These were my parents’ earliest words of advice to my siblings and me about money. Like so many who grew up during the Great Depression, they developed a healthy fear of going broke, and respect for providing a financial cushion, however modestly their circumstances allowed. That meant, make saving your priority. Put money in savings before you pay your bills or allocate money for any other purpose. They made themselves their most important creditor, the one who got paid first.
This is a good principle for lawyers to embrace about their business development efforts. Make yourself your most important client. Make business development your first priority, instead of an afterthought that gets attention only when you feel like everything else is under control. After all, how often does everything in your practice feel under control?
Schedule a half-hour for BD first thing every morning, before you jump into the daily maelstrom of practice demands and the day gets swept away, leaving you mentally spent and regretting that yet another day slipped by without doing anything to generate future business. The key is every morning. Not “most,” or “frequent,” or worse, “occasionally,” but every morning.
You say, “But there’s no time. I have to do…” followed by a list of things you have to do. The answer lies there. You sound like you don’t consider BD something you have to do, like it’s somehow optional. Is it optional?
If I ask, “Where will your future business come from,” few lawyers could answer concretely. Most don’t know. They trust that somehow, it just will. I’m glad you feel lucky enough to bet your future on it. The problem is that “the future” is vague, someday stuff, which allows us to feel like we have plenty of time to get around to it. The next thing we know, years have passed, we’ve done very little, and we notice that not only has our business not grown, it’s atrophied. Not an alarming amount, perhaps, but noticeably. That once robust client still sends work, but less frequently. The new client that seemed like it would produce a flood of work has been more like a gentle stream.
That subtle decline perpetuates the “someday I’ll get serious about BD” mindset. But what about the risks of precipitous decline? Companies get acquired all the time, and change executives even more frequently. What if a change in corporate control results in a new sheriff in town, one who’s had it with law firms’ resistance to change, and has decided that he’ll bring about the change on his own by dramatically reallocating the legal budget in favor of technology solutions and non-traditional service providers? How long would it take you to replace that work?
Let’s envision a more benign alert. Today, every one of your significant clients announces that they’re committed to reducing their outside counsel budget by 80%, with a deadline of March 22, 2020, four years from now? You have four years to replace 80% of your revenue. The clock is ticking. If you knew the deadline, would you continue to allow day after day to slip by without doing anything about it? Will you “get around to it when things aren’t so crazy”? (The day when you’ll have plenty of time is coming, but it will be too late.)
Obviously, all your clients aren’t going to make such a draconian decision and give you a deadline, right? Or, are they already moving down that path mentally, and the only things missing are the announcement and the date-certain deadline? Should it really require an explicit deadline to get your attention?
It takes time (both invested and elapsed) to generate business, and you have to get serious about BD today, and continue every day. Can you really claim that you can’t commit 30 minutes out of a ten-hour day to protect your economic future? I’m not buying it.
Marketing isn’t complicated. It’s essentially communicating information to a specific market segment about a problem that those people are obligated to care about. That causes them to view you as relevant, which keeps them paying attention to you. Over time, they form the view that you understand their world and you probably can be useful. They associate you with that problem and, when it reaches the point where they’ve got to get serious about dealing with it, you’ll come to mind because they've long connected you with it. A percentage of them will discuss it with you. A percentage of those will agree with your approach to it. A percentage of those will like you and hire you.
Proactive marketing communication takes two forms: telephone and email. Lucky for you, email is the growing preference across the board, which means it's asynchronous. You can do it at your convenience.
You can’t spend 30 minutes sending three well-written, relevant emails each day? If you normally begin work at 8:00 a.m., begin at 7:30. Or shut down at 6:00 p.m. instead of 6:30. You get the idea. Put a recurring appointment with your most important client, yourself, in your calendar for every day at the same time, with reminders. Respond to those reminders and honor those appointments.
If you send out three emails per day, every business day, in a year you’ll have formed 750 concrete impressions that you’re relevant to a problem of significance. If you want to “find” time for this, stop wasting time on feel-good, relationship-building lunches that you already know produce little.
Next week: What to put into those three emails each day.