There’s a misconception in the marketplace that the issues of personal branding for lawyers and business development for lawyers are distinct concepts. This post is meant to dispel this misunderstanding. It all comes down to appreciating the fact business development in the legal industry is a long game played over many years, and that the key to building a sustainable book of business is building a strong personal brand.
A short-term approach to business development requires the hard sell. This approach is colorfully demonstrated in the classic movie “Glengarry Glen Ross,” in which Alec Baldwin’s infamous character, Blake, admonishes a group of real estate salesmen to “ABC: Always Be Closing.”
We’ve all dealt with salespeople who take the ABC hard sell approach. Sometimes it even works, especially when what they’re selling is a commodity, or some other inexpensive product or service that we might happen to need at the moment. Despite the salesperson’s off-putting approach, we buy because it’s convenient to do so at the moment. Or we just want to get the person off the phone or off the porch.
It even works when selling legal services. What else could explain the prevalence of attorney billboards blaring 1-800 vanity phone numbers lining many cities’ highways and byways?
But in most cases, an “always be closing” approach rarely works when it comes to business development in the legal industry. That’s because the precursor to most legal engagements is mutual trust. And trust can only be built over time.
Personal Branding for Lawyers is Business Development
The primary focus of my writing, speaking, coaching and consulting is helping lawyers develop powerful personal brands. The first thing that I urge my readers, listeners and clients to understand is that personal branding for lawyers is not simply a complementary or ancillary tactic to business development. It is business development.
Sure, there are instances when lightning strikes and a matter comes in the door out of the blue, but in most cases work is generated through relationships cultivated over time. The business development cycle for legal services is typically a long one that requires nurturing and cultivation.
It’s like the difference between hunting and farming. Hunters scout and pursue their game. A hunter’s prey runs from him and only relents once it tires of being stalked, or makes a regretful mistake that leads to it being killed or captured. Farmers, on the other hand, plant seeds, water and nurture them, and help them grow. Hunting is fast. Farming is slow. But unlike hunters, farmers can harvest crops that keep them and others nourished over the long-term.
Developing a strong personal brand is like being a farmer. It takes a lot of hard work to get going, but it can pay big dividends over time. Done right, personal branding for lawyers is the gateway to business development.
What it Takes to Build a Personal Brand
The problem with most business development advice is that it’s tactical and not strategic. Do this. Don’t do that. Try this software. Dabble in that social media platform. Tactics are important, but only in the context of a larger strategy. And the ultimate strategy for a lawyer looking to build a sustainable business development pipeline is to build a strong personal brand.
There are three steps to building a strong personal brand as a lawyer. This process is not for the faint of heart. It takes time, patience and lots of hard work. But the process is what is required to capture attention, build relationships, and establish trust that leads to business development opportunities.
First, Get Narrow
First, you need to specifically define who you serve and what value you are able to provide to them. Before you can even think about generating awareness of your services, you need to answer the question: Awareness by whom, and of what?
This requires making some hard choices. Clients and customers in all aspects of the economy are increasingly seeking out narrow specialization. They aren’t looking for someone or something that can generally solve their problems or satisfy their needs, they’re looking someone or something that can specifically do so.
In other words, to build a personal brand you need to pick a niche. You can learn more about this issue here. But suffice it to say that lawyers with strong personal brands stand for something. And for those with the strongest brands, “something” means one thing. They are master craftsmen, rather than jacks of all trades. A master craftsman lawyer knows – and the market knows – what she does, how she does it, and for whom.
Second, Create Awareness
Once you determine who you serve and what value you provide, the second step in the process is to create awareness. That is, after all, the name of this game. The process of generating awareness becomes much easier and more successful for the lawyer who chooses a narrow niche, since the universe of people and companies that need to be targeted is much smaller.
There are five core brand building tactics that help most lawyers generate awareness:
- Networking Strategies
- Referral Strategies
- Speaking Strategies
- Writing Strategies
- Internet and Social Media Strategies
Each of these tactics deserves its own blog post (and I’ll cover them in the near future), but it’s important to keep in mind that creating awareness doesn’t require engaging in all of them. Or even some of them.
There’s a point of view that people should work on their weaknesses. But when it comes to generating awareness in order to build a personal brand, I’m a big believer in going all in your strengths and not worrying about your weaknesses. You’re a busy lawyer. Your time is precious. Why bother slaving away at the keyboard if writing is not your strength, when you could be standing at a podium leveraging your charm and oral eloquence before an audience?
Knowing which personal brand building tactics to spend your time on is a strategic decision. And the strategy needs to be crafted with a heavy dose of self-awareness. Know what you’re good at and lean in.
Third, Cultivate and Nourish Relationships
Once someone has become aware of you, the third step in the process is to form a relationship built on trust. Keep in mind that relationships need not be face to face to be meaningful. They can even consist primarily, or even solely, of one-way communication.
For example, there are thousands of people who read my blog every month. I’ve personally met a small fraction of them. But I have a relationship – that of writer/reader – with all of them. And then, oftentimes after many years, the relationship shifts to one of consultant/client. Trust builds over time once enough value is provided. Give, give, give, then ask. Or, as frequently happens, give, give, give, then they ask, because they have gained an understanding of the value that can be provided and it aligns with their needs.
The point is that once a lawyer has built a strong personal brand, business development happens as a byproduct. Little selling, at least in the traditional sense, is required.
We’ve just touched the surface of these issues, and I’ll be taking a deeper dive in the weeks to come. Personal branding for lawyers isn’t complex once you know the steps, but it does take hard work and it can be confusing if you don’t have a specific strategy in mind. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, download my free Personal Brand Building Workbook that will help you assess your strengths and begin projecting them to the marketplace.