Well, it’s that time again. The time when millions of people around the world make their New Year’s resolutions. The trouble with resolutions is that they are very rarely accompanied by a plan of how they are going to come to fruition. Which is why, according to some statistics, 80% of these resolutions fail by the second week of February.
As a lawyer, one of your key resolutions might be to grow your book of business. If you don’t want to let your important business goals fail like most of the New Year’s resolutions do, you’ll need to create a plan for your upcoming business development efforts. Here are the 13 questions you must answer to create your business development plan:
1. Who are your clients?
You can’t get what you want unless you know what you want. Identify the categories and characteristics of your target prospects and clients. Try to get as specific as possible and include your prospective clients’ industries, size or type of business (such as closely held family businesses, start-ups, fintech companies, etc.), demographics or income level (such as high-net-worth individuals, young families, retirees) – you get the idea. Also, identify more abstract client characteristics that would be ideal for you. Do you want business-savvy clients? Clients who are hands-on or clients who are more low-maintenance?
2. What are your clients’ main problems?
Why would the clients you are looking to attract need a lawyer? What kinds of challenges do they face that require the kind of counsel you and your firm provide? This may involve some research. For example, if you are targeting entrepreneurs or start-ups, you’ll want to understand the unique issues they face in terms of attracting and securing investors, protecting intellectual property assets, business formation, and structuring, etc. You must be crystal clear on your clients’ main problems.
3. What are the trends that are affecting your clients?
This point is very important. Clients no longer just want their lawyers to know the law, but also to understand their industry and their business. So stay abreast of news and developments in the industries/areas you are focusing on. If your prospective clients are real estate investors, do you know where the real estate market is heading? Can you provide answers about crowdfunding as a real estate investment vehicle? Do you know how the new tax law affects clients who need a business succession plan?
Demonstrating that you understand a client’s challenges and the current business and legal landscape they are operating in, and have thoughts about how to navigate those challenges, is one of the first ways you can develop the trust and confidence that’s the foundation of a strong and long-lasting client relationship.
4. What services can you provide to your clients?
In addition to being clear about the services you can provide, cross-selling the talents of your partners and associates is a fundamental and indispensable aspect of effective business development. So don’t just focus on what you can do for your clients. Instead, make sure you understand and can identify the full suite of services your firm can provide.
5. How will you ensure excellent client service?
Get clear on exactly the type of actions you can take in order to serve your clients most effectively. Are you going to reach out to them regularly with updates or developments they should know? Are you going to schedule visits to your clients’ offices or facilities once or twice a year to demonstrate your personal investment in your clients? Are you going to make proactive efforts to offer them services you believe they need that they may not know they need?
6. Who are your key people?
You can’t do it all. You shouldn’t do it all. You need competent, talented, and conscientious people around you to do your legal work effectively and service your existing clients at the highest level.
In-house contacts: Your assistant or clerk. Your billing and accounting department. Your marketing team. Your associates and partners.
External contacts: Other professionals (accountants, title companies, lawyers who provide services you don’t) who are both referral sources and folks you can refer clients to. This can also include key gate-keepers or decision-makers at clients and prospects.
7. What key resources will you need?
In addition to people, what other resources do you need to support you in delivering excellent client service? This could be financial, in terms of a marketing/entertainment budget from your firm. This can be material support, such as a facility, food, or A/V resources for hosting a client seminar or meeting. This can be technical support in terms of what your clients expect and need in terms of communication or reporting.
8. What are your top annual business development goals?
When you look back a year from now, what will you want to see accomplished?
Personal goals: A certain dollar amount or percentage improvement in revenue from the previous year? A specific number of clients? A specific kind of clients?
External goals: Does your firm have set expectations for production and billing and business generation? Are there marks you need to hit to make partner?
9. What will your key costs be?
Entertainment, marketing collateral, travel, gifts, technology upgrades. You will either need to spend out-of-pocket yourself or get someone at the firm to cut checks. Either way, you need to plan and budget for necessary marketing and business development expenses.
10. What will your main marketing channels be?
How will you get in front of the people you want to connect with? Join industry groups and attend their events? Speaking engagements or presentations? Lunches? E-blasts or targeted newsletters and updates? Follow your strengths, but follow them to where your prospects are. Look at what you need in terms of distribution of your articles, blog posts or other marketing collateral.
11. What targets will you need to set and what specific actions will you need to take?
Based on your annual goals, identify five specific performance targets that will keep you focused on achieving your goals. For example, if one of your goals is to “bring in Company A as a client,” your specific performance target can be “establishing relationships with two key decision-makers at Company A.” Then you want to identify the specific activities that you will focus on each quarter that will ultimately bring you to your goal. It’s very important that your activities are things you can actually control. So “securing a meeting with a prospect” is not a strategic activity, it’s a goal (since you are not the only one who has control over deciding whether the meeting gets scheduled). Here are some examples of strategic activities that are fully in your control:
- Identify several key decision-makers at Company A, including names, positions, etc. and research their background; identify various approaches to get connected or introduced to these individuals, including identifying what value you can provide to them
- Request to be introduced to these individuals and map out your relationship building plan for each; offer to lead training or a presentation for them
- Learn about their professional and personal challenges and consistently look for opportunities to provide value in different areas of their work and life
- Stay regularly in touch
12. What actions must you reduce, discontinue, or avoid?
Next, think about what may currently stand in the way of you engaging in the activities you need to do to reach your goals. What is consuming time that you need to allocate to business development? What can you change about your habits/routines/inclinations that will clear a path for you to be successful? Then determine which of these activities you need to: Reduce, Discontinue, or Avoid. For example, if you want to focus on raising your “business development game,” then some of the activities you want to stay away from are those that take a lot of time, but do not help you focus on developing your book of business, such as attending too many networking events that are not strategic, being involved in volunteer bar associations or other organizations that do not help you strategically expand your network, etc. Your time is precious, so make sure you are using it the best and most strategic way you can.
13. Who is in your “powerbase”?
This is the roster, the starting lineup, the master list, the target package. Who is the focus of your energies this year? Who do you need to develop relationships with at a prospect to get to decision-makers? Who are you taking to lunch and who gets a quarterly phone call just to check in? List those individuals who you believe will be key to helping you achieve your most important goals this year. Use that list to create relationship-building strategies and develop your networking action plan so you are spending your time most strategically and efficiently.
By creating your plan answering these 13 crucial questions, you will walk away with an intuitive, “at-a-glance” view of your business development process for the whole year.
Keys to Designing and Implementing Your Business Development Plan
Like any tool, your plan will only work if you use it, and use it effectively. You should tailor the mix of activities in your plan to what is most appropriate for your target market and is best suited to your personal strengths, weaknesses, and rainmaking style. Be realistic, in both your activities and your goals, but be “feasibly ambitious.” In other words, aim high, but develop your plan with a keen eye on your goals and your available time, budget, and other resources. Focus on those activities which have the most impact and start with those activities you are most comfortable with. Bust out of your comfort zone—eventually.
And finally, be thoughtful. Effective business development is a marathon, not a sprint. At least every quarter, go back and review your plan to make sure you are on pace and make any adjustments you feel are necessary. Throughout the year, keep the plan on your laptop and tablet, tape it to the inside of your office door, keep it handy in your desk drawer; basically, keep it where you can see it daily. Otherwise, as the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind,” and you don’t want that. Use your plan with thoughtfulness and deliberation worthy of a long-term and very important project (the future success of the legal career that you worked so hard to build).
Happy (business) planning!