As a business development consultant to professional services firms, easily the most common question I'm asked is how to win more work.
Here’s how I respond...
1. Make business development everyone’s responsibility
Generally, the more people you have selling your services, the easier it will be to win work. And every single person in your firm: fee earners and practice support staff, can contribute to building the firm’s business - so long as they have the opportunity to do so and the tools they need to make it happen.
Start by ensuring every person in your firm can explain what you do and the types of clients you serve. Make it easy for them. Update all staff on the firm’s plan and performance highlights on a quarterly basis.
Give everyone a business card and encourage them to be on LinkedIn. And, at this time of year, don't limit the firm Christmas Cards to partners – let everyone send cards to their contacts so they begin to nurture relationships.
2. Amplify your referral sources
In my experience, partners usually have three trusted, long-term referral sources that have made a material difference to their careers. And building these relationships has often taken years.
Why not get a head start and encourage your professionals to build networks from day one by including their contacts at your firm events. There are a number of programs for young professionals run by industry groups and associations, such the Law Society. There’s also some private ones such as Grant Thornton’s Affinity program or Pitcher Partners Critical Point Network.
If you can't find a networking event that suits your practice or location why not start your own?
3. Get your credit manager on the client service team
A good credit manager can be at the forefront of client relationships and business development.
Proactive credit managers can provide a unique point of view about the state of client relationships and trends in client service. Give them a chance to provide narrative in their reports and you’ll soon be picking up more than late payments: you’ll get real insights into who’s engaged and who isn’t. This will, in turn, give you a good picture on who you can look for more work out of and who you need to defend.
4. Let lawyers ask clients for feedback
Don't limit your client feedback to online surveys or partner conversations. Give your lawyers some guidance about asking for feedback and then let them use their judgment about when to gather their own information.
For instance, I think you’ll gather a whole lot of rich information about the market and your clients if you arm every lawyer with just three questions which they can bring up every time they work with a client or referral source.
And one of these should always be: “Did anything surprise you about how this matter ran?”
5. Don’t fall at the first hurdle
Make sure anyone who answers an incoming call knows enough about the firm to direct an enquiry to the right person. They should also know your client service standards well enough to have the confidence to ask a few questions when taking a message.
For example, ask the caller if they require a response the same day and, if so, at what time. Or give them the power to hand out the partner’s email address if they want to get something to you fast and make sure you see it.
On that note, if you want someone to screen your calls then they should also have access to your diary. There’s really nothing more off-putting than assistants who can't assist.
6. Take stock of your approval processes
Few things kill off enthusiasm for business development more quickly than unnecessary paperwork.
I recently met a small firm partner who wanted to put his firm’s name to an event at his local club. The total cost of the sponsorship deal was just $500. It was a club that the partner knew well. He was a member and he felt strongly about what it did. He also knew a lot of the people there and he liked them. They liked him too. So giving just $500 to cement the relationship between his practice and the club was something of a no-brainer.
But to get funding this poor guy had to spend time putting together a business case proposal: time he could have spent billing. Then the practice manager had to review it. Then it went back to the partner for further questions and, only then, after this back-and-forthing was it finally approved.
Even a conservative estimate of the fees wasted in this process would be more than a grand. And I think if you’re spending more than $1,000 approving a $500 sponsorship something’s very wrong.
If you really need approval, limit everything to a 48-hour turnaround. And make the time you invest in reviewing any decision proportionate to both the risk and reward.
7. Be adventurous
Earlier this year in one of the Unrestricted Practicing Certificate courses I facilitate for the NSW Law Society a lawyer asked if it was OK to advertise on GumTree - the online free classified and community site.
The other lawyers sniggered at this suggestion… At least until the lawyer revealed she got four new clients from one posting. (Did I mention it was free!?)
That’s because GumTree was exactly the right medium to let people know about her regional practice and her area of work: family law.
Other practices I know have found specific Facebook Groups more influential than any newspaper column or highbrow business publication.
Media is changing and it’s important that you’re adventurous and test ideas. Some things you do may stink; others may leave you pleasantly surprised.
These are just some examples of what your firm could be doing to get your business development practices better aligned with your overall goals.
If you’d like some further real world examples, feel free to contact me.
Sue-Ella is the Principal of Prodonovich Advisory, a business dedicated to helping law and accounting practices sharpen their business development practices, attract and retain clients and become more profitable.
A version of this article first appeared in the FilePro, 'Growing together' eNewsletter, as New Business Blockers: 7 Behaviours to end today.