Welcome to part 10 of a 10-part series, Nine Ways You’re Losing Business—and What to Do About It.
Next week, I’ll summarize the entire series and show you some next steps so that you can go into 2015 from a position of strength instead of trying to play catch-up.
Reason No. 9: You’re renting your practice, not owning it.
Are you renting your practice? I’m not asking whether you’re renting office space. And I’m not asking whether you’re an associate or junior in practice. This question is about your attitude and your approach to your practice. Are you building your practice based on what you want your practice to be, or are you “paying your dues”? Compromising? Accepting what isn’t ideal but might be good enough for now? Waiting until something changes?
If you aren’t actively and strategically growing your practice on a consistent basis, you are renting your practice. Even if you’re a sole practitioner, renting your practice means you have a job, not a career. As we learned during the recession, lawyers can lose their jobs when firms fail or as a stopgap measure designed to avoid failure—or even to increase profit.
“Career” non-equity partners (meaning those who cannot or will not advance to the point of attaining equity partnership, as distinguished from “transitional” non-equity partners who are working to become equity partners) are at special risk. These lawyers typically have strong skills but relatively high salaries and relatively small books of business, meaning that they represent a drag on the firm if work dries up and they can’t bring in enough new work to support or significantly defray their expense.
Welcome to part 9 of a 10-part series, Nine Ways You’re Losing Business—and What to Do About It
Reason No. 8: You’re marketing your practice using someone else’s plan.
Law schools rarely teach students how to market (or manage) a law practice. So most lawyers learn by reading articles, attending training, and—most commonly—following the example set by a successful mentor. However, every person brings different skills, assets, and attitudes to both marketing and practice.
If you’re using a plan created by someone who’s significantly different from you, even a plan that’s been highly successful for that person won’t be successful for you. Every person brings a unique set of skills and assets to be used in marketing as well as preferences that must be accommodated, at least to some extent. In addition, every ideal client profile will be slightly different. No two plans will be identical, and even remarkably similar plans will probably be executed in distinct ways.
I once worked with Sarah, a lawyer who had built a thriving practice, and I thought I’d follow her lead so I could get the same results. Unlike me, Sarah was a social butterfly. She entertained frequently and met contacts for a meal or coffee most every day. She seemed to know everyone: when we went out to lunch, I felt as if we were having lunch with the whole restaurant because it seemed that she spoke to almost everyone there. Sarah was well known in the community, she met many potential clients who subsequently hired her, and she had a steady flow of referrals.
I tried to model Sarah’s networking activity. I laid great plans, but I dreaded executing them. Unlike Sarah, I’m an introvert, and the thought of that much socializing was simply exhausting. I made an effort, but it was too easy to get sidetracked with work (pressing or otherwise) because I didn’t enjoy that volume of activity, and so I didn’t get anything remotely close to Sarah’s results. Sarah’s plan worked for her, but it wasn’t a fit for me, and it wasn’t as effective as the plan I created to incorporate my own personality, preferences, and skills.
Welcome to part 8 of a 10-part series, Nine Ways You’re Losing Business—and What to Do About It.
Reason No. 7: You “don’t have time.”
Time. That great limiter for every practice. No one has time enough for everything We know this. And yet, some days, doesn’t it feel like you could summarize your task list by writing simply, “EVERYTHING”? You have billable work, admin work, plus a personal life, and you want to add more on top of that?
If you don’t make time to complete business development activities and to create value for your clients, you’re losing business.
The “more” you have to add to your task list includes activity designed to raise your profile in the marketplace, client acquisition, and creating value for your clients above and beyond the billable work you do for them. You might group all of this as business development activity, since it’s designed to bring in and satisfy your clientele. That seems like a tall order, and in some ways it is, but two operating principles can simplify it a bit.
First, you have to find a way to marry your business development work with your billable work. When the two are divorced, as they generally are, you’ll have the sense that you can do only one of those activities, and the billable work will win. That’s how the feast/famine cycle gets started.
Welcome to part 7 of a 10-part series, Nine Ways You’re Losing Business—and What to Do About It. To view the previous posts in this series, click on the category above titled Nine Reasons You’re Losing Business.
Reason No. 6 You’re invisible.
How do people find you? Are you visible on your website, in publications (offline and online), as a speaker named in conference materials, at networking meetings, in organizations relevant to your practice, in community organizations, and/or on social media?
In today’s economy, if you aren’t credibly visible in multiple channels, you’re losing business. Invisible lawyers (I call them the anguished invisible) don’t get as many clients. If you’re invisible, you won’t advance in your firm or your community. You won’t advance in the profession, and you’ll tend to bemoan your bad fortune in marketing and in practice. What you won’t realize is that the root of your troubles lies in your status as a best kept secret. That’s no way to live, and it’s certainly no way to build a viable practice.
To be credibly visible means that you appear in a variety of channels in a way that’s relevant to your practice. In other words, you can be found:
- Speaking about your practice area or related topics at conferences;
- Teaching about your practice area or related topics;
- Publishing articles, blog posts, books, book chapters, etc. about your practice area or related topics;
- Engaging on social media and sharing references or resources (your own or others’) relevant to your practice area;
- Curating content about your practice area or related topics;
- Working within an organization that has some nexus with your practice area or the kinds of clients you represent; or
- Serving in a leadership role in an organization that has some nexus with your practice area or the kinds of clients you represent.
Must you be active in all of these channels? No. You have to select the channels that fit your marketing identity and are reasonable calculated to reach your ideal clients and referral sources.
Welcome to part 6 of a 10-part series, Nine Ways You’re Losing Business—and What to Do About It. To view the previous posts in this series, click on the category above titled Nine Reasons You’re Losing Business.
Reason No. 5 You’re Losing Business:
You don’t know how to say no.
If you don’t have firm guidelines that help you determine which opportunities to accept and which to decline, you’re losing business. That’s true on two levels.
1. Saying yes to one opportunity always means, as a matter of inarguable fact, saying no to something else. Accepting Client A means that you may not have bandwidth available when Client D comes along (or that, if you accept Client D, that time pressures may reduce the quality of your work product or client service). Taking on a leadership role with one organization means that, at least for the time being, you won’t be able to seek a leadership position with another. And choosing to write three articles that will appear before your ideal clients may mean that you’ll have to give up a few hours of sleep.
Choosing to grab one opportunity and let another go for now may be a wise decision or a foolish one. Only by being clear on your objectives can you know which is which. For instance, if you’re accepting a leadership position in a group that’s populated by your ideal clients or referral sources, even giving up a similar opportunity may make sense—unless activity with the second group would deliver an equivalent result with less of a time commitment.
That’s why it’s so important to create a business development plan and to track your activity against it on a regular basis. Your plan will let you weigh an opportunity against your objectives as well as against other opportunities, known and unknown. If you accept an opportunity without due consideration or just because it seems like a good idea and you don’t have anything else planned runs a high risk of getting you sidetracked.
Welcome to part 5 of a 10-part series, Nine Ways You’re Losing Business—and What to Do About It. To view the previous posts in this series, click on the category above titled Nine Reasons You’re Losing Business.
Reason No. 4 You’re Losing Business:
You don’t invest in your practice.
When I was growing up, I loved a Kingston Trio song called Desert Pete, which taught me the concept of priming a water pump, or using a precious resource (water in this case) to produce more of it. The song’s narrator describes his reluctance to pour water into the pump when he’s so thirsty, but taking that leap of faith pays off.Unsuccessful lawyers resist investing time and money into business development; successful lawyers understand that it takes money to make money and that a practice can never grow without a significant investment of both time and money. If you don’t get this lesson—if you’re tight-fisted with time and money even when using it well would lead to more and better business—you’re losing business. Continue Reading
Welcome to part 4 of a 10-part series, Nine Ways You’re Losing Business—and What to Do About It. To view the previous posts in this series, click on the category above titled “Nine Reasons You’re Losing Business“.
Reason No. 3 You’re Losing Business:
You’re indistinguishable from other lawyers.
Very often, clients view one lawyer as essentially indistinguishable from another in the same area of practice. Especially for legally unsophisticated clients, a lawyer is a lawyer is a lawyer, and as long as she can handle the matter for the client and she “looks” ok—decent website, decent biographical sketch, decent office and staff—the assumption is that the lawyer will be adequate to meet the need. Even for more sophisticated clients who regularly hire lawyers, it can be difficult to find meaningful distinctions between competitors.
You have a way of approaching your practice and your clients that is partly innate and partly developed over the course of your practice. I call this your Attorney Avatar. I’ve identified six Attorney Avatars that describe practitioners: the Personality, the Partner, the Prophet, the Guru, the Guide, and the Gun. Each carries unique attributes and strengths and defines certain areas that will require attention to build a strong practice.
When you understand who you are as a practitioner, you can develop your attributes and characteristics to create a specific and systemized experience that you create for clients and potential clients. Of course, you must marry your clients’ needs with your own approach to practice, but when you keep both in mind you’ll create an experience that is unique to you because it’s driven by your attitudes and beliefs about what makes for a good practice and a good practitioner.
Welcome to part 3 of a 10-part series, Nine Ways You’re Losing Business—and What to Do About It. To view the previous posts in this series, click on the category above titled “Nine Reasons You’re Losing Business“.
Reason No. 2 You’re Losing Business: You don’t really see your clients.
Sure, you see your clients. You have meetings with them, you talk with them by telephone or videoconference. But do you really see your clients? Too many firms and lawyers view their clients as one-dimensional objects of practice. Client numbers are assigned, and the client comes to assume that number as an identity.
You don’t ever intend that to happen, but the press of business can make it hard for you to keep up with clients individually … And that’s why you must have a system in place for making sure that you recognize what’s happening with and for your clients.
This is a problem that’s endemic to rainmakers who are seeking to grow a book of business above all else. You court a potential client. You’re interested, highly responsive, you make an effort to learn about your potential client’s interests, to engage that person in business and personal conversation, to be your most appealing self. And then as soon as you get the matter, that deeply personalized attention drops off because you’re in service mode (which often equates to maintenance mode) while you’re off chasing another client.
Last week I introduced a 10-part article that I’ll serialize in this newsletter. If you missed that introduction, click on the category above titled “Nine Reasons You’re Losing Business“..
Here’s why you’re losing business…
1. You aren’t creating value for your clients.
Let’s assume that you do good work from a substantive perspective and that you deliver that work on time every time. That’s a great start, but it isn’t enough anymore.
Historically, clients have measured value received from an attorney based on the successful outcome of a matter. Did you win the case? Did you get most of what the client wanted in the negotiation or contract? If you did, you delivered value, and clients would usually be satisfied.
Today, however, clients are more sophisticated than ever before. They’re often able to evaluate the cost of the successful outcome in terms of dollars, time, missed opportunities, and resources consumed. Whether that evaluation is correct isn’t the point. The point is that a good outcome is just the tip of the iceberg in value creation.
A longer newsletter than usual this week, with three important sections.
1. A must-read article for those of you working in large firms: Pay Gap Increases Between Equity and Non-Equity Partners. Two brief excerpts will show you why you can’t miss this:
“Equity partners averaged $971,000 in annual compensation, versus $338,000 for nonequity partners, according to MLA’s third biennial survey of what partners are paid at large law firms in the United States. While average pay for equity partners has risen nearly 20 percent from $811,000 since MLA’s first survey in 2010, nonequity pay has remained relatively flat, increasing just $2,000 over the same period.”
“The growing gap between equity and nonequity partner pay mirrors the disparate amount of business the two groups of partners bring to their firms. ‘The correlation between originations and compensation is getting stronger,’ says Alan Olson, a law firm consultant at Altman Weil Inc. Olson says firms are ‘rewarding and investing in those partners that can develop and maintain a remunerative legal business.”
I’ve suggested (and the data supports the idea) that nonequity partners are in a tenuous position unless they’re making a strong record of securing business. This article provides deep insight on this point and data on pay disparities.
2. LAST CALL for The RainMaster Paradigm Revealed: A New Model for Thriving in the Post-Recession Economy, a workshop I’m hosting at the New York City Bar Association on September 23. Visit this link to learn more and to grab one of the few remaining seats for this intimate workshop. (Want to attend but not in NYC? Please hit reply and let me know.)
3. This week marks the start of a 10-week series in this newsletter, titled Nine Ways You’re Losing Business—and What to Do About It. I’d originally planned to send it as a single article, but it’s nearly 15 pages long! This week starts with the premise of the article, and you’ll find the problems and solutions over subsequent newsletters.