As I try never to forget, especially right now, I’m blessed to have clients whose needs occupy me daily and quite often, nightly. It’s very tempting in these times to lower the flag a little. But I know that outside of misconduct, negligence, or running out of cash, the biggest mistake a professional can make is to stop marketing because we are weary, and too busy with what’s happening in the moment.
Since the day I founded my law firm, all through its growth, and now as a consultant, juggling the demands of the here and now with building for the future has always been a challenge, and I don't know anyone who would say different. It's easy for here and now to win. If it does, the result is missed opportunities and a career that ricochets between feast and famine. One minute, we are stressed with being under so much pressure, the next because we fear the well running dry.
Ultimately, this is about our personal choices and our firm’s culture. How wide is our horizon? It’s an especially pertinent question after ten months of being in survival mode. Are we focused solely on what’s on our desk, or are we also being thoughtful about what we want to achieve over the next 6, 12 or 24 months? The market is full of people who will need our services over the long term, but it’s much harder to find clients who need us just when we need them.
How can we fit client work and marketing into a normal working day (whatever that is)? We can’t. Building a network of relationships to sustain us long-term almost always means sacrificing some of what we would rather call private time. Right now, we are physically confined. But within a few months, we will emerge blinking into the light. It’s a reasonable working assumption that at that point, the full range of opportunities to promote ourselves and our businesses will once more be available. How we choose to do that online and off, will need time and high-quality thought. Networking, research, speaking, writing, social media, client care, whatever you choose to do can’t be shoe-horned into fleeting gaps between the last call and the next email. Rainmaking is emotionally and physically arduous. It has always meant being willing to put your body on the line, and make personal sacrifices, one reason why it's easy to shy away from it.
Really, how precious is your time?
For all that, none of us needs to work 24/7 and there are few client assignments needing so much attention we can’t carve out some meaningful time for ourselves. “Experts” will tell you that if we’re not working on BD for at least two hours a day, we’re not really serious, but arbitrary daily targets are not helpful. Some days, or even weeks, the most dedicated marketeer has more important things to do. Trying to work on a plan late at night when you have just done 12 hours straight is likely to produce nothing more useful than a migraine. Like the proverbial cobbler’s children who never have shoes, we’re good at being disciplined when we’re serving the needs of others, but not always when serving our own. One resolution you can actually keep is to carve out a block of time in advance every week, and commit to not being diverted from it except where there is truly no alternative.
The horror of the blank page
The great American humorist Robert Benchley, who lived in the age of the typewriter, once found himself suffering from writer's block. Determined to beat it, he got up extra early one day, fed a shiny, new sheet of paper into his machine and typed, "The". Six motionless hours later, he typed, "hell with it." and slouched off to his local bar. We all know the feeling. Marketing is quite different to doing the work, and it can take a long time to find inspiration. What are we going to do? Do we have the data? How will we prioritise? What happened to that prospect we met two months ago, meant to follow up, but never got round to?
The antidote is finding a method, the simpler the better, that fits our personality and gives us a structure. As Benchley found, the enemy is not so much blank paper, as a blank mind. Decide in advance what you’re going to focus on for that session: an article, a presentation, a project, research into targets, a planned BD meeting with clients or colleagues. Richard Branson was once kind enough to give me a useful tip (to be fair, he also gave it to the 800 other people who were in the room at the time): always carry a notebook for jotting down ideas. So many good thoughts perish in the daily tsunami of distractions. I’ve done that ever since, and often had cause to be grateful. Of course, you can use a phone or tablet, but there’s something about physical writing that stimulates thought in a way that devices never do.
Find a place where you can have some peace and quiet. One of the vanishingly few positives of Covid and WFH, is that for many of us this has become easier. Switch off the phone. Be strict about not checking emails, texts, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok, children (unless they’re in life-threatening danger) and all the rest.
Don’t be obsessed with novelty. Focus on the core of every good practice: providing great service, being really clear about the value you deliver and how you can stand out. Nor is this a solitary pursuit. As I’ve said before, winning business is a team sport. Make time to collaborate with like-minded colleagues. Sparking ideas, supporting one another, and being supported in return is the lifeblood of successful businesses. Be generous in looking to their interest as well as your own, it will come back to you many-fold.
Ever met a creative hamster?
If you lead a firm, or a team, you need your people to be winning work as well as they do it. Ask yourself, does how they are expected to behave help or hinder them? Are they made to feel that if they’re not furiously recording six-minute units, they’re wasting time? I ask again, ever met a creative hamster? The best firm leaders don’t just permit, but encourage their people to spend the non-chargeable time they need to build their practice. They insist on thoughtfulness and discipline as to how it’s spent, but understand there will be setbacks and that without them, progress can’t happen. They coach, mentor and constructively criticise. In my experience, there are not many of these paragons around, but the success of those firms lucky enough to have them is striking.
So whatever the pressures and distractions, stay visible. However brilliant we are, if we choose to go off-market, in no time at all the market will go off us.
Thank you for reading, I hope it's been enjoyable and helpful. If you have not subscribed and would like to, please see the subscribe form at the bottom of this page.
I was the founder and senior partner of a multi-award winning law firm that became a UK leader in its sectors. Today, I work as a consultant and non-exec with leading law firms throughout the UK and in Ireland. You can read testimonials here. If you would like to link with me on LinkedIn, you'll find me here.