New Year’s Resolutions For The New Normal: 8 Ways To Make Your Business Development Efforts More Successful

Welcome to 2015!

With the start of each New Year, many Americans make resolutions. Studies have shown that by the time February rolls around, only 64% of them will still be working on those resolutions. If 2015 is like prior years, that number will continue to drop and by December only 8% will have stuck with their New Year’s resolutions. There are many reasons why the success rate of New Year’s resolutions is so dismally low. Caught up in the excitement of the New Year (or perhaps recovering from it), people often make unrealistic or ambiguous goals, ignore the need for an actual plan, and have no one supporting or holding them accountable.

The difficulty people have in keeping New Year’s resolutions is an extreme example of a general phenomenon: people are usually much better and more enthusiastic at making goals than they are at actually achieving them. Making changes can be tricky and frustrating, and sustaining those changes can be even more difficult. This holds true for lawyers as well as people in general. But when it comes to making New Year’s resolutions about business development, lawyers can’t afford to be impulsive and simplistic. Too much is at stake. Few, if any, lawyers have the luxury of investing time, money and energy in business development efforts that only stand a one-in-twelve chance of succeeding. Lawyers must be strategic and systematic for their business development efforts to dramatically improve those odds.

So what can be done to help lawyers keep their New Year’s resolutions and do a better job of meeting their 2015 business development goals? Here are eight practical suggestions that will keep lawyers on track and yield results.

1. Look back to move forward. It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to make progress in attaining business development goals is to first look backwards. Lawyers should begin by revisiting their prior year’s goals and marketing efforts. They should ask themselves what worked, what didn’t, and where improvement or changes are needed. They should look for any patterns or trends in their efforts, and ask themselves if last year’s goals still valid in the fast changing marketplace for legal services? Taking the time to consider these questions will give lawyers a head start on fine-tuning their efforts.

2. Have fewer goals but better ones. Achievement oriented people like lawyers often make the mistake of setting and working on too many goals at the same time. Having eight goals isn’t twice as good as having four. It is far better to concentrate on a few goals that will have great impact, than on several goals that can diffuse a lawyer’s focus and efforts. With too many goals, people also have a tendency to work on the few that are easiest or most within their comfort zones. Doing so often results in slower and less meaningful progress.

3. Use smart technology. Technology can be a great tool or a great burden. How a lawyer uses it makes all the difference, and high tech isn’t necessarily the best choice for all situations and all lawyers. A statement commonly attributed to Albert Einstein is a good guideline: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” For example, when used properly client relationship management (CRM) software systems can be tremendously helpful in tracking lawyers’ efforts and letting them know when it is time to follow up with a prospect or referral source. But some CRM systems (especially those designed for large sales organizations) are more powerful and complex than lawyers typically need. The time invested in learning how to use them far outweighs whatever additional features they may include. They’re an example of technology overkill. Lower tech and simpler CRM systems (including paper, file, and tickler systems) can be easier to use, just as effective, and far cheaper.

4. Add some enjoyment to client development. Why shouldn’t business development activities be fun? Face-to-face business development activities are a great opportunity to get out of the office and away from the phone and computer. Interacting with people can be a refreshing and relaxing change of pace. Client development is about building, maintaining and sharing relationships; and when those relationships are enjoyable, lawyers are far more likely to pursue them. It’s not hard to work on one’s goals when that work is inherently fun and energizing. On the other hand, if mixing with clients and referral sources is not enjoyable, working with different clients or engaging in less social activities like writing may be a better idea.

5. Have at least one outside-the-box idea for marketing … and do it! Lawyers are known for being risk-averse. It’s an excellent quality to have when representing clients, but it can be quite limiting when it comes to thinking of innovative and creative ways to attract clients. Lawyers should make a commitment this year to having at least one outside-the-box idea for marketing. Why is this important? It gives them license to shake up their thinking, use their imagination, and see new opportunities. It also helps to get them out of the habit of doing what’s tried and true, but not necessarily very effective.

6. Don’t go it alone! Personality studies have shown that lawyers tend to be more autonomous than most people. This can be a real disadvantage when it comes to making and sustaining changes. It is much easier to achieve goals with the help of another person. When lawyers are accountable to another person – whether that person is a colleague, mentor, or coach – they follow through and achieve to a much higher degree. The simple act of articulating one’s goals and action items is in itself very powerful. Making a date to talk or work with a person is also an excellent way of staying on track and scheduling client development activities.

7. Learn from others and don’t hesitate to ask for help. Few law schools address the topic of law practice management, and even fewer even mention marketing and client development. So it’s understandable that some lawyers get the message that these are not important parts of legal practice. When reality finally hits, they must make up for lost time and learn these valuable skills on the fly while fully committed to practicing law. Fortunately there are many excellent books, articles, and websites that provide insightful advice about how to find clients and sustain mutually beneficial relationships. But as useful as these resources may be, lawyers need to overcome their tendency towards autonomy and go beyond merely soaking up knowledge. Doing so is like trying to learn how to play golf or tennis from reading a book. This is especially true with relationship-based skills like marketing and client development. It’s important for lawyers to engage others and ask for their help. Some firms and bar associations offer marketing workshops on an ongoing basis, and assistance from a skilled and certified marketing coach who is familiar with the legal profession will save lawyers time, money, and angst.

8. Schedule your marketing efforts and protect that time in your calendar. Taking a systematic approach to business development means regularly and consistently engaging in those activities. There’s no way around that. This means that lawyers must build time into their calendars for those activities. Few lawyers feel that they have sufficient time for client work, let alone administrative and business development matters. And although they may have the best of intentions when it comes to business development, the honest reality is that they often make those activities a second or third priority when other matters arise. The best way to avoid this is for lawyers to schedule business development time in their calendar. They need to make an appointment with themselves or with someone else, and then the harder part—they must keep those appointments! These appointments can be made on a regular recurring basis (e.g., at the beginning of each day, at the end of each Wednesday, of on the 15th of each month), or with an eye towards spending a certain amount of hours per week or month on marketing regardless of where they fall on the calendar. Regularly scheduling time for business development is the best way of developing habits that are foundation for success. And even though rescheduling or canceling may be tempting, they should be avoided.

One final and critical piece of advice: don’t wait until 2016 to review and assess business development efforts. Waiting twelve months to make New Year’s resolutions is a mistake. Following the above suggestions will give lawyers a competitive edge, but it won’t help them make timelier midcourse corrections. Reviewing marketing efforts on a quarterly or more frequent basis helps lawyers refine their skills, stay focused, and get results.

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