Effective business development is crucial to building a successful legal practice and legal career. While good lawyering skills will always matter, they won’t get you very far if you can’t build and maintain solid client relationships.
If you struggle with business development, you’re not alone. Many lawyers make mistakes in this area, and they can have significant negative effects on business growth. The good news, though, is that all of these missteps can be avoided if you focus on how you’re going about developing new business and build a solid business development plan.
The following are some of the most common mistakes attorneys make when it comes to business development, plus tips on how to avoid them.
Confusing Business Development With Sales and Marketing
Many lawyers are uncomfortable with the idea of selling or marketing their services – after all, they went into law, not sales. However, business development should be confused with these other activities. While sales and marketing can both be important to growing business, business development is more focused on client service and satisfaction. The goal is not to make a hard sell, but rather to connect with clients, get to know their needs, and make sure you’re meeting them so that you retain their business in the future.
Talking But Not Listening
Lawyers notoriously like to talk, but business development requires listening to your clients. The focus should be on what they want, not on what you want. Ask questions, but be sure to really listen to the answers. In a world where the billable hours still rules, it can be difficult to step back and go off the clock, but that’s what you need to do to make sure you understand what your clients really need. At the end of the day, clients want lawyers they connect with, not just those who are technically good at the law.
Not Getting to Know Your Clients
Part of the purpose of listening to your clients is to get to know them – not just what they need in that exact moment, but to get to know their business inside and out. Part of retaining clients and holding onto their business is anticipating their needs and proactively offering assistance, even when they might not yet realize they need it. When you know your clients and their industry, you’re in the best position to be a trusted advisor. If your clients believe you understand what they do and what they need, you’ll be their go-to counsel for any issues that arise.
Focusing on the Wrong Clients
A key part of business development is of course trying to land new clients, but it’s important to not forget your current clients and the new avenues of business they might provide. Another great source of new business is clients your firm represents in other matters, but who you have not yet worked with yourself. Your existing clients and those of your firm can often be a better source of new revenue than brand new clients.
Failing to Differentiate Yourself
Today’s legal market is a highly competitive one. Simply being a top-notch lawyer may not be enough any more to attract new clients. Clients want lawyers who specialize in what they do and really understand their industry. Find a niche and focus on what you do best. Another great way to differentiate yourself is to be on the cutting edge of technology, offering innovation that creates convenience for your clients before your competitors do.
Not Having a Plan
Business development is not a haphazard activity. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, having goals for growing your business and a plan for how you intend to meet them are crucial to success. You should take some time to determine what you want your practice to accomplish in the next year, and then figure out the necessary steps to position yourself in those key areas. Without a plan, you will likely end up investing a lot of time in business development efforts that don’t actually pay off.