call your coach for help with the “how” part of this.

Mike O’Horo

This is an excerpt from a video lesson (with accompanying worksheet) that will help you build an actionable marketing plan based on specific goals that are important to you and worth pursuing.

Want to create a marketing plan that's actually useful? Watch this excerpt from the RainmakerVT online course of that name. Then, click here to get it.