The Business Development Trifecta: Sales, Marketing and Networking!

business development starting a law firm

In today’s world of artificial intelligence, new legal technologies, and other shiny objects vying for your attention, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the possibilities you have in marketing. Combine that with the overwhelming competition you likely face every day by lawyers and firms willing to spend a lot more money on business development than you are. It’s easy for a small firm or solo practitioner to feel out maneuvered and even a little dismayed. But there’s one thing your competitors don’t have. YOUR network! Your current clients, contacts, and referral sources can help bolster your firm’s revenue, but only if you can truly utilize them.

As you know, more networking, industry outreach, and one-on-one lunches hold the key; so why is it so hard to make it happen? Lawyers like you generally don’t go to law school to become sales people, yet, when faced with the challenge of attracting clients, it is your ability to garner the trust and respect of those you meet (i.e., sales) that will lead to clients and referrals. Here’s the best news of all – the most effective sales strategies for lawyers focus on asking GREAT questions. It’s not about telling them about your accomplishments, cases, or pedigree (thankfully). Knowing the difference between sales and marketing is crucial for lawyers and can truly make or break the growth of your firm.



Marketing is about the messages you use to position yourself and your firm. It includes your website, SEO, social media, the blog posts you write, and much more. To stay on top of your marketing, you need to keep your website biography and social profiles (including LinkedIn, Avvo, Martindale, Findlaw, etc.) up to date. Marketing is giving presentations, CLEs, and speaking at industry events. It’s also about your visual brand and the messages you convey to the world about your practice; the messages that communicate what makes your firm unique. Here are some phrases that do not differentiate your firm:

  • We focus on you.
  • We have the highest ethical standards.
  • We deliver value.
  • We partner with our clients.
  • We achieve results.

When you are effectively marketing, you are successfully building your firm’s name recognition in the community. If you only chose to “do marketing,” you would have to spend enough money to make your firm a household name (think advertising on TV, print ads, billboards, radio). Even then, you’re not guaranteed new business. What’s missing in this equation? You! Marketing without any personal interest or sales appeal is too expensive.

On the flip side, sales without marketing is too hard. Sales is about asking questions. Remember from law school that you are in control when asking questions. You are trying to build a genuine relationship and must think of questions that will allow you to bond with the person, not just their ability to hire you or refer clients. Later in the article we will discuss specific ways you can prepare for your meeting by crafting thoughtful questions. Hint: It’s not about winging it!

Big Key Message: You MUST have both sales and marketing in place to generate new clients and drive new referral source relationships. Why? Because marketing without sales is too expensive, and sales without marketing is too hard.


For lawyers, 80% or more of your business comes through referrals from past clients, current clients, other lawyers, or from your own personal networking efforts. Ask yourself, “If 80% of my business comes from referrals, am I spending 80% of my marketing time meeting with people?” It stands to reason that you would want to spend your valuable marketing time focused on the marketing activities proven to drive business to your firm.

Let’s look at the meetings on your calendar this month—hopefully several will be with networking contacts. I know… you’re busy with client work and it’s hard to take the time for even one networking meeting each month. Let’s assume you have a meeting next week with a prospective referral source. These meetings are highly valuable because one referral source can send many clients to you. I refer to this as the “one to many” strategy. It’s true. One therapist could send a family lawyer scores of clients over the course of a year.

Following are a few tips to help you maximize the success of your networking meetings by prioritizing those meetings as you would any other client deadline. That means you need to be prepared! Not only do you need to be prepared for the meeting, you need to lead the conversation and actively follow up when you’re back at the office. Let’s make those networking meetings count!


Before you meet, make sure you take a step back and gather some important information:

1. Web and Bio Review. Visit their website and read their biography and applicable webpages. Make sure you also read their LinkedIn profile; a treasure trove of background information! The more you know about them, the better your questions will be.

2. Google Them! Do a basic Google search on the person you are meeting with. What if they were just quoted in the daily paper? You want to be able to congratulate them. You never know what you’ll find when you search online. You may even see they were just named Chairperson of a board or community group.

3. Look for Commonality. Visit their LinkedIn profile and see what contacts you have in common; see what they like to do in their spare time; review where they used to work. You are always looking for the things you might have in common with your contact. It’s a lot easier to start a conversation with someone new by noting you both went to the same college or grew up in the same town. Maybe you both love skiing, sailing, or pottery. You get the idea!

4. Mental Agenda. Before you leave your office, think about what you want to get out of the meeting. What would the best-case scenario be? It could be an agreement to write an article together or team up to deliver a webinar. It might open the door to having you go to their firm and present something educational to others (using the example from above, a family law lawyer could present “What to Do if you Receive a Subpoena,” to other therapists in their office). Before you leave your office, answer the question, “At the end of lunch, I will know this meeting was a success because…….”

5. How can You Help Them? After doing your research on the person, spend time thinking about who you could introduce them to – those who could help them achieve their business or personal goals. The very best networking is accomplished when your focus and attention are on them.

By kicking your network into high gear, you will ensure your marketing time is spent with people who can actually hire you or refer business to you. Remember the importance of preparing for your meetings, by doing some research, identifying questions you can ask, and looking for ways in which you can help them. Great marketing meetings start with doing your research and finding out in advance, what you have in common with the person. Next month we will continue this article by focusing on how to lead a meeting by focusing on the other person, and actively following up when you return to your office. TERRIE S. WHEELER

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