Get the New Year off to a Successful Start with 10 Tips

With 2017 fading in our rearview mirror, you may be asking yourself what needs to change to improve your marketing efforts in 2018.

In my experience, the key to success in business development is evaluating what you did both well and not so well this past year, and make some substantive changes to the not so well.

To help you with this, here’s my business development best practices top 10 list for 2018. If you can execute on even two of these, it might make the difference for the coming year. Good luck!

Tip No. 1 – Write a BD plan!

It might not sound like a tough ask, but 95 percent of all attorneys don’t have a solid plan for growing their book of business. Without a plan, you may be all over the place with your BD activities.

Try defining your growth as it relates to new originations or number of new clients you would like to add. Then create two to four strategies or activities that will be a good use of your time.

For example, contact existing clients or other lawyers for referrals versus attending random networking events. Try to invest time where the low hanging fruit is easy to reach. Lastly, develop some actionable tactics to accomplish each strategy. This type of plan will be your GPS for the year. Be sure to track your activity to see what’s working and what is not.

Tip No. 2 – Get your LinkedIn up to speed.

I know, I know, LinkedIn is social media and who wants to get involved in that for business? You need to! Like it or not, this is your online resume for business that may be coming your way. Having a solid profile will help solidify your skills and expertise in your area of practice as well as building your personal brand.

Take 30 minutes and clean it up. Having a professional photo, expanded summaries and adding your blog articles will help to get you found.

That’s not to say that the traditional methods of marketing yourself to potential clients aren’t still important. For a lot of people, business cards are still as key to business success as they ever were when it comes to networking. We’ve all been let down by technology at one point or another so it helps to have some paperwork to fall back on in an emergency. Make sorting out your business cards a priority this year by following this link:

Tip No. 3 – Develop a client retention plan.

How do you keep your clients happy, loyal and committed to your partnership in business? Is this something you’re doing haphazardly? Most attorneys do not have anything in place to ensure that they keep their clients close and happy.

My suggestion is to break your clients into A, B and C groups. Make the A’s really happy by scheduling time with them monthly or quarterly. Schedule time to send them articles and provide “counselor” type of advice beyond the matters you work on for them. Maybe even find new business or contacts for them. My point, go way beyond the call of duty. Then lower the bar for your B’s and even lower for your C’s. That’s OK, because you only have so much time, right?

Tip No. 4 – Get organized with your time.

I’ll keep this short. Time is money! The idea that you haven’t read or studied how to be efficient with your time is crazy. Go online right now and buy the book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. Read this over the break and follow it to position yourself to succeed in 2018.

Tip No. 5 – Find the hot topic in your space and work it!

If nothing else, 2017 has been the craziest year we’ve seen, maybe ever. Think about how this impacts your space and leverage it with speaking and writing.

Are you an employment attorney? How about an article on do’s and don’ts in the workplace. If you’re a tax attorney, how about a presentation on the political climate and what that means for midmarket businesses.

Try to get ahead of things to be the first one talking or writing on new subjects. While most attorneys know this, few actually execute on it. Hmm …

Tip No. 6 – Create originations through cross-marketing.

For those of you in small, midmarket or large law firms, this is the no-brainer of the century. Create new business for the firm, get origination credit, while not having to do any of the work. Nice!

Commit to building relationships with three different partners who you can trust to refer business to. Then, when you’re meeting with your clients and strategic partners, ask questions that might open doors for your partners. For example, if you’re a litigator working with a CEO in the midmarket, ask about the company and see if there are employee issues. This might be a setup for your labor and employment partner. If you don’t ask questions, don’t expect to be referred in.

Tip No. 7 – Stop pitching, selling and solving.

In my first book, “Sales-Free Selling,” I teach the art of selling, without selling. This means we need to improve our asking, listening and empathy skills. The key to successfully closing more business is by allowing the client to buy into you, versus you selling yourself to him.

The next time you hear a legal problem that you can solve through talking, stop yourself. Take a few more minutes to ask detailed questions and learn what the real pain points are for this prospective client. Here’s a good mantra to follow: “prescription before diagnosis is malpractice.”

Tip No. 8 – Be “the curious attorney.”

When meeting with friends and family for the holidays, do a better job of asking questions about their jobs and businesses. If you can stay curious, you may find opportunities to help solve a business or legal problem.

You might say, “How’s business?” Or, “What’s new in the widget business these days?” Now listen. Then, once he’s shared something with you, ask, “Tell me more about that?” The point is to ask, listen and be curious by going deeper. If you can uncover a problem, there might be an opportunity to help solve it.

Tip No. 9 – Develop two or three new referral sources.

Again, you may know this already, but have you taken stock recently of your existing strategic partners and how they did for you this year? Whether it be via an internal referral program, or looking at external sources, it is worth your time keeping on top of this. Just because you like someone and they referred you business in 2016, doesn’t mean she is on board with you for next year. Take 30 minutes and review your referral sources to determine where your business came from this year. Who was hot? Who was not?

If a few of your best and brightest have let you down, there are two simple options. First, reconnect and work together to get things back on track. Or, drop her like a sack of potatoes and find someone new to refer and get referrals from. By adding or replacing two or three referrals partners in 2018, you will have better success in your BD efforts.

Tip No. 10 – Sorry to tell you, you might be an entrepreneur.

As the legal landscape changes and the emphasis becomes more and more about originations, you may find yourself behind in these skills. Make it a point in 2018 to think of yourself in a more entrepreneurial way.

Focus on creating or building your own client base. Relying on others for work is so 2008, and we know what happened back then.

Develop better habits around business development to engage in something positive every week. In addition to building your BD plan (Tip No. 1 in case you missed it) and scheduling time, be sure to read, watch or engage in BD learning regularly. All entrepreneurs do this and you need to as well.

My greatest hope is that you’ve found something of value from this article or from my column Origination Station in 2017.

I’m looking forward to continuing my column in 2018 to help educate you on more business development and marketing best practices. Happy holidays, everyone!

Steve Fretzin is the author of “Sales-Free Selling” and the IICLE-published book “The Layers Networking Handbook.” An expert at legal business development, Fretzin has helped hundreds of attorneys in Chicagoland to dramatically grow their book of business while having a well-balanced life.