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Lots of lawyers experience what’s called the “sell/do” cycle. That means that they’re either selling the work, or doing it. While they have it, they focus on billable work exclusively, ignoring marketing and sales entirely. “No time for biz dev. Too busy. Gotta get this work done.”

Then, one day, a big case settles, a transaction closes, or a client gets acquired, and their well or work runs low, or maybe even dry. They scramble, anxiously trying to hustle up some work to replace what’s just disappeared. Desperate steps include:

  • Calling or emailing long-dormant former clients “to catch up,” hoping they somehow can pry some work out of someone with whom they’ve had little or no contact since their last engagement months or years ago

  • Emailing contacts, asking to meet for lunch or coffee to catch up

  • Poring over litigation-monitoring services to see who among their contacts or former clients has just been sued, sending email that says, in essence, “You’ve been sued; I’m capable and want to help”

  • Walking their firm’s electronic halls, trying to get colleagues to cross-sell them to their clients

You know how poorly that works.

Dig the well before you’re thirsty

“Dig the well before you’re thirsty” is a Chinese proverb (and later a networking book by Harvey Mackay). It reminds us that you can’t wait until you need work to seek work. If we want to have work next month, next quarter, next year, we must do things now, and continuously, to make that happen.

When you’re really busy, do you neglect personal hygiene? Do you eschew showering, or brushing your teeth? It’s not something you think about; you just do it, every day, no matter what. A few years ago, in a blog post titled I meant to brush my teeth, but I was too busy, I argued that BD must become hygiene, i.e., something we do every day, no matter what.

“Hygiene” is defined as “conditions and practices that help to maintain health and prevent the spread of diseases." In the context of business development, change a few words to yield, “conditions and practices that help to maintain law practice health and prevent the spread of business vulnerability."

Law is rarely an immediate-sale business

Every once in awhile, something happens in the legislature or in the business world that presents an immediate opportunity or threat to businesses, and therefore presents an immediate-sale opportunity.

A number of years ago, an analyst at a law firm discovered that the FDIC had misinterpreted a ruling, and caused big banks to create reserves far in excess of what was actually required. We’re talking real money: hundreds of millions of dollars. However, by the time this flaw was discovered, there remained only about eight months before the regulation expired and closed the window on the banks’ ability to recover these funds. This presented an immediate-sale opportunity. The firm approached every big bank, laid out the opportunity for them, and said, “If you want this money back on your balance sheet, you have to do this now.”

Game-changing developments that have natural urgency don’t pop up very often. Most legal services are mature. It’s hard to come up with reasons why a company should hire your law firm right now instead of sticking with their habit of using the firms they’ve long used. Most of the time, companies have the luxury of making no decision about that at all.

Marketing communication is a continuum

That’s why it’s so important to reinforce your relevance and thought leadership continuously. People aren’t staring at their LinkedIn feed or social media accounts all day every day. You have no way of knowing when they’ll notice what you post, or where you’re quoted in a news story, or when your article is published. Email is only marginally more effective. Everyone is deluged with it. Will this one get noticed? If not, you’d better have something else coming along soon that gives you another chance to be noticed in a relevant way.

You have to maintain a consistent presence to prevent even your best clients from forgetting you, or failing to recognize your relevance to issues that arise at the time that they arise. It’s not “What have you done for me lately,” but “What have you said lately that causes me to remember you, and perceive you as relevant and potentially helpful to me?” That article you wrote three months ago? No matter how brilliant and insightful, it’s long past its shelf life unless you get it in front of me in some proximity to when that issue moves up my priority list. It doesn’t exist.

Every day is game day

This is why it’s critical for you to be in the game every day, doing something, getting in front of somebody in a way that creates or reinforces the position you wish to occupy in their mind. Let’s say you have a really limited contact list, only 50 people in a particular industry. If every day you sent relevant emails to only two of them, that would be 10 per week and 500 per year, for an average of 10 per year per contact. How much time could that take each day? Twenty minutes? Please don’t try to claim you don’t have 20 minutes per day to pursue business.

Wouldn’t those 10 touches each year make it harder for them to forget you, and more likely that they’d associate you with the industry issue that drives demand for your service?

Mike O’Horo

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