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I wanted to be a lawyer, not a sales rep: 4 steps to tackle business development

17 January 2018

If you’re not bringing in new work (or at least sowing the seeds to make sure you have a pipeline of future work), your firm/department/practice’s commercial future isn’t going to be as bright as you’d like it to be. Business development is rarely as high up on the priority list as it should be because there’s not enough time, it’s not your job, there are too many other things to do. 


The reasons given for not doing business development vary from fee earner to fee earner, but experience has taught us that the reticence usually boils down to one thing, an underlying lack of confidence.

This is perfectly understandable.  You haven’t trained to ‘sell’ and you entered the profession to be a lawyer not a rep.  The only problem is as the legal market continues to become more crowded and cut-throat, the ability to bring in work is going to become an increasingly vital component of a 21st century lawyer’s role and career development.

Building confidence is an ongoing process and to help you get started from a business development perspective, I’m sharing the 4-step process we work through with our clients.

Choose the business development stream that works best for you

To approach business development more confidently the secret is to choose the activity that suits you best.  Business development breaks down in very general terms to:

  • ‘Formal’ networking i.e. networking events, conferences
  • ‘Informal’ networking i.e. taking a few people from different organisations out for drinks, organising something around an activity or sporting event
  • Speaking - at either your firm’s events or at local or sector based events
  • Writing for your website or newsletter or for the local or trade press depending on your practice area

All of these work much better if they are undertaken by the people who are most comfortable with them.  The more comfortable you are with the activity you volunteer for, the more productive it will be because you will be more relaxed and more engaging. Because it’ll come more naturally, it’ll genuinely be more enjoyable.

Learn how to do it

The better you get at something, the more your confidence will grow.  To get better, you may need some type of coaching or training – even if it’s just a more experienced sounding board to run your ideas past.

Internal support: try and identify the colleagues you think are good at the business development stream you want to concentrate on and try to go out with them (if they’re a networker), work on a presentation with them (if they’re a speaker) or write with them (if they’re a writer).

External support: take advantage of any training that’s offered. Even if you pick up one new tip you can use, it will have been worth the billable time you took out of your day. 

You will always get so much more out of any training or mentoring if you know exactly what you want to cover and what you want to get out of the session.

Practice, practice, practice

Improvement in both ability and confidence will only come with practice.  If you’ve made your choice as to what you want to do and then invested the time to learn how to do it, the final piece of the puzzle is practice.  Give your new skills a run.

You may make a few slip ups here and there and that’s just part of the process.  As long as every time you recognise where you could have done things better, and do it the better that way the next time, you will quickly grow in confidence.

Everyone has heard the 10,000 hours theory, that even the most natural exponent of a particular skill will have spent over 10,000 hours perfecting it. I was recently given a perfect real-life example.

The pitch

I was working with an equity partner in an international commercial practice on a new pitch. 

We got on to the subject of preparation because a successful pitch would be dependent on doing something a bit different.  The person who’d invited them to pitch would be sat waiting to hear all the usual standard points around how best to protect their intellectual property rights.  

We covered off those standard points quickly, almost using them as a given.  Then we refocused the pitch on finding out exactly what they had, where it had come from and what their precise commercial objectives were.  From there the partner I was working with was able to show them how, once their rights were protected, they could use their IP more commercially.  This showed they could deliver much more value in terms of strategy and commercial savvy than their competitors would. They won the work!

I mention this because that particular partner was prepared to invest in the preparation of their pitch, to pick the whole ‘what’s expected’ thing apart and find a much more engaging message.  Novel/different/exciting doesn’t just happen.  You need to be prepared to work at it then practice, practice, practice your delivery so that on the day it comes over naturally and confidently so the client buys into it.

“All of the medals I won weren’t won on the day”

As soon as I explained the need to prepare and practice to the partner she agreed. She immediately understood why because, in a previous life, she had been a medal winning skydiver: 

 “All of the medals I won weren’t won on the day; they were won in the hours in the wind tunnel, the hours lying the right way in front of the TV, the hours of going through the last jump over and over again in my head.”

She was absolutely right.  Success isn’t about the invitation to tender or about turning up on the day, success demands preparation and practice.

Commit to continuity and consistency

Dipping in and out will not maintain the confidence you have started to build. Whatever you have chosen to do, you need to commit to doing it regularly and consistently.

Set yourself a manageable schedule that you can track that can be fitted in alongside your fee earning work to make sure you stay on track.  If you are a writer your target may be to publish one piece on the firm’s website per month and have one piece published in the local or trade press each quarter.  If you are a speaker it may be that you want to speak at two industry events each year and run an internal seminar every quarter.

If you aren’t willing to commit on a little and often basis, you won’t generate the results you need to irrespective of how well suited you are to your chosen activity and how good you have become at it.  Results breed confidence and results need repetition.  

 

Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.

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About the author

Douglas McPherson is a director at Size 10½ Boots, a business development agency that works with professional service firms. He is the author of The Visible Lawyer and Package, Position, Profit. He was previously commercial director at Lloyds Marine Intelligence Unit and head of sales and marketing for Intellectual Property Publishing.
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