All posts by Samira Mery Lineberger, Esq.

Principal, Lineberger Consulting Group

If You’re Pavarotti, Just Sing: Effective Business Development in a Solo Practice

“Success is achieved by developing our strengths, not by eliminating our weaknesses.”      Marilyn vos Savant

In some of my earlier postings I discuss breaking client development into separate tasks and having participating attorneys only do those tasks they are most suited for.  The idea is to capitalize on the individual’s natural talents and strengths in combination with others to contribute to a well rounded marketing program.  While it makes sense, it’s not much help for the solo practitioner.  So what can a soloist do to develop business on his own, with no one to share in the heavy lifting?

The ideal law firm marketing plan has several components.  There will usually be some networking and expert positioning involved.  A well designed, active website with good search engine optimization is also helpful, among other things.  But what if you’re not a natural at all the various business development activities?  Does that mean that you are doomed to fail?  All evidence to the contrary.  There are more solo firms than any other firm size in the country and it is doubtful that all of their principals are good at all things marketing.  So what do successful solos do?

While I have only anecdotal evidence to back this up, in my estimation the successful soloist still focuses his development efforts on his strengths.  If you happen to be a great writer, but a not so great networker, you can still be successful in developing business.  The idea is to not only customize the marketing plan and strategies to fit the targeted clients you have defined, but to customize your plan to also fit what you do best.  For example, let’s say you have determined where your targeted clients gather and what publications they read.  Instead of spending most of your time trying to overcome your awkward resistance to breaking the ice at some sort of community association meeting, why not focus most of your efforts on writing?  Write some compelling articles that can be published for the group and you may not have to break the ice.  Someone will break it for you by asking for your opinion or to speak at a function.  You can do what you do best, and inadvertently get some help (i.e. breaking the ice) with what you are not so great at.

Another anecdotal observation is that most people who take the plunge and go solo tend to be more willing to go outside their comfort zones and try more things.  It’s a great attitude, but that does not mean that all activities should be equally conducted.  That would be like insisting Pavarotti (God rest his soul) dance while he was singing, since the combination of singing and dancing can be very entertaining.  While I cannot attest to Pavarotti’s dancing abilities, my guess is that he would not have been as successful entertaining if he split up his performance equally with a marginal dance routine.  As in entertainment, the marketing strategies should focus on the abilities that the solo excels in and then perhaps supplemented with what he does not.  Showcase your genius while supplementing with your mundane and you can still be very successful.  Too much focus on a mundane performance will only dim your brilliance.  So unless you’re Fred Astaire, just sing!

 

How to Get Noticed in a Crowd and Look Good at the Same Time

“He who wishes to secure the good of others, has already secured his own.”       Confucius    

You know the drill.  If you want a bigger and more stable client base, you need to network.  That means getting out there, talking to people, building relationships.  But what if you need clients NOW?  What if you don’t have the time to spend socializing without guaranteed results?   What if you go around visiting and visiting and visiting and never getting any business out of it?  Can you really afford to spend time at functions you have no desire to be at if there is no guarantee that you will meet someone that will bring business in the door?  Thoughts like these are exactly the sort of thing that discourages many attorneys from embracing the networking road to business development.  I understand.  I’ve been there.  So is there a way to short circuit the process to get to the good stuff?  “Yes” and “no.” 

Networking takes time.  There is no way around it.  In fact, it is more likely that scientists will finally develop an anti-fat pill that safely burns away pounds of unwanted fat overnight without regard to food consumption than anyone developing an alternative to the time investment necessary to network your way into a stable flow of business.  BUT, there are things you can do to improve your chances of success and likely speed up the process. 

To achieve success, take instructions from the best.  Years ago I was listening to a self help tape that suggested that to be successful, one should identify someone who is wildly successful at a given activity, figure out what they are doing, and then copy what they do.  While natural talent and circumstances may influence the results, chances are if you do what they do, you will achieve at least some success.  So what do great networkers do to bring in business?  

For starters, they act like they mean it.  They don’t just show up to some association meeting where the number of attorneys trying to sell their services outnumbers the prospective clients.  They join the association and they get involved.  They join committees.  They work on problems.  They come up with ideas and answers.  In short, they contribute.  They give back.  Because of their contribution, and here’s the good part, THEY GET NOTICED.  The prospects notice them, even better, the prospects want to talk to them.  They want to know their opinions.  They want their help with their problems.  Demonstrate your commitment to solving your prospect’s problems by your service and activity for the group and the prospects will come to you!  No need to give a sales pitch on what you do and what makes you good at it, because you will have already demonstrated that.  You become known for your expertise and ability, and you are trusted because of your voluntary contribution of your time and know-how.  

But this takes tiiiiime (extra i’s intended to emphasis sing-song whine).  Yes, but if you are smart about it, you can target your efforts to get the most bang for your buck.  Before you join the association, research it thoroughly.  Make sure it not only includes a large number of the prospects you are targeting, but also, and equally important, that it is something you are interested in and can be passionate about.  If you don’t believe in the cause, your lack of enthusiasm will likely show through and as a result, keep you from being someone the prospective clients sees as a solution to their problems.  Likewise, if you don’t believe in the cause, you will be much less likely to stick with it long enough to reap the rewards, and therefore lose all the time you invested thus far.  Besides, if you don’t believe in the cause, maybe that is a signal that you should be looking elsewhere.  Why try to represent clients and interests you are not interested in?  Where’s the fun in that?  And speaking of fun, if you are passionate about the subject and you do get involved, it will not feel like networking.  You will feel good about what you are doing and what you are contributing, you will enjoy it and feel like your time was well spent, and the rest will come naturally.  

In short, research the association, make sure it is one you are interested in and passionate about.  Make sure the members include a good supply of prospective clients, join it and GET INVOLVED.  The heavier your involvement, the faster you will see results.  And because your activities will be publicized to the group at large, you will have demonstrated your worth to a large number of prospects all at the same time.  There will still be an investment of time up front, but you will feel good about it, and it will be worth the stream of clients your association activities and contributions generate. 

 

The Secret of Life is “One Thing”

“Success demands singleness of purpose”       Vincent Lombardi    

Ever have one of those days when you start one thing, only to be distracted by something else?  You start working on the something else and then get distracted again.  Before you know it, hours have gone by and you realize you’ve been busy all day, but haven’t accomplished a thing.

Like those days when you can’t get anything done because you can’t stay focused, marketing efforts without focus can be totally unproductive and no more effective in generating a return than gambling.  If you do not develop a clear and focused plan to generate business, you might as well just donate your money to a local charity.  At least a donation is something you could feel good about. 

One of my favorite movies in the 90’s was “City Slickers” starring Billy Crystal.  It was a story about a man named Mitch (played by Crystal) suffering a midlife crisis.  To cheer him up, his best friends buy him a vacation where he and his buddies go to a cattle ranch and learn to be “cowboys” while herding cattle across the state.  They are guided by a tough-as-nails trail boss who taunts Mitch throughout the movie.  At one point, the trail boss asks Mitch if he knows the secret of life.  Mitch has no answer.  The trail boss puts up one finger and says “It’s one thing, just one thing.”  Mitch asks what the one thing is, and the trail boss just chuckles and moves on.  This is repeated throughout the movie until the trail boss finally answers him.  “I don’t know.  That’s what you have to figure out.” 

Many times, the secret to building a solid client base is “just one thing.”  But that one thing that is right for you might not be the one thing that is right for someone else.  The point is, as in the Billy Crystal movie, you have to figure that out for yourself.  Figure out what type of client you want to go after and simply go after that.  Just like starting and stopping a bunch of tasks leaves you with a bunch of things undone, a mixed bag of uncoordinated and unfocused marketing efforts will not likely generate a reliable business base.  Many attorneys will go after any and everything in an effort to generate business, but the reality is, efforts made for the sake of getting anything are usually ineffective in generating anything.  Business that is generated tends to be more from luck than effort. 

Marketing is not rocket science.  Genius is not necessary, but FOCUS is.  Pick one type of client, and focus all your efforts on that.  What activities are the best for reaching your targeted client will depend on who the target is.  Once identified, you must identify how they find and choose their attorneys.  Do they rely mostly on referrals?  Do they go to the yellow pages?  Do they search the internet?  The better you understand their decision process, the more likely you will be at determining what marketing efforts you should implement, and the more successful you will be at getting their business.  

Focus on the “one thing” and you will be surprised at the business it will bring.  It may not lead you to the secret of life, but it will almost certainly lead you to more clients.

 

Law Firms Go Fishing

“Give a man a fish, feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”       Lao TZU 

BTI Consulting Group, a leader in legal industry research, recently released the results of a study that showed that despite deep budget cuts at large law firms, “business development is one of the few marketing areas where law firm executives are more willing to increase spending.”  Of the firms interviewed, including firms of all sizes, “[n]early 70 percent said they planned to provide more marketing coaching to lawyers.”  BTI’s Benchmarking Law Firm Marketing and Business Development Strategies, 2009.  It seems that even in a tough economy these firms are taking the old adage, “teach a man to fish…” very seriously. 

But teaching your attorneys to fish for new business is not just about making them more capable of taking care of themselves; it’s about maximizing the ability of the firm to generate business.   No matter how great the few rainmakers at a firm are at generating business for the rest to feed on, the “two rainmaker business plan” will forever limit the growth of a firm by the talents, time, energy and health of those few rainmakers.  This is not anything new.  Most firms in this situation know it is a problem, but what are they doing about it?   

To the rainmakers that built the firm business development is second nature.  Yes it takes time, but it’s something so obvious and inherent to them that many just assume others should  inherently know how to do it.  They assume that the lack of business development is from a lack of motivation rather than know how.  The associates are told they need to “network,” to go to some association meetings, etc. but they are given very little direction on how to be effective in doing so.  (i.e. how to determine the associations they should be joining; what they should do once they join; how they should go about getting noticed, etc.)  Perhaps it is less a lack a motivation and more a lack of knowledge and understanding of how to be effective.  It’s like Mozart expecting others to just sit down and play the piano because that’s what he did.  He looked at the piano and just knew how to play.  But just because others can’t do what Mozart did, does not mean that they can’t be taught to play.   

While coaching will not make someone the Mozart of rainmaking, it can make them pretty good at it, which can be enough to make a significant contribution to the firm as a whole.  Apparently a good percentage of law firms realize this given the increased dollars they are devoting to business development coaching.  Is it a lack of motivation or do they need to be taught how to fish?  Either way, the right kind of coaching can provide the solution. 

 

Is Your Glass Half Full?

“If we don’t take care of our customers, someone else will.”      Unknown

A recent BTI Consulting Group study revealed a startling finding:  “87% of law firms have at least one major client relationship at risk.  Yet few law firms are aware of their vulnerability – and even fewer are doing anything to change the landscape.”  Legal Trends, Most Law Firms Have At Least One Major Client at Risk, by Marcia Borgal Shunk, Principal at BTI Consulting Group, April 9, 2009.

If you are a glass is half full sort of person you would immediately look at this and think, “Wow, what a great opportunity to pick up some new clients!”  And that observation would be correct.  If you are seeking to grow your business, this statistic illustrates an encouraging opportunity to win over some new business.  Your next step should be to develop a strategy of how you are going to capitalize on that fluidity.  But in developing that strategy, consider the glass is half empty sort of person who is worried about which client in their portfolio is on a possible exit.  To figure out the best way to win clients from others, you should start with getting a clear understanding of why the clients would consider leaving.  Figure it out, then offer what’s missing.  And even better, make sure your own clients are getting what’s missing as well.

The focus of the study was not on how to win new clients from others, it was on what it takes to retain them.  Obviously, winning clients while simultaneously losing others is not going to grow revenues.  The study indicates that using aggressive client surveying to uncover client satisfaction is critical to gaining client loyalty and to becoming one of those rare 13% of the firms not at risk.  I agree, but I also suggest that after you do your surveying not only should you use the information to keep your current client’s happy; you should use the information to design your next marketing campaign.  You see?  The glass is half full!