7 Steps to Create Your Own Path to Business Development in 2020

Business Development in 2020
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In these challenging times, law firm partners may feel completely rerouted. In January and February, they were meeting with current and potential clients for lunch and coffee, flying across the country to participate in client pitches, attending national conferences, and going to happy hours with the hope of meeting GCs from Fortune 500 companies and making new connections. If you were like them, you had big plans for this year. 2020 was going to be the year that you grew your client list exponentially.

Then, overnight, the world shut down.



Now the conversation turns to how partners are going to grow their books of business in this new normal. It has been a bit challenging to shift into this new space of business development. And the truth is that business development may not shift entirely back to the way we used to do things—ever.

What does that mean for you as a law firm partner trying to develop your book of business? The following steps may help you create your own business development path—2020 style.

1. Be yourself.

Oscar Wilde tells us that “imitation is the greatest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” Oftentimes, in law firm settings, partners with smaller books of business find themselves trying to look like, sound like, and use the same strategies that more senior partners with larger books of business use in hopes of replicating their success. What 2020 has illuminated is that this is a flawed strategy. Connection and authenticity are required to thrive now. So where does that leave you?


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We all have strengths, unique attributes, approaches to problem-solving, and interests that set us apart from others. It is important for you to take time to understand what differentiates you in the marketplace. What strengths do you have, and how can you use them to maximize your impact on increasing clients’ short- and long-term viability? Being yourself instead of an imitation of someone else is key to expanding your book of business.

2. Get a clear vision.

To be successful in any area, you must know what you want and why. Ask yourself: Based on my strengths, how do I add value to clients? What kind of clients do I want to work with? Why do I want to work with these types of clients? Answering these questions for yourself—and not relying on others to impose the “what” and “why” on you—will help you clarify your vision as it relates to your business development plan.

3. Make your goals bigger than what you can see.

Set a big business development goal that stretches you. The goal should not be based on firm speak (such as, “There aren’t that many clients in the market,” “The senior partners are the only ones who will ever get the huge revenue-generating clients,” or “Said partner does not like me, so I will not inherit his or her clients.”). Rumi the philosopher reminds us that “it’s your road and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.” Your business development goals should inspire you to bring your whole self to the endeavor. Remember, there are no limitations except the ones you choose to accept.

4. Start where you are and create a blueprint.

Once you have a clear vision regarding business development, take the steps to make your vision your reality. Start by creating a business development blueprint. Understanding your goals will help you make better decisions regarding where to spend your time. There is only so much time in a day, and you need to make sure that you are focusing on what is important to accomplishing your goals. Major areas to focus on in order to grow your book of business include personal networks, professional organizations, current clients, cross-selling, and social media.


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5. Ready. Set. Go.

Now that you have created the blueprint, it is time to begin the work. Create a calendar for yourself and include some accountability benchmarks that allow for executing parts of your plan and checking in to see if they are leading to business development. One way to do this is to set daily or weekly goals for yourself and then once a month, check in to see what has resulted from your effort.

6. Sustained commitment to accomplishing your goals.

Achieving the book of business you desire will take consistent action over an extended period of time. That said, since you are building your book based on your authentic strengths, value adds, and differentiators, it should not feel like the heavy lifting that comes with imitating other’s road to success. The goal is for business development to become a way of life, instead of something you do not enjoy. If it starts to feel inauthentic and not in alignment with your goals, revisit your “what” and “why,” as well as your blueprint to see what changes need to be made to regain your business development momentum.

7. Rejoice. Reset. Repeat.

Once you start gaining momentum and growing your book of business, take some time to enjoy your success. Be proud that you are making strides to build a book of business in an authentic way. After you celebrate, understand that at some point down the road, you will enter into a season where your goals expand. When that season arises, reset and then repeat steps 1–6 to continue to grow your business development network.

Rhonda M. Ware

Rhonda Ware, a Director in the Partner Practice Group at Major, Lindsey & Africa, the world’s largest legal search firm.

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