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Why do so few lawyers engage in business development, despite abundant and inarguable evidence of its necessity? Many lawyers have told me that the biggest barrier to getting started is feeling overwhelmed, not knowing what to do, or how to begin.

Fair enough. You’re not alone. Psychologists cite three obstacles to getting started:

  1. Mental Paralysis: you’re paralyzed and unable to start – 62%

  2. Procrastination: not starting due to boredom or lack of motivation – 44%

  3. Distraction: tried to start but got distracted or interrupted – 38%

According to the Getting Started Blues survey, the most frequently-cited reason for being stuck is feeling “overwhelmed with so much to do” (68%). Lawyers can certainly identify with that.

Others cited “how-to” reasons:

  • Inability to prioritize – 38%

  • Don’t know where/how to start – 33%

  • Inability to plan out the project – 22%

  • Unclear direction – 18%

Lawyers trying to begin business development for the first time, or trying to do it in a serious way for the first time, may experience all of these. In my observation, one significant cause is complexity. The legal industry media is awash in articles about business development, each advocating for one or more of dozens of strategies and tactics.

There are two major categories of business development:

  1. Opportunity generation (Marketing): Enabling those who need your help to recognize that, and motivating them to contact you to discuss those needs

  2. Opportunity conversion (Sales): Helping those who contact you to make a good decision about what they should do, if anything

In this post, we’ll tackle Opportunity Generation. Next week we’ll deal with conversion.

In today’s BD conversation, you’ll be inundated with discussions about the why, what, and how of social media, inbound marketing, content marketing, search engine optimization, and any number of other buzzwords. If you didn’t already arrive at the task confused and overwhelmed, that should get you there pretty quickly.

Most of the complexity relates to the choice of channels you’ll communicate in, and which mechanisms and tools you should use to optimize that. The good news is that in the beginning those questions are premature. They’re the equivalent of arguing whether you should fly or drive on your vacation before you decide what you want to do and where you want to go.

Let’s boil this monster challenge down to its three essential components:

1. A service to sell. Not just any service, though, but the that you most enjoy providing. Money is only part of your compensation. Another, important one, is doing work that you find challenging, stimulating, and interesting. That’s when you’re at your best, and when it feels least like work. This work must solve a problem that has sufficient impact (strategic, operational, economic, emotional) that, once people recognize that impact, they deem it unacceptable and feel compelled to take action, accept risk, and commit funds.

For example, you may love figuring out creative structures to attract expansion capital to growth-stage companies.

2. Someone to sell it to. As with your choice of service focus, not just anyone. You need to define an identifiable group of people who share certain characteristics that cause you to conclude that they are very likely to have this problem, acknowledge having it, and to acknowledge its consequences (strategic, practical, economic, emotional)

One common shared characteristic is industry. Companies in the same business are likely to experience the same problems. Not all of them at any one time, but most of them at one time or another. Unless they’re outliers (which we can always ignore), they’re almost certain to encounter this problem at some time or another. You may even be able to predict the lifecycle stage at which it’s most likely to occur.

In our capitalization example above, we might conclude that the typical Silicon Valley-style consumer tech startups don’t need to raise enough capital at any one stage to require multiple sources with differing interests to coalesce, or that their product-development cycles are too short to require your degree of complexity. You may conclude that a capital-intensive industry such as polymers is opportune due to its heavy R&D requirements, and the need to cobble together disparate investors such as manufacturers, materials suppliers, and customers. (My apologies to anyone in the polymer business who is laughing at my ignorance. This is purely an illustration of logic.)

3. A way to communicate with those "someones." At the very least, you need communication channels that are established and trusted, and that reach a sufficient number of people who care about your problem frequently enough for you to get noticed, establish relevance, and form the desired impression.

This is where today’s large discussion about social media, content marketing, etc. comes in. Social media such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Medium, Instagram, Quora and others are channels. As are blogs, email, article placement, and public speaking at conferences. They’re the vehicles that enable others to receive your message and decide how relevant your message and you are to them. They enable you to remain in contact with those who are likely to be faced with the problem you solve, long enough for you to establish your relevance to that circumstance, and still be in contact when the time comes for them to take action to solve it.

Marketing is about getting found by the right people, at the right time, for the right reasons. This is how that process works.

Mike O’Horo

Obviously, the specifics of how you accomplish this are beyond the scope of a blog post. Most lawyers find it helpful to work with a coach to make the process more reliable and more enjoyable. If you're curious about how that might work, here's an explanation of how we'd collaborate.