Sunday, March 30, 2008

Activities for Bonding with Clients and Prospects

I am constantly looking for things to do with business contacts that will bring us closer together. Here is my current list of activities that have been successful.
  • Lunch at a nice restaurant
  • Dinner (with spouses included)
  • Golf
  • Sporting event (with spouses included)
  • Theater (with spouses included)
  • Fishing
  • Paintball (with family included)
  • Miniature golf (with spouses included)
  • Skiing (with family included)
  • Museum opening (with spouses included)
  • Day at the beach (with family included)
  • Hiking or cycling (with spouses included)
The list could be so much longer but what I'd like you to see is that "spouses and/or family included" is a HUGE part of creating lasting relationships. If you recognize the importance of family connections you will have make a tremendous leap in your career.

People bond to individuals that care about what matters, to them. Family is always the most of it. Be inclusive and you will gain in business and in life.

Friday, March 28, 2008

I Like Being Lawyer but I Am Uncomfortable at Trying to Be Liked

The perfect situation for any attorney or accountant is: "I am really good at what I do. People will hear about me and line up at my door." Wouldn't it be so wonderful if "being good" was all we needed to do. But it's not.

Even worse, we have to do all of this outreach stuff and networking and entertaining and OH MY GOODNESS! I JUST WANT TO DO WHAT I DO!!!

Look, no sane human being starts a critical long term relationship with just anyone. And, no one ever promised that being your own rainmaker was a slam-dunk. In fact you might already know that being a rainmaker takes so much more than you are comfortable to be.

Here are a few thoughts that might help you cross over the chasm from uncomfortable to kind of, sort of, OK with reaching out.
  • Never go networking without a friend in tow. Being part of a team is always strengthening.
  • Only take client leads from trusted friends. There is no reason for a professional services provider to make cold calls.
  • Bring your closest networking friends into your private life. The chemistry of business connections translates easily into your private world. The dividends will be huge for both of you.
  • Host the sort of activities that you like being a part of.... Do you like being invited to play golf? Do you like a poker night every so often? Do you love the theater? Spend your business development dollars on the type of activities you love and you will attract clients that match whom you are.
  • Make one call a day not related to current client activities. Reach out and reconnect with someone you like to talk to and discuss "how things are going". Not every call will produce immediate results but every call will be appreciated.
We do not ever achieve most of out goals without engaging another person. It may be a spouse, a coworker, a mentor -- just someone that believes in what we want for ourselves. If you believe you are good at what you do there is always help out there to take you where you want to go.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Do You Really Know What Executives Think About Your Firm?

Today I had a most revealing conversation with a incredibly bright and successful CEO of a multi-million dollar manufacturer. She uses the services of one of my law firm clients.

In the conversation she volunteered a brief description of what she perceives will happen when she asks a traditional law firm for help. "I send a one page document to a lawyer for comments and advise. He clocks some time on the document, then sends it to another lawyer at the firm who clocks some more time. Then it is sent to another lawyer and maybe even one more." She continued, "It is just ONE PAGE! I think they are just piling on to get some billings."

Remember, this executive is a very bright and capable leader of a large corporation. She fully understands that lawyers have specialties and getting the right opinion makes all the difference in receiving sound counsel.

But, if she feels she received no value from having multiple lawyers weigh in on her issue what does that say about the firm serving her. Her experience is very similar to what I have heard from a lot of company leaders. When considering whether to get a lawyer involved their first thought is about the expense, not the value of service.

Being a good marketer means that you both promote your firm through traditional marketing methodologies and, you are an evangelist of quality client experiences. If you do not know what that means for your clients be fearless and get out there and ask.

It is amazing to me how many firms do not know their client service practices are broken. Is yours?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Your Marketing Stuff has to be True to You

I was having a conversation with a new client -- we are designing a new business card, letterhead and website together. In the conversation she asked an important question, "Shouldn't my stuff (the communications package) reflect what my potential clients want to see?" My answer was directly to the point, "NO!"

"Your package needs to reflect EXACTLY whom you are."

This is important. In order to develop and sustain a successful practice you need clients that are attracted to you -- not to a facade you think you need to present. Remember, the best relationships are based on truth.

Whenever you are creating a communications package for a firm or individual do your best to present the truth about either, the clients you attract will always be a much better match than those drawn through hype.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Flash and Bling on Your Website

Consider this Internet experience -- you surf to a URL and are greeted with a blank flash box and a "loading" message while some server in a distant land is pushing a Hollywood production toward your computer screen. Then suddenly all this stuff starts popping and flashing inside the box. Menu buttons appear, Pow -- pow, pow, pow! Pictures start floating, bling! Pow, pow, bling, pow! Color, action, camera! When it's over I am left with a Star War's dashboard and my head is reeling from the light show.

What a waste of my time!

A moonlighting web developer has put together a demo website for one of my new clients, the demo is like I just described. Besides being so totally not search engine friendly I have to wonder if they (my client) are actually professional services professionals (at least according to what their future website might imply).

Look, lets keep this simple. Your potential and existing clients are looking for the same Internet experience you seek -- feed me the information I am looking for as quickly as possible. If I want to be wowed I'll watch a movie.

Be wary of developers that are having too much fun with whistles and bells. While they flex their expertise your audience is losing sight of yours.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Nice Guys (and Gals) Finish First

Here is a great story about a Harvard study that prompted one researcher to conclude, "In general, the thing that is most, sort of, rational and best for your own self-interest is to be nice." The first time I heard about the study was this evening as I was listening to NPR (link to interview).

This study hints at so many misperceptions about how to succeed in business and in life. I encourage you to listen to the interview and consider how you interact with your fellow professionals and clients.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tips for Writing with Passion

Many of us have a hard time putting words to paper (or computer) that read with the same passion we feel for the subject. Even worse, we often produce dry and boring papers when offering technical and professional advise. We sigh, resigned to doing the best we can and trudge through the task of writing, or we get so caught up in espousing fact that we forget there is a potential reader that will have to slog through what we produce.

Here are a few things I do when I want to communicate the passion I have for a topic:
  • I take control of my writing environment. I can close my door, lower the lighting, move to a new room or conference space, take my laptop outdoors or to the nearest Panera Bread cafe couch. What is important is that I can relax and be comfortable.
  • I listen to music while I write. For every topic, every passion, there is a mood. I select music to match the mood of what I want to communicate and plug in. Sometimes the music is strong and powerful, or it can be somber and lonely... Hearing the mood of your passion will draw out a better story.
  • I outline my topic with story titles, not topic areas. If I begin my thinking with story ideas the result is so much more compelling to my readers.
  • I try to use little words. A test that has always produced excellent results is to offer what I've written to a high school aged person. If they don't get the gist of what I am offering I have certainly missed the mark.
  • I write first and edit later. Being trapped in edit mode while still trying to get words to paper is death to a good story. Just let it flow! Be a writer first -- then later be the editor.
Writing anything well takes time and practice. I encourage you to spend time practicing at communicating, in writing, the very passion you feel for what you do.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Asking for Help is Tougher than Admitting We Need It

My line of work these days is to answer the call for help from professionals at law and accounting firms -- I become their marketing and business development coach. I have found in short order that professionals can talk a lot about what they would like to accomplish, will admit they don't know enough yet to get there, but bite their tongue when it is time to ask for help.

I believe this happens because asking for help is a greater assault on feelings of self-worth than to fail while trying on our own. Are we setup internally to fear the perceived judgement of others more than complete failure to achieve?

Jerry Seinfeld, in one of his comedy bits, quotes a study that revealed people are more afraid of speaking in front of an audience than death. As he puts it, "People would rather be in the coffin than delivering the eulogy." Man! Do we hate being judged by others or what?

If you find yourself in a situation you are not yet equipped to handle (like knowing how to build your book of business or break through to a better place in your life or career) let me offer a few thoughts that may strengthen your ability to ask for help:
  • Consider the path you are on -- are you finally lost enough and strong enough to stop and ask for a map?
  • If you fail, how many other people are affected by your actions? Your family? Your circle of friends? The circle of professionals you've developed?
  • Make a list of what you might gain if you asked for help, and a list of what you will have if you continue to keep slugging away on your own ("maintaining your pride" does not belong on the latter).
  • Talk to people you consider to be highly successful and ask if they have a coach or mentor. Most of them do. World leaders, President's and Senator's have them. Industry icons have them. And you...?
  • Ask yourself -- would having a coach and mentor make me weaker or do I gain a HUGE leg up on anyone that considers me their competition?
  • What if no one knew but secretly I had access to an incredible resource?
  • Lastly, consider yourself already a great success with incredible resources at your beck and call. In this roll would you not take pride in knowing you have additions to the cadre of advisers that serve you?
Look, none of us are born or trained with all knowledge. We work to become really good at certain things and yet new challenges arrive. There is no point that we know so much we cannot learn anything more (at least I admit this for myself). I encourage you to always seek what you need if you cannot help yourself -- your self-worth will escalate in leaps and bounds.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Working With or For

Are you working with or for your clients? It’s an important distinction.

Working for a client means that you’re following their instructions. Your relationship is confined to performance of specific tasks and projects. Even if you also provide advise and counsel to help your client make choices, the narrowness of your relationship will prevent you from really being a true partner or a mentor to their business.

Working with a client is vastly different. In addition to the work you do you’re invited to hear and know other parts of the clients business and can advise from a prospective equal to the client's.

When you work for a client your prospective of what is most important to him/her is limited. As far as you can tell from within the limited view, your current assignment is THE most important thing going on. When you work with a client your perspective can be inclusive of the bigger picture. You’ll actually know when to push hard to get things done or when to hold back because the client has a dozen more pressing things to worry about. When you work with your clients you can truly fulfill the role of counselor and advisor.

To find if you are working with or for a client create two columns on a sheet of paper. Mark one column “what I know about (client name)”, and mark the other, “what I don’t know about (client name)”. Then fill in the columns. Hopefully what you know is greater that what you do not. If the do not column is too long invite the client to lunch and start asking questions.

And, if your client would prefer you to remain in the dark and just do what is asked -- maybe you should consider finding a new client....

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Asking for Family Buy-In When Making a Big Effort

My clients ask me to make a difference in their practice. Almost always it will require my clients to make a larger time commitment toward creating new relationships and take away from family time -- earlier appointment times in the morning and being out longer in the evening a few nights a week -- it is, in the bigger picture, a small commitment, but tough on a family none-the-less.

I am thinking that I need to bring my client spouses into the mix. Why not? What I ask of my clients will have an impact on their families, both in current availability and for their future. Getting buy-in with both the client and the spouse might accelerate what can be accomplished. Below is a letter I have composed to deliver (by the client) to the spouse when they hire me to build their practice. I would be interested in your opinion.

********** sample letter **********

Dear (Spouse Name),

Today I have made a conscious decision to invest in our future. The cost of that investment is some of the time we share as a family. I did not arrive at this decision lightly nor do I desire that the quality of what we share be diminished in any way.

I have reached a crossroad in my career when it has become important to be the master of my own future and develop a practice that I control. I no longer wish to be at the beck and call of other partners at my firm and instead wish to develop my own book of business and loyal clients.

This effort will require me to attend business events, functions and meetings during times I may have spent with my family. While I will seek balance and am determined to remain steady I know that each week I will have new commitments toward building my practice.

What I ask is that you will support me in this endeavor. This business effort may take six months or two years – and in the end I hope to have the practice I desire with steady clients and complete control of providing for our future.

To help me make this happen I have retained an experienced coach who will guide me and keep me on task. His name is Bruce Allen and he has helped professionals just like me do exactly as I have described. If you would like to meet him he is absolutely willing to be available to you.

Bruce asked me to offer you this letter – an agreement between you and I. I am working toward a future we control and ask for your acknowledgment that this is the best path for our family. In the near future we will have a bit less time together but in the long run our time will improve with the control of my practice that I gain.

I commit to taking charge of my career. Will you join me in this commitment to our future?

Client Signature ____________________________
Spouse Signature ____________________________

Friday, March 07, 2008

Do You Go on a Lot of Dates that Go Nowhere?

I am discussing professional dates - business lunches, breakfasts, etc. If you answer yes to the headline question than you may be a professional visitor.

A professional visitor is someone that arranges for a lot of face-time, all the time, but never really seems to get anything from the relationships they establish. Typically a professional visitor is an extremely likable person with lots of great connections, is fun to be with, willingly helpful when asked and engaging in every way. Except in taking care of themselves.

The purpose of a professional dating is to produce opportunity for both parties. If you assess yourself as a professional visitor than try these simple steps:
  • Do not schedule professional dates if there is no reason, for you, to go on the date (an occasional goodwill date is great, but be selective with your availability).
  • Know what it is you want from the date (an introduction, a shot at an opportunity, etc.).
  • ASK for what you want! Don't be vague or drop hints -- be upfront and forthright. People appreciate and reward full disclosure.
  • Remember that you are willing to help them in what ways you can. It is reasonable that you ask for the same when and where it makes sense.
  • After every meeting write down anything that was promised to you and see if it matches your goals for that date.
  • Finally, follow up on any commitments they made. Make a call or send an email after a few days just to keep things moving along.
Remember, professional dating is important in any successful practice. Doing it well can spell the difference between a stagnant practice and the practice of your dreams.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Help Your Market to Know the Difference Between Lawyer and Counsel

I had a business meeting this afternoon with my company counsel who also happens to be my lawyer. There is a difference, at least from a marketing prospective. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how I am structuring collaborative agreements with two other experts whom play an important role in the success of Marketing Catalyst, Inc.

In today's meeting my counsel/lawyer had on her counselor hat. She probed, asked questions, discussed ideas and suggested strategies for the business. Nothing she did in our 120 minutes together could be called "lawyering". It was all about applying her business and strategic expertise to help me choose a reasoned path for my company.

In the end I made choices and decided on actions, some of which will translate into her actually performing legal tasks (the preparation of legal documents).

This short meeting was an important moment in understanding how I market a law firm (or any professional services firm). Or, more importantly, how to market the value my client firms provide.

It could be that lawyers spend more time as a strategic coach than a lawyer performing legal tasks -- an important difference! Yes, being a good lawyer is a BIG thing, but is that all you market?

The ability to counsel companies and executives in good directions is something I must not overlook when positioning and creating communications. Lawyers are so much more than individuals that prepare documents. I hope you see the difference too.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Could You Become Unassailable?

Yesterday Mark Martin made a judgement error -- he crashed two drivers (one driver his own teammate) in the final laps of the Nationwide race in Las Vegas to ultimately win the race. If it had been any other driver the controversy would have been horrific! But, Mark Martin is known to be the most gentlemanly, polite driver on the NASCAR circuit. His fair-play reputation is unassailable.

He TAKES OUT two potential race winners and everyone rushes to defend him. Nice!

What do you need to do to garner that kind of support? How could you conduct yourself such that everyone believes only the best of you ever? Here are my thoughts:
  • Never compete with vengeance. No one set out to beat you personally -- they simply set out to win, just like you. It is our nature to seek victory.
  • Know your place. Every victory is not yours, but you do have the opportunity to do your best. Take advantage of what is in your grasp and learn from it to accomplish even more.
  • Give more than you ask for. People respect anyone that is in service for others. Do your thing, take care of business, but never forget how much everyone else wants to succeed just like you. It is OK if they do succeed.
  • Learn humility. You do not deserve everything you wish for and yet, if you work for it it may come to you. Humility is knowing that you are not an assured winner -- just the winner today.
  • Every day is Race Day. If you desire to be known as the best then approach every day as THE test of whom you are.
  • Every day can be your day. Mark Martin's reputation is not a myth -- it's real. It is real because Mark Martin wakes up every day believing he can make an honest effort to always do the right thing (my supposition). Doing the right thing never ends badly.

Some People Have Their Path Already Figured Out -- What They Need is a Wingman

Often, when working with partners whom are on task to find business I discover they have a really clear vision of what they need to do. But, reaching out and making the first move is not among their strongest business skills. I have been told so often, "Just get me in front of the prospect and I can close the deal!" What they are really saying is that the process of getting in front of a prospect is the uncomfortable, scary, "I'll do anything to avoid this", part for them.

I work with a lot of clients developing their book of business. Being a prospecting tool for all of them at once is just not possible and I am certain is not possible for you.

There is an answer that does not put you at everyone's beck and call every day, all day.

Find for them a wingman (or person -- to be politically correct). Whether we accept it or not, we operate best facing uncomfortable situations with someone else at our side. It is the herd mentality that is part of the DNA of all of us.

When you have professionals that need an extra amount of motivation to do what they need to do, find for them a cohort to join effort. The small measure of accountability and responsibility will reap volumes of action. The small measure of support will help your professionals face what they fear.

Graphic Artists are Crazy

I might know. I am one. But, not like, "Wooo Hooooo, la la la la la, put me in a rubber room!!" Go online and look at any portfo...