It’s Holiday time! Do you have the Santa Claus Blues?
When you think about the holidays, what runs through your head? Is it the department store music? Is it the rush to find that once in a lifetime deal? Or is it the end-of-the-year gut check gnawing away at your psyche, questioning whether you’ve made good use of your time this year in generating new clients for your law practice?
In speaking and working with hundreds of attorneys, I’ve heard my share of holiday frustrations around managing one’s time. Mostly it’s misperceptions about the holidays, which I call the Santa Claus Blues. Even though the holidays may bring cheer to many, it brings nervousness and potential despair to the attorney looking for some year-end business. Some of the things I hear include:
- “Everyone is away on vacation, so no one will meet with me.”
- “These holiday parties are all the same- a huge waste of time.”
- “I’m too busy (with the shortened month) to develop new business.”
While these statements might be true for you in the past, I’d like to offer up some suggestions for improving your outlook this holiday season.
Steve’s Holiday Tip #1: December is the perfect time to schedule meetings
While many attorneys believe that everyone is away on vacation, the reality is that most are sticking around. AAA research suggests that only one-third of the US population will travel far from home this holiday season. Most trips will be within 50 miles, due to low gas prices. This relates directly to my point that there are loads of opportunities to get in front of clients, strategic partners and friends this December to develop new business.
I would suggest making a short list of 10 to 15 people to call in order to obtain a lunch or coffee meeting. Think about your most well connected relationships and write their names down. It will only take you a few minutes. Once you have the list completed, open up your calendar and schedule an hour this week to make these calls. Do yourself a favor and take 10 minutes to do this directly after reading my article.
In my experience, you will be able to schedule 3 or 4 meetings, while also leaving another 10 messages to people who will call you back later today or tomorrow. The goal here is to schedule 5 to 10 meetings in December that you normally wouldn’t be scheduling. When properly executed, these meetings will open up doors for up-selling, cross marketing and quality introductions to new clients.
Steve’s Holiday Tip #2: Effectively working a holiday party
While it might be fun to attend holiday parties for the food, drink and merriment, you may be missing opportunities to uncover new potential clients. This isn’t to say that you need to be a shark circling its prey. Rather, you might think about three things to help make your time more useful during the party.
The first thing I recommend is communicating with the host the specific people you’d like to meet while at the party. Simply call the host or person who invited you and ask, “While I’m at your party, who are some good people I should be sure to meet?” Once she’s given you a few names, follow it up with, “That’s great. Would you mind walking me over to them during the party to introduce me personally?” Just a few extra steps can make the event more worthwhile.
The second suggestion would be to prepare a few good business questions to ask when meeting new people. This might take away the awkwardness of what you should and shouldn’t say or to help eliminate a lull in the conversation. As you know, people love talking about themselves. All you’re doing is directing the conversation to better understand their business or personal life at a higher level.
A few questions that I’ve used include:
- What type of business are you in?
- How did you get into it?
- What does the future hold for your industry?
- What are some of the challenges that you face on a day-to-day basis (my personal favorite)?
It’s also a good idea to ask one of these questions, listen and then ask a deeper follow-up question. The point here is that by focusing on the other person first you not only understand if they might be a good prospective client or strategic partner, but you might disqualify them as someone you should move away from quickly. Moving someone into the “no” column can be just as valuable for your time as moving someone forward to a “yes.”
My last suggestion is to follow up quickly with the people you’ve met. Again, we might be inclined to wait because of the holidays. However, there’s nothing wrong with following up the next day and trying to schedule a meeting in December or early next year. By following up right away you show interest, good communication skills and it’s more likely that people will remember you. In some cases I’ve built rapport to the point where we scheduled an appointment on the spot for the following week. Both parties were open to taking out our phones and getting the meeting on the books. Sometimes you just need to make the suggestion.
Steve’s Holiday Tip #3: A failure to plan is a plan to fail
One of the best ways to utilize any down time during the holiday season is to take stock of what happened this past year. Really look at your activities and the corresponding results. Then ask yourself the following questions:
- How many clients did I meet with this past year?
- Did I do anything to ensure client satisfaction or loyalty?
- Was I able to open up dialogues with clients relating to upselling, cross-marketing or asking for introductions?
- Who were my best strategic partners/referral sources?
- What industries are they in?
- How did I give back to my best referral sources?
- What did I do to find more strategic partners this year?
- What did I do that worked to obtain new business and what didn’t work?
- What did I do this year to improve my business development skills?
- Do I have a written plan for next year?
Based on your answers you either have a Cheshire grin on your face or you’re beginning to perspire. If it’s the latter, don’t fret. It’s only December and you can still make plans to improve things for next year. One important element in planning for next year is developing a solid SWOT analysis. This is an old school marketing acronym, but it still works well today. SWOT stands for one’s internal strengths and weaknesses, as well as their external opportunities and threats. We can break this down further by defining them and providing a few examples of each.
- Strengths: what are your strengths as a person and as a legal practitioner?
- You are a socially charged person with a huge network
- You have the uncanny ability to read people
- You have written 10 articles on one legal subject and no one knows it better
- Weaknesses: what are your weaknesses as a person or legal practitioner?
- You are highly introverted and shy
- You are new to practicing law and don’t have much experience
- You are a generalist and no one really knows what you do
- Opportunities: what opportunities are open to you in the marketplace?
- You are specializing in a new area of the law, like medical marijuana
- You see an opening in a networking group where you will be the only lawyer included
- You have hundreds of clients and haven’t tapped into cross-marketing yet
- Threats: what are the threats to you in the marketplace?
- You are a residential real estate attorney and closings are all driven by the lowest rate
- Competition in your area is out of control. There are 100 attorneys for every deal
- Your firms name is not well known
Going through your SWOT analysis and asking yourself the tough questions can be a truly eye opening experience. By being honest with yourself, you can realize what, why and how to improve yourself and your situation for next year. Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result. Make the important changes and take responsibility for last year’s successes and failures.
The key to having a successful year-end is to not sit on your hands and let the time pass. December can be an incredibly productive month if you focus on planning and getting some quality meetings- with quality people.