Does your weekly work plan include a commitment to make time for proactive business development? Or do you merely react to whatever comes your way, relegating BD to that elusive concept “extra time”?

If you’re in the minority who do plan BD every week, I applaud you. However, I’ll bet that you plan to perform activities rather than achieve outcomes. Most lawyers’ weekly BD plans look something like this:

  • Follow-up with Jane Smith re: met at XYZ event
  • Email Bob Jones re: Employment work
  • Write blog post
  • Email Ellen Jamison re: catch-up lunch

This is your basic To-Do list. While it’s better than nothing, it suffers from some serious shortcomings that make it hard for you to succeed. None of these activities are anchored by a beneficial outcome, which makes it hard for you to know what to do, or how much of it you need to do. It’s easy to blithely check off tasks each week, deluding yourself that you’re making sufficient progress.

Let’s take a second look at the task list above.

Follow-up with Jane Smith re: met at XYZ event

First of all, “follow-up” has no meaning whatsoever. It sounds pro forma, and the email usually turns out that way. Without defining your desired or intended outcome, how will you know what Jane’s email should say? A desirable outcome might be:

Recruit Jane as a contributor to your next webinar

Now, this initial email takes on a different character entirely. Instead of a standalone action of dubious value, it’s become one step in a process leading to a worthwhile outcome. If you’re to have any chance of getting Jane as a contributor, what will it actually take? You may first have to get her intrigued by the topic, or by the audience profile you anticipate. You’ll have to show her the relevance of her work to your event and audience. Once she’s interested, she’ll need to know what her obligation is, so she can gauge the time commitment.

Isn’t it much easier to compose this email now, and plan the additional steps that will follow?

Email Bob Jones re: Employment work

This is a pretty common To-Do list item, and it’s completely worthless. What outcome is this email supposed to achieve, or be a step toward enabling?

Email Bob Jones to confirm [suspected Door-Opener] that would drive demand for additional work

Legal work derives from business situations, problems, challenges, and opportunities. Define the problem that will motivate Bob to respond to your email because of its relevance, and his stake in the practical impact of the problem. Think through the logical progression of communications and discussions that would lead to Bob concluding that a) the consequences of the problem require him to take action, and b) that you understand everything so thoroughly that dropping it in your lap lets him deal with it and move on to his next problem. The most useful question you can append to any action is, “Then what?” When you’ve done whatever it is, what will you do next? Keep asking “Then what?” until you reach the outcome you seek.

Write blog post

About what? This empty action item guarantees you’ll be trying to engage “think time” under deadline pressure. Before making it an action item, think through the what and why so you can begin writing. You can’t write a blog post that doesn’t yet exist in your head.

Ideas occur to us all the time. When they do, create a short synopsis of it in an idea file for your blog. Express enough of it that, if you look at it a month from now, you have enough there to begin writing rather than begin trying to remember the actual idea.

Separate "think time" and "do time"

You get the idea. “Think time” and “do time” are separate. Don’t try to combine them. Set aside time to think through what you want to accomplish, and how you’ll do it. Write those answers as your To-Do list. Then, when “do time” comes each day, you can make good use of small blocks of time. If you try to combine thinking and doing, you’ll use up the time allocation thinking about what you’re going to do. You’ll accomplish nothing, and be frustrated.

The problem with standalone To-Do items is that you’ll never feel a sense of accomplishment. How much would you congratulate yourself for doing some pro forma follow-up with Jane, or merely sending an ineffective email to Bob? Or struggling through a blog post that has little impact? “Wow, what a week I had! I followed up, and wrote an email, and wrote a blog post that I’m not sure I’ll publish! Winning!”

Make your plan a list of outcomes to achieve this week, with the supporting actions that will reliably produce those outcomes. Estimate the amount of time it will take to accomplish something worthwhile, rather than allowing the amount of time you’ve arbitrarily allocated to determine your success. You might feel proud allocating three hours to BD this week, but if that’s not enough time to produce a worthwhile outcome, is the pride justified?

Mike O'Horo

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