Let the Lawyer Beware of these Three Business Development Pitfalls

November 27, 2012

Landing clients can seem like one of the great mysteries of the universe, alongside dark matter and supersymmetric particles.  Luckily, you do not need the Large Hadron Collider to unravel business development.  In fact, for the most part rainmaker training is straightforward.  It begins simply enough with learning how to avoid three common client development mistakes.  Not getting sucked into these black holes is a giant leap in the right direction and will ensure that you are light-years away from helplessly floating in zero gravity looking for clients.

No Sneak Attacks: When it comes to meeting with prospective clients, be upfront about the purpose of your meeting.  In other words, if your primary reason for arranging lunch, coffee, or some other get together is for you to make a business pitch, tell your counterpart as much when you are scheduling the appointment.  People appreciate transparency and will like you all the more for it.  There is nothing like being treated as an unsuspecting mark to get the relationship started off on the wrong note.   Interactions that begin with the guise of, “I want to learn more about what you do,” but quickly lead to “I want to see how I can get you to hire me “ will never get you what you want.  Being underhanded only will waste time and create ill will.  Being direct is the only chance at success you’ve got.

The Free Fall: Your client meetings should follow a structure that you have established beforehand (if you do not yet have an established process, it is time to design one).  This structure is likely not shared with your prospective client (to be clear the point above is not to say that there should be full disclosure in every regard), nonetheless it should be something you mapped out in advance.  Further, it goes without saying that it should be something to which you adhere relentlessly.

For example, let us say you are meeting with a client for the first time and have made a decision to not address your fees.  You have thought it over and for strategy reasons you want to leave discussion about your rates for a second meeting.  This first meeting is to establish need, value, and alignment and the second meeting is to review pricing.  That is all well and good, but as is often the case, five minutes into the meeting your client inquires about money.  Do not give in.  Find a way to tactfully lead the conversation in another direction.  You may even acknowledge your client’s question and ask to address it once you have explored items such as fit, time frame, and strategy in more detail.

Your Spidey Sense: If you know in your gut that a prospective client is not right for you and that a particular case is bad news, then do not take it.  When you allow yourself to get hired by a client who is inappropriate for any number of reasons (such as a reduced rate, high-maintenance, lots of travel, not your area of expertise) you will come to regret it in time.  Yes, you may bring in money in the short-term, but ultimately it more often than not creates a problem down the line.  Namely, that time spent on bad clients is time taken away time from finding good clients.  Presumably you have criteria for who constitutes a desirable client or of what qualifies as an advantageous case – anyone who will hire me and anyone that pays are not acceptable answers.   Do not deviate from your standards.  Time and time again it proves to be a source of regret.

Building a book of business can feel like a meteroic undertaking.  However, if you stop looking to the stars and follow this business development chart instead, it need not be unobtainable.   As long as you learn from your mistakes and forgive your missteps, you are sure to reach your destination.  Remember anything is possible, we did send a man to the moon after all.