Friday, November 30, 2007

Business Development: Turning Art into Science

Jim Hassett was kind enough to send me a preview copy of his brand new LegalBizDev Success Kit, a business development training package, complete with audio CDs, a step-by-step guide, a reference book, practice materials, and even a "quick start" card. Even if Jim wasn't a client (full-disclosure!), I would say the Success Kit is the single most comprehensive and practical tool for lawyers who want to generate new business.

I wish I had a copy of the Success Kit when I started my own law firm six years ago; it would have made growing the practice a lot easier and much faster.

In 2002, I was RIF'd from an Internet-related venture during the post-dotcom period. Rather than look for another in-house counsel position, I decided to start my own law practice from scratch. I had 30 days severance pay and a half-million dollar mortage as well as a family to support. Talk about pressure to generate business!

With limited savings, I knew that I had to attract clients fast. I set a simple rule of meeting one new potential referral source per business day. I figured that by the end of the month, I would have 20 new contacts who could refer business to me, and that by the end of the year, I would have 240 new contacts (20 x12). Even if a fraction of those contacts referred business, I would be in great shape.

The truth was that I had no clue what I was doing; but looking back on it, I eventually stumbled upon many of the key principles outlined in the LegalBizDev Success Kit. Necessity is the mother of invention, but a tough way to go. With Jim's Success Kit, you can accelerate the learning process and improve the end results.

I first got to know Jim about two years ago, and since that time I have had the chance to put many of his business development suggestions into practice. Last year, I personally worked with 75 separate paying clients. These were clients that I actually chose and enjoyed working with, not just clients or projects that I felt obligated to take on. Almost all of these clients were businesses (meaning repeat services) as oppposed to individuals (meaning one-time projects). This year, the growth of my practice has continued to accelerate; I moved into larger office space and formed a partnership that effectively doubled the size of the practice.

One of the things that I like best about Jim's approach is his focus on people. As stated in the LegalBizDev Step-by-Step Guide: "The only way to grow legal business is to grow personal relationships." How does a lawyer develop personal relationships with clients and referral sources?

I used to think that developing (and maintaining) those personal relationships was more of an art than a science. Now, having read through Jim's materials, I am convinced that he has turned this art into a science. The Success Kit breaks down the process for developing client relationships into easy to follow steps, including everything from how to first engage the client to closing new business (without being annoying or salesy).

The Success Kit is very adaptable to each lawyer's unique style and preferences. The materials can be used like an intensive sales training program for a quick ramp-up in business or they can be used as a reference tool to gradually improve business over time. The audio CDs can be played on a computer or downloaded to an MP3 player. One lawyer may want to start at the beginning by following the complete Step-by-Step Guide. Another lawyer may prefer to use the Quick Start to pinpoint specific business development skills that he or she wants to improve.

Drawing on more than twenty years of experience, Jim has developed an innovative training program for business development. Jim also draws on the expertise of other sales and marketing professionals, extracting the essence of many of their time-tested concepts and applying it to his unique methodology. Although specifically designed for lawyers, Jim's approach to business development would be useful to other professional service providers as well.

Jim's practical approach to business development is very effective, but one thing he cannot do is make the process happen for you. In his Step-by-Step Guide, he is brutally honest in saying that "finding new clients is the hardest work you can do in a suit" and he admits that it takes a long time to build client relationships. That said, it is worth the time and effort to improve your business develpment skills. By investing the time now, you can reap the benefits for many years to come.

Do you consider business development to be more of an art or a science? What does your firm do to help lawyers improve their business development skills?

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