Three ways to make more time for Business Development

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Tougher times have created a bigger impetus and desire for business development in many firms – both in the pro-active targeting of new clients and defensive hard yards to “protect what we’ve got”.  However, the ability of some professionals to re-frame and re-orientate their time and efforts from an overweening ‘production’ or fee-earning emphasis can still be lacking.

Holding pattern, treading water, rabbit in the headlights – call it what you will, but change has to happen for these individuals.  Here are three areas of exploration to help answer the question: “What should I be doing?”…and a free resource to help you generate ideas for implementation.

Plan your approach.  Rather than bluff (and often worthless) exhortations to “get out there and sell”, a simple taking stock and priority-making is the most useful start-point for productive activity.  This should focus on the three trusty planning precepts:

  • Where Are You Now? (the current revenue/work position, constituents and health of your contact base, areas of strength, market-focused activities etc.)
  • Where Do You Want To Be? (set targets for contact and business-generation, client type, internal/external mix etc.)
  • How Will You Get There? (make a short-term action and achievement plan, with time frames, assistance/support required etc.).

A smart and varied mix.  Part of your action plan should involve a range of marketing and business development activities focused on the key areas for development (e.g. external business sectors, key internal personnel).

At this stage, many professionals can have a quite narrow definition of what constitutes productive activity: basically lunch/entertainment and networking events. Whilst these are very useful, they are not the full story. From observation of best practice, we have totted up over 50 other (mostly external) contact marketing activities that work. If you would like to receive a free copy of this encyclopaedia, email eureka@peoplescope.com.

Small chunks to make big ones.  Proper planning and implementation is about realism and the avoidance of feast or famine.  The latter can be typified by professionals who embark upon a furious campaign of business development activity that grinds to a halt the moment they become in any way “busy” with doing work.

What is usually required comprises a drip-feed of activities that does not, in itself, require large amounts of time but that adds up to a significant whole, so that even “busy” professionals can maintain it.

These are the so-called 1 per cents that sports coaches often tout as the main difference between success and failure.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, interim, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

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Three tips to improve your lock-up

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“Around £4 billion is owed to the top 50 law firms at any one time”*

Lock-up as in….unpaid bills, debtors, or un-billed work in progress. Talk to many Finance heads in the professions about these issues and expect grimaces with much teeth-gnashing. In a recent survey by accountants Smith & Williamson, nearly 70% of firms think that performance improvement in this area will be an important source of funding*.

In the rest of the business world, getting paid for what you do is extremely important. For a lot of lawyers and other professionals, it seems not to matter much despite the considerable problems caused (having to fund borrowing, lack of ability to pay themselves or invest in growth). In a market that is more dynamic by the week, old-fashioned views about money being a dirty word are not just outmoded – they are becoming more and more dangerous to continued health and survival.

This must change and soon. For everyone (not just partners or senior staff). Here are three things that can help.

Accountability where it matters. Let’s start at the top. How motivated are the owners of the business to making it happen? Here’s a clue – only 23% of firms surveyed have Lock-up as one of the three principle measures of partner performance*. Start to change this for the better, see it through robustly when remuneration assessment occurs, and things will begin to improve. What gets measured and rewarded gets done.

“It’s the way we do business”. This is a message that has to come from those at the top (cf. Accountability above) that is then applied and reinforced for everyone – associates, managers, anyone earning money working for clients. Engagement letters must include Service Level Agreements, with an agreed billing process written into the client contract. Time sheets are completed on time and invoices issued promptly. Underperformance in these areas is not just ignored or tolerated: reward and career progression at all levels depend upon being successful.

Professionalise the process. This is all about culture change. Often it needs some additional help, particularly early on. So if you haven’t already – as well as measuring, compiling, and sharing data on what is (not) happening where – make it someone’s job to provide material assistance in ‘doing it’ where needed…and empower them to act. If you think you already have this and debtor days are still in three figures, you haven’t.

“Number one, cash is king; number two, communicate; number three, buy or bury the competition” Jack Welch.

Your firm is a business so it needs to be treated like (number) one.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, interim, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

* 22nd Annual Smith & Williamson Law Firm Survey 2016

Three things to help you delegate and be more productive

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Delegation increases average professionals’ earnings by 20% 

Almost anyone with a job and colleagues can delegate…..in theory.  In practice, the picture is not so rosy.  Those who can’t or won’t because they believe “it’s quicker to do it myself”, are overly insecure, or who enjoy ‘doing’ too much and the task of efficiently running their departments or work portfolios too little.

Which is a shame because delegating well can make a big difference – up to 50% in improved earnings for the most highly-skilled senior individuals willing to take the plunge*.  Not to mention a beneficial reduction in the number of stressed-out task junkies, frustrated juniors who are not allowed to develop (and so leave), and in the worst cases, clients who are also dissatisfied and go elsewhere.  The strong desire of professionally-trained people always to want to do the best possible job is perfectly understandable.  But there should be no dilemma if this is at the expense of personal, business or staff health.

Here are three tips that can help your delegation work properly – and more profitably.

It’s not an egg…..one of the biggest sins is to sit on a piece of work, perhaps for days or weeks, only delegating at the last moment.  This presents the recipient with a double challenge: coping with the work delegated and juggling their often heavy existing workload and commitments.  Reluctant delegators sometimes perceive that such a tactic will somehow stimulate the poor recipient into glorious action as “it’s an emergency!”.  It won’t.  More likely, it will only inspire future dread of the same thing happening again and a ‘run for the hills’ response.

Be SMART  Assuming that a task has been appropriately delegated, nine times out of 10 it will only go wrong if instructions are not made clearly or comprehensively enough.  Here, the old management saw of SMART needs to be applied.

Make sure first that you are Specific – it is very easy to give vague instructions that can be misinterpreted. The task must also be Measurable, so define clearly what successful performance will look like and result in; then Agreed (the recipient contributing to what is agreed rather than being just told); Realistic (giving unreasonable targets does not set people up for success: it is what is realistic for THEM not YOU); and finally Time-bound, with clear, specific deadlines and milestones.

Take the buck  You can delegate authority but not responsibility.  Overcoming the psychological barriers to delegation is the biggest challenge.  Doing it is the second.  Then recognising that we must still take responsibility for what is delegated is the final achievement – whether the job is successful or not.  If it’s a success, take and hand out the plaudits; if not, be brave enough to take the rap (rather than pass it).

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

* Harvard Business Review, “Research: Delegating More Can Increase Your Earnings”, Thomas N. Hubbard, August 2016

 

Three ways to use the proper power of persuasion

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“I don’t need to persuade anyone.  The quality of what I do is self-evident”

So runs the mantra for a number of professional specialists we have met. Somehow, the world (which includes clients and prospects who may not be able to experience the intangibility of what they offer) will see the light. Of course, most often they don’t.

Either this, or they associate persuasion with a stereotypical vision of the “pushy” sales man or woman – and may then try to “sell” by talking endlessly about themselves or their firm. Neither attitude works or is representative of the proper power of persuasion. This is an art that can be learnt, and which has some underlying basic principles: here are three of them.

Give before you get  A tough one this, in that it involves unravelling years of conditioning for those who have had it drummed into them that hours and minutes are ALWAYS TO BE CHARGED FOR. Most people want to return a favour, so if you give them something they will usually want to give something back. We have heard many variations on this theme when trying to attract new clients. “For the trial piece of work, deliberately, we gave them more than we were paid for; they recognised it, liked our attitude, and they are now a significant and very profitable client 10 years on!”.

Three more Ps  This is about Positive Peer Pressure. Those who do business with the public sector see the power of this one. Some people (in fact, many professionals) are better convinced to do something if others are seen doing it. The more local authorities that you work or have worked for, the more powerful appears your case. And in the private sector, if the firm’s name is associated with successful industry authorities (e.g. market leaders), then you can get a double whammy.

Seek out common ground  People do more business with those they feel they like. A large part of such liking is about the amount of common ground that is established between them. Successful professionals know this: which is why golf, cricket, rugby, football etc. are such common pursuits. Sadly, many do not venture outside of these, their own obvious likes. Successful networkers know that it is possible to establish common ground with just about anyone. But it needs this realisation and then practice to achieve.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

Three tips to keep your pipeline flowing

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 How many initial contacts do you need to gain one new client?

When asked, the answers of many professionals are often hopelessly optimistic. And they wonder why their Business Development efforts aren’t amounting to much. The fact is that moving prospects in our target markets from initial contact to converted client is usually a lengthy process with several stages, where at any point, we can be screened out: hence, the analogy for the process as a pipeline. In most professional environments, this attrition means that initial contact numbers usually have to be significantly higher than a few (dozen).

Here are three things to address the “pipeline peril” and make it a safer, more productive bet.

Keep your tap on  It isn’t just the length of the pipeline that is important; it is the speed of migration down it. It can take YEARS for some business contacts to result in a trading relationship. The long game approach required to be successful at this sits ill with the short-term, ‘fees, fees, and fees’ focus of many professional lives.

“We are very busy so no-one’s doing any selling at the moment”

Turn off the tap that keeps your contacts flowing and you risk future famine. This requires a contact strategy to maintain profile with potential clients. Do you or your professionals have one?

Count, plan and monitor  How many business development professionals know the number of contacts they have in their pipeline and at which stage they are at with any conviction? In our experience, these experts are few and far between. Because they don’t recognise the dynamics of the pipeline or perhaps take it seriously, they cannot begin to control its flows. Assessing where you are is the first step to deciding what should be done (plan) and doing it (see below), plus then monitoring to ensure that sufficient new client work is being delivered at the other end.

You cannot be serious! …and sure enough, too many of us are not when it comes to planning and doing it. Do we schedule time for business development activity as carefully and in as much detail as the professional work that is done? Most professionals’ Outlook diaries are full of transactional actions and deadlines. But BD ones??!

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

 

Three tips to make your sector plans work better

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Most professional firms have a marketing and BD approach focused on business sectors – but are they getting the best out of them? Here are three things that could help.

Business sectors are ‘de rigueur’ with firms proclaiming their expertise in and focus on clients or prospects who inhabit them. Plans are written, budgets committed, time allocated and money expended in furthering the collective ambition to serve and grow. If this is not done well, much can be (and is) wasted. From experience of being asked to take a long hard look at whether value is being delivered, these are the ‘basics’ to get right.

Define properly  If your firm has a proliferation of sector groups to serve, this is probably not happening. With a dozen or more such groups it is extremely unlikely that real benefit will be delivered. For example, having ‘groups’ that comprise only a few organisations is daft from so many viewpoints – not least the time wasted in bringing so many (expensive) people together to meet regularly. Control sector proliferation so that effort and budgets focus and concentrate for maximum impact.

Analyse rigorously: inside and out  The right sector strategy stands or falls on the quality of data and interpretation of what is happening in each market vs. the firm’s true competitive position. Both insights are achieved via thorough research and intelligent analysis. In truth, most professionals (and some marketeers) are not highly experienced in doing this. So you can end up with sector plans that are either free of any real examination (resulting in a schedule of unjustified and wasteful activity). Or they are so stuffed with reams of unfiltered, uncritiqued data that they provide an equal lack of perception and direction……but do make good door-stops.

Organise sensibly  Choose sound, properly representative sector teams and leaders so that the right people make their contributions. If you don’t, the groups end up being inefficiently run, sometimes as mouthpieces for a few “influential” individuals or stuffed with representatives of one department or practice area.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

 

Business tales from the festive fireside

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Instead of sending Christmas cards (or offering  a sanctimonious declaration of charity to which card money has been despatched), here are some  business anecdotes culled from the canon of ‘happenings’  experienced or heard about that may bring a Yuletide smile.  No names, no pack drill so the guilty or unfortunate remain warmly protected under the trench coat of anonymity.

I am a TIGER (grrr)!  Fans of comedian Steve Coogan – and, in particular, his 90s “Dearth of a Salesman” persona Gareth Cheeseman – will especially appreciate this one.  As preparation for a beauty parade, a group of ‘pitchers’ were asked to think of a personal mantra to say to themselves before they went in, to help them focus and calm their nerves.  Allegedly, for the next few days, staff at the firm could hear “I am the dog’s bollocks!” booming from the bowels of one participant’s office.  Another decided to try out different mantras on the cows at a farm and let them decide the best one (a moo-ving experience for the livestock, no doubt, ho ho ).

Professional sensitivity rules (not)!  In a negotiation training scenario, participants were presented with a disgruntled client who had been badly treated by the firm.  Time for a bit of judicious bowing and scraping and then sorting out the problem to save our bacon, you might think?  Not a bit of it.  One sensitive soul decided to give the client the full-on arrogant treatment – time to “play hardball”, as he put it.  “It’s not our fault…of course these things do happen from time to time…it would appear that you are largely to blame Mr Client” etc. etc. then followed, and not even the whiff of an apology.   Just the sound of a fictional client walking out the door.  Let’s hope as a result that he won’t try this on his real clients.

Conflict …what conflict?  Back in the really good old days of prosperity and deal mania, client conflicts of interest were quite a big thing.  And now they might almost be back in fashion.

Faced with one, good professionals communicate clearly and honestly with the client.  Bad ones don’t.  Like the firm promising absolutely that there was “no question” of a conflict if they acted for the potential client.   Sad for them then that the client got to know about a direct and clearly conflictual relationship the firm already had – by reading about it in the professional trade press!  Telling porkies just doesn’t work.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones.  http://www.peoplescope.com.