Lawyers who have fulfilling, profitable practices know the importance of cultivating relationships with key referral sources, clients and other professionals. Yet finding the right balance between building a strong network and meeting billable targets can feel overwhelming.
Meeting billable targets is critical, of course, but if it’s your sole focus, you’re probably missing out on opportunities to keep your name and reputation visible. That means you won’t be top of mind when someone has a problem you excel at solving.
How do you find the time to develop a strong professional network? Here are three steps you can take.
1. Clarify Your Message
Start with identifying a core message that will help you articulate what you do, so a prospective client or referral source hearing your message will understand your value and how it relates to solving their most important problem.
You can build a strong core message that resonates with target audiences by answering the following questions:
What problem do you solve for target clients?
What solutions do you provide for them?
What value do clients receive as a result of your expertise?
How do you differentiate yourself from other lawyers providing a similar service?
Use your answers to create a value-based marketing message oriented to the solutions you provide. As you build your professional network, a strong core message will help to keep your name top of mind when someone needs what you do best. (It will also filter out those who aren’t a good fit.)
2. Be Clear on Criteria for Your Ideal Client
The next step is to begin identifying clear criteria for the type of client you want to attract. Make a list of your most profitable and enjoyable clients from the past couple of years. This may include clients who valued your area of specialization, paid their bills promptly or referred other desirable clients to you.
Use these criteria as you take on new cases. Consistently ask yourself if you are taking on work that aligns with your professional strengths and client criteria. If you are working with clients who do not meet your criteria (i.e., they lack financial resources, want a specialization outside your focus, have unrealistic expectations), you may be spending 80 percent of your time on less than 20 percent of your cases. Taking on the wrong client work will significantly reduce the time you can spend building relationships with those who meet your ideal client criteria.
3. Connect With Professionals Who Will Bring the Biggest Return
Once you have clarified your core message and target client criteria, the final step is to identify the top 15 to 20 percent of contacts who will bring you the biggest return (aim for 10 to 15 professionals). This can include people who have referred good clients to you in the past, professionals who serve your target client (wealth managers, family offices, etc.) or existing clients who meet your target client criteria.
After you have created this list, make it a goal to connect with at least one person on your list each week. This may include inviting one of your contacts to an event, sending a handwritten letter or referring a client to them. As you begin cultivating new relationships and expanding your network, be sure to maintain good follow-up. This is essential if you want to stay top of mind and build trust among your key contacts. (See “Follow up to Increase Your Chances of Winning Business.”)
The Small Steps You Take Today Determine What Your Practice Will Look Like in the Future
By taking small steps each week to build your network, you will position yourself to attract better clients, maintain a consistent source of referrals and have more control over building a fulfilling and profitable practice. Most importantly, it will help you meet your billable targets by keeping your pipeline full of clients who value your skills, who spread positive word-of-mouth about you and your work, and who have the financial resources to pay for your services.
“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” — Vincent Van Gogh