“Excellence…is not an act but a habit.”
When it comes to business development for lawyers, I’m going to go out on a limb and agree with Aristotle. Instead of worrying about being great at business development, most attorneys would benefit from simply deciding to create a business development habit.
While there is no replacing being a great lawyer, the ability to bring in clients is a huge lever on your career. Excelling at business development is likely a keystone habit for attorneys. The activities you engage in to bring in new clients have an exponential effect on your career. They are often a lever not only to your confidence, but also to your ability to state confidently why a client should use you, the chance to point to your work that lets people know you are a trusted advisor, having a book of business that allows you to make or maintain partnership status, and being able to serve clients that might someday want to hire you.
When Lisa Allen decided to quit smoking, she was borderline obese with $10,000 in debt and creditors hounding her. Four years later, she had lost 60 pounds, run a marathon, started a master’s degree and bought a home. The conviction that she had to quit smoking to accomplish her goals touched off a series of changes that would ultimately radiate out to other parts of her life.
There are certain habits that, once broken or adopted, tend to produce a landslide of other positive changes. These are known as “keystone habits.” They reveal that successful change doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers.
So how do you take something like business development and turn it into a habit?
Until now, your business development activity has probably been anything but a habit. It likely occurs in fits and starts, has more planning than execution, and does not have anything resembling a rhythm. That doesn’t mean you haven’t had some success, it just means you don’t have a repeatable process that’s virtually on autopilot and you are likely sacrificing the benefits of volume.
Why does volume matter?
On the first day of class, Jerry Uelsmann, a professor at the University of Florida, divided his film photography students into two groups.
Everyone on the left side of the classroom, he explained, would be in the “quantity” group. They would be graded solely on the amount of work they produced. On the final day of class, he would tally the number of photos submitted by each student. One hundred photos would rate an A, ninety photos a B, eighty photos a C, and so on.
Meanwhile, everyone on the right side of the room would be in the “quality” group. They would be graded only on the excellence of their work. They would only need to produce one photo during the semester, but to get an A, it had to be a nearly perfect image.
At the end of the term, he was surprised to find that all the best photos were produced by the quantity group. During the semester, these students were busy taking photos, experimenting with composition and lighting, testing out various methods in the darkroom, and learning from their mistakes. In the process of creating hundreds of photos, they honed their skills. Meanwhile, the quality group sat around speculating about perfection. In the end, they had little to show for their efforts other than unverified theories and one mediocre photo.
Trying to create the perfect plan or the ideal next step usually stops you in your tracks. An inclination toward action will help you both improve and increase your chance at a successful outcome. Combining training with action gives you the best of both worlds.
There is a lot of negativity among coaches in the legal vertical blaming ineffective business development on “random acts of marketing”. However, I would much rather work with someone that is at least trying to make something happen. While there are a variety of effective (or ineffective) strategies and tactics, there is not one perfect formula.
So what steps do you take to both put yourself in the “quantity” group and improve your effectiveness at what is likely a “keystone” habit?
Four Steps to Habit Formation
Once again, I will return to James Clear. While Duhigg, Clear, and Stanford professor B.J. Fogg all have similar systems around habit building, I find Clear’s to be the most complete and his book to be the best collection of distilled habit research.
Clear created a four-step process to build habits:
- Make it Obvious
- Make it Attractive
- Make it Easy
- Make it Satisfying
Rather than digging too deeply into the specific steps, I am going to give you an example of how this could be used to help create a particular business development habit.
MAKE IT OBVIOUS
The concept behind making something obvious is that you would have to choose to ignore the action instead of trying to remember it. One way to do this is to create an implementation intention and stack it with a current habit.
For example, if you are trying to become more engaged with your LinkedIn network, you might create the following implementation intention:
“Every morning, I am going to sit at my desk, sign-in to LinkedIn and reach out to at least one connection before checking my email.”
You know that you sit at your desk every morning and the first thing you do is check email so this activity is being stacked with current habits.
MAKE IT ATTRACTIVE
To help make a new habit attractive, bundle something you want to do (answer the days emails) with something you need to do (business development). For instance, combine the LinkedIn activity above with something you like such as enjoying a cup of coffee or tea at the same time.
MAKE IT EASY
Reaching out to one connection is easy. You can get even more specific like comment on a post, like a post, ask someone how they are doing, etc… Particularly at first, making the habit easy is a key to building success and momentum. The biggest mistake you can make is to try to run a marathon on your first day of training.
MAKE IT SATISFYING
This is often the trickiest step of habit formation. Instead of overthinking this, use one of three options:
- Get a jar of paper clips equal to the days of the month. Put an empty jar next to it. For every day that you complete the habit, move one paper clip from the first jar to the second.
- Get a blank calendar. Every day you complete the habit, mark an “X” on that day. Give yourself free marks for the weekend. If you miss a day, just start a new streak the next day.
- Speaking of streaks, you could also use the STREAKS app. The app allows you to enter the task and you just press the task button every day it’s completed.
You can obviously expand this far beyond this limited use of LinkedIn until you are in a daily rhythm of engaging in a variety of business development activities. Clear also notes that accountability can change everything. There are many ways to create accountability and as a coach, I know that accountability combined with instruction can significantly accelerate your results.
The worst thing you can do is continue to put this off. If you get stuck or have questions, feel free to reach out to me. And if you think you would benefit from having a coach guide you through this key area of your career, take a look at what I’ve created at Minimalex.