Business development is integral to the practice of law, but it is a task that many lawyers dread. This is often because they do not know where to start or lack a plan. But with a little forethought and planning, developing business can actually lead to relationships that carry far beyond “business.”
- To get started, simply set aside some time to think about the type of business you want to develop. In smaller firms, attorneys may have more freedom in the types of cases they can take on. But just because the sky may be the limit, that does not mean taking on anything and everything that comes your way is the most effective approach to business development. Instead, really think about the type of law you want to practice or specialty you want to develop.
- Develop a contact list. We all have contacts, even if you are newer to the practice of law. Think of friends from school and determine what type of work they are doing now, then consider friends or contacts in your community. Put together a list of people you already know and set aside time to reach out to them (in person is better). Offer to take them to lunch or plan to meet for coffee. Educate them (in a friendly, conversational manner) on type of work you do and how you can help them if the need arises. And before you leave, always ask them if they have at least one person they would recommend that you contact in the future so you can broaden your network
- If you haven’t set up a LinkedIn profile, do. Or if you have one, make sure it is up to date and communicates the type of work and business you are wanting to develop. LinkedIn is a powerful tool for communicating your business development goals.
- If you use other forms of social media for advertising, make sure they are up to date and communicating the message you want your contacts to see. If you are using social media for business purposes, I suggest having an account devoted solely to that, and then set up a separate account for personal use. I would also encourage you to come up with your “brand”: a logo, color scheme, or slogan (or all of the above) that is consistent across all forms of advertising, social media, web presence, etc. Consistency will ensure your contacts will associate you with your advertising.
- Develop your elevator speech. That sounds clichéd but seriously, know what you want to communicate and hit the high points concisely and quickly, leaving your new contact with your contact information in the process. You may only have a few moments to speak to someone depending on the occasion, so make sure you can communicate your “brand” in just a few sentences for those briefer occasions.
- Consider joining local professional groups. If you get to know other professionals on a personal basis, they will be more likely to think of you when they need legal assistance in the future. Depending on your practice, you may be able to develop a program that would be of use to other professionals in the community. If so, ask to be on the agenda for a meeting so you can share some of your expertise with group. Free advice now can lead to paid business in the future.
- Look for conferences in the area you want to participate in and attend. Ideally, see if you can find opportunities to speak, but even if not, conferences have many social events and provide excellent opportunities to expand your network.
- Always follow up. Business development does not happen overnight. In fact, it could take years before you finally get business from a contact, so do not get discouraged and continue reaching out. This does not mean you should call your contacts every week—the goal is definitely not to annoy them. But make it a point to strategically follow up and stay in touch periodically throughout the year.
My parting thought to you is this—business development does not have to be a strictly “business” event. If you take the time to build relationships with your contacts and really get to know them on an individual basis, it can enrich the experience of business development for you and for them.