Mark Powers & Shawn McNalis
Unless you are so swamped with clients that you need never worry about generating more, your practice depends upon your continuing ability to generate more business. Over and above all else, having new clients come through the door on a regular basis is one thing you cannot do without. You can lose a secretary, a key piece of equipment, even a partner — and your practice will survive the loss. But lose the steady stream of clients coming through the door and your practice will eventually fail.
Client development is far and away the most important use of your time, second to actual production. Yet who can spare the time?
When we first began advising attorneys many years ago, our main focus was client development. But whether we were hired by established firms to help new associates, senior attorneys opening their own firms or partners interested in opening new markets, we were consistently met with a common refrain: “I know I should be developing new clients for the future — but with everything I have on my plate right now, I can’t find the time”.
Here’s the problem when it comes to time management: the legal technician in you – the part of you concerned with production — is in charge of your calendar. The work product you are charged with will be done. It may be done at the last minute, or done by working every weekend, but it will be done. In this mostly deadline-driven arena, rarely will you miss the mark.
Unfortunately, the same level of deadline-driven dedication does not exist for the client development side of things. For many of you, client development is vague, unstructured and fluid. Viewed as a necessary evil – it is an optional activity with few clear-cut goals and no urgent deadlines.
To add structure and some urgency to client development we strongly recommend three substantial marketing contacts a week. Three lunches are ideal and serve as the weekly goal of many of our attorney clients. If you were to block out three lunches a week and dedicate them to marketing, this strategy will yield well over 100 marketing lunches on a yearly basis. That’s the kind of time it takes to maintain rapport with existing referral sources and cultivate new ones.
To take this three-lunches-a-week idea out of the conceptual realm and plug it into your reality, block the time out on your calendar ahead of time, then stick to it – even when the technician in you wants to commandeer the time for production. Seeing the time blocked out on your calendar makes it more difficult for you to “forget” to market yourself. Your calendar becomes a visual reminder for you to think ahead about which clients or influencers you can take out to lunch to fill those slots.
To ensure this strategy works, delegate the scheduling to an assistant. If you are in a position to do so, designate someone — this could be a part-time person hired to focus only on marketing, an existing legal assistant who has time and people skills, or a receptionist who has extra capacity — to work with you to keep your lunch schedule filled well in advance. Many of our clients actually bonus their assistant if they keep their lunchtime slots filled.
Here’s how it works: you designate the days you’ll be available for lunches (i.e.: Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday), supply the assistant with a list of existing referral sources whom you wish to see on an ongoing basis, and they work to fill the available time slots. Having an assistant do this for you can be a huge help, especially if you are reluctant to take the time to initiate marketing lunches and meetings – but are very effective once you show up for them. It helps to meet with your assistant once a week to oversee his or her progress in filling the lunches and to coach them in what to say when scheduling lunches with the secretaries of your referral sources (“I’m calling for [insert your name], he’s interested in taking _____________ out to lunch next week. Does he/she have any availability?”) At these meetings you can also provide your assistant with information on any new contacts you meet in the community and want to add to your list of people you want to get to know. Using an assistant to help schedule these lunches minimizes the time you have to spend and maximizes the chances that they will happen.
An alternative to the lunch idea is to have a standing Friday afternoon or Wednesday afternoon time block that is dedicated to marketing. For many of our clients who play golf, the Friday afternoon golf game is a popular marketing strategy. It allows them to invite one to three other people to join them in golf on a weekly basis. That amounts to 50 or more golf games over the course of a year. When multiplied by one to three people, the result is a minimum of 50 and a maximum of 150 marketing contacts yearly. Given the amount of face time that occurs when playing golf, there is a significant opportunity to build rapport with referral sources and important friends of your firm. This is a great strategy for not only building your base of referral sources, but also for concentrating all of your weekly marketing into a small time frame. It can also help your golf score.
If you aren’t a golfer and can only go out for lunch once or twice a week, you can put a once or twice monthly evening event on your calendar as well. These might be dinners with spouses or functions such as community events, charity dinners or gallery openings. You can also invite referral sources and their families to events such as an outdoor picnic or barbeque, a pool party, a boating excursion or a sporting event. Going to a game with your son or daughter and inviting referral sources to bring their kids is a great way to spend more time with your family while satisfying some of your client development duties.
At Atticus, we instill in our attorney clients the idea that for referrals to flow, there must be continual top of mind awareness (TOMA) of you and your firm among your referral sources. Lunches and golf outings give you the chance to do this in person, supplemented with smaller, top-of-mind interactions such as: telephone calls, emails, letters.
In whatever way you choose to market yourself, use your calendar to structure your client development efforts. It can be your best ally to guard against the legal technician in you who only wants to focus on production. Unless you institutionalize your marketing time blocks and reserve the time well ahead of time, you will never have the time to market yourself and your practice won’t grow. In order for marketing to happen you have to proactively carve out time and attack it with the same level of commitment with which you approach production. The best way to predict your future as a marketer is to plan it out in advance.