How can lawyers create more effective personal business development plans?

The prospect of business development can be a little bit daunting for lawyers. Not only is it something new, something you didn’t learn at law school, but there is also the lingering spectre of all the partners you’ve seen in action. They all look like naturals at BD. How will you ever be able to do what they do? Where do you even start? Or would it just be easier to avoid BD altogether and concentrate on billable work?


As someone who specialises in helping lawyers and law firms improve the way they approach business development, I hear all these questions/statements/concerns every day. The first part of my answer is always that BD definitely can’t be ignored. Today more than ever before your ability to bring in work will have a direct bearing on your progression within the profession.


This will not change; the part BD plays will only increase.


However, the next part of my answer will hopefully be more reassuring! Good business development is not about copying what you see the ‘naturals’ in the firm doing. Good business development is about finding out which BD activities best suit your personality, preferences, and skills.


Once you know what suits you best, you can anchor your personal BD plan to these activities and business development will immediately become not only easier but also more effective.


What are the different BD activities a lawyer can get involved in?


When it comes to choosing the right BD activities, there are two common myths we need to bust:


1. Business development is all about winning new clients.


2. Business development is all about networking and networking means formal networking events.


Let’s look at these in order.


Business development is NOT all about winning new clients


Business development is most definitely not all about new business.


New clients are the hardest things to come across; most people and businesses already have lawyers that they are perfectly happy with. Unless you are very lucky and (depending on your practice area) either come across a business or a person at the very point they need a lawyer, winning brand new clients is always going to be a tough gig.


It also requires a lot of selling which is an art in itself not to mention something lawyers are often – quite understandably - not comfortable with.


This is where you may want to take a slightly different look at how you can win work. Sometimes the best place to invest your time and effort is in the people you already know. Primarily this will be your clients but you should also include your professional contacts, the accountants, IFAs, property agents, insurance brokers, NOMADS, etc. you regularly work on matters and clients with.


It is so much easier to develop these relationships. Although a firm’s focus is all too often on new client acquisition, the fastest and most likely results will come from the people you already know. Very early on, make a choice as to whether you feel you are more suited to client development or new client acquisition as it will dictate the types of tactics you included in your personal BD plan.


While we will look at how to create more effective client development plans in a future article, the first step in getting a client development plan up and running is to shortlist which clients/contacts you want to concentrate on.


For partners and associates, this will be slightly easier. You will already have established relationships and know which you think have potential for growth.


For more junior fee earners, it may be worthwhile to identify who on the client side is at your level and who you talk to/email most frequently during a matter. You can also speak to the partners you work with most often and ask them which referrers and professional contacts they are closest to. They can then facilitate introductions to their contacts’ junior colleagues.


From there you can work out how and when to see them each quarter so you have the time to discuss their plans, their requirements and the ways you can add more value to your relationship at regular intervals during the year.


Business development is NOT all about networking


I’m not going to say networking doesn’t have a part to play in your firm’s business development strategy. It does. I am however saying that it doesn’t suit everyone, especially when it comes to formal networking events.


If it does suit you, networking is a highly productive exercise. You will regularly meet both existing and prospective clients in a situation that has been specifically designed for you to make new connections and sell your services. As long as you follow up on these connections and are prepared to stay in touch (the odd email, coffees/drinks/lunch) between events, your relationships will develop and over time this will generate new opportunities.


However, for some (and I very much count myself in this number) formal networking simply isn’t enjoyable. If that is the case for you, don’t go! You will appear apprehensive and ill at ease which means you won’t get what you want from the time you take to attend.


This doesn’t mean that networking is at fault. It just means formal networking isn’t right for you. There is an alternative you may want to consider (and again, this is something I’ve learned from experience works for me), informal networking.


If you have 4 or 5 clients and contacts who you think would benefit from meeting each other, you can choose a pub, a restaurant or an easy activity and invite them all along (better still, to widen your network ask them all to bring a plus one) and just have a relaxed chat.


But if even the informal networking option doesn’t sit well with you, there are two more highly effective ways to build your profile and reach new audiences that you can also consider:


1. Speaking


Speaking slots allow you to impart your technical expertise from a position of authority – surely if you’ve been asked to speak you must really know your stuff?


And if you compare speaking at an event to attending an event, as an attendee you’ll probably meet 5 or 6 people but as a speaker, everyone will hear what you have to say and then the majority will come up to you afterwards to swap cards and request your slides.


I know that public speaking isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (and again I include myself) but because of the upheaval we’ve all been through over the last 18 months, there are alternatives that may suit you better.


Virtual events can be more comfortable as you are sitting at home talking to a screen rather than having to stand up in front of a ‘live’ audience. Formats are also becoming more engaging with less ‘chalk and talks’ and more panel discussions which means speakers only talk in short bursts and in a much more conversational way.


Or, if you don’t want to be seen at all, you could try podcasting. This may sound daunting but with the quality of recording smartphones now offer and the variety of free to use audio platforms available, putting your own podcast together is very straightforward.


Writing


Producing blogs and articles is another way to reach a larger audience. When it comes to what and where to write, I always split the options into two:


1. Your firm’s blog

These are short pieces (imagine one page on a smartphone) that answer a specific question. This question could be something your clients regularly ask you, a particularly tricky question a client has recently asked you or (if you are particularly cunning) a question Google is currently being asked a lot.


Once these blogs are live you can use them as social media posts to drive traffic to your site but their main use is to show Google your site is producing relevant, unique content and to feed the right key phrases into the search engines so more people find your site to ask for help with the topics you are writing about.


2. External press opportunities

If you like the sound of writing, your ultimate objective is to get published in the publications or on the websites your clients and contacts read.


Depending on your practice area, this may be a local paper or magazine or a specialist trade publication but what they will have in common is they will not only be read by your clients and contacts, they will also be read by lots of other people just like your clients and contacts.


Again, we will look at content marketing options (and best practice) in more detail but if you do win external press opportunities, the main thing to remember is simply being published is unlikely to win you work. You will need to push the finished article out to your audience. This can be done via LinkedIn, via your website (publishers all have their own rules as to who you can use your piece) or simply by emailing the PDF and/or link out to relevant clients and contacts with a personalised note.