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Top 10 Business Development Tips for Solo and Small Firms

By Susan McCourt Baltz, Director of Marketing, The Bar Plan

Implementing a law firm business development strategy can seem daunting. It requires time spent outside of practicing law, is easy to brush aside, requires patience, and trial and error. It is a different route for each attorney. But, instead of feeling like it's an insurmountable task to conquer, there are ten easy-to-implement tips to enhance business development efforts below. If implementing ten steps is overwhelming, try breaking it up into monthly goals, or set your sights on achieving a realistic number. Small, proactive steps are still steps forward.

Tip 1: Analyze your practice. What kind of law do you practice and what kind of work do you do? What do you want to do more of, and what do you want to do less of? The more specific you can be in identifying strengths and interests, the easier it will be to identify where and how to focus business development efforts. Use this thoughtful analysis as the basis for your future business development goals.

Tip 2: Be deliberate with business development efforts. Create a plan and set goals, but be specific and use deadlines to hold yourself accountable. Put it in writing because research has shown that you are far more likely to follow through with a written plan. At a loss as to what to include in your plan?  Review your client list and try to identify any themes as to how you got these clients. This will help you identify valuable marketing and business development efforts. Did you meet these clients at industry events or via an industry organization? Was the work referred by a fellow lawyer or a tax professional? Make sure the plan includes a list of top clients, prospects and referral sources with specific plans for how you will maintain and nurture those relationships.

Tip 3: Organize your contact list. This can be done formally through a designated CRM (Client Relationship Management) software, Outlook, or whatever contact management system works for you. Your contact list should include other lawyers (co-counsel, opposing counsel, etc.), existing and former clients, referral sources and law school friends. It should also include contacts from industry, civic and community organizations. Bonus tip: Connect with all of your contacts on LinkedIn (more on that later).

Tip 4: Prepare for Networking Events. If you are going to invest time and money in attending networking events, you should prepare a game plan for each event. Many organizations will share the RSVP list with sponsors or attendees in advance of events. Some organizations even list the attendees of events on their registration page. Determine who is going to be there and who you want to meet. If your current or past clients will be there, go out of your way to touch base with them or consider setting up a time to meet them for lunch or dinner prior to the event.  Don’t forget to bring business cards (and ask for business cards) and be prepared to answer the “What do you do?” and “What’s new with you?” questions with meaningful responses.

Tip 5: Maximize Conference Attendance. Similar to preparing for networking events, you need to have a game plan for making the most of a conference. In addition to identifying with whom you need to touch base, meet and connect, you want to ensure you are visible at the conference for those who may want to meet you. You can do this in a number of ways:

  1. Engage in social media – find out who is there and tag them as well!
  2. Never eat or drink alone – Track down a list of attendees and identify 10 people you want to meet at the conference. Start reaching out a couple weeks before the event to set up lunch and coffee meeting times. Follow-up with those who you met through emails/handwritten notes.
  3. Connect on LinkedIn and share content with them!

Tip 6: Know your clients! In-house counsel and executives often cite knowing and understanding their business as one of the key criteria used for selecting an attorney. So how do you ensure that you know as much about a client as possible? One easy way to keep up with news and developments for a company or an individual is to set up news alerts. You can do this at, enter the client name, and each time they are mentioned you will get an email about it. These news alerts not only keep you informed but can make you aware of additional legal needs. You can also utilize subscription-based tools such as Courthouse News, LexisNexis CourtLink and Westlaw's Court Wire to track new and ongoing litigation for clients.

Learn more about your clients’ industries by setting up an industry specific Google news alert, getting involved with industry focused organizations and attending industry conferences. Better yet, attend industry conferences with your clients. Experience and immersion in an industry can help you establish a niche practice and make you a go-to professional within that industry – especially if you join industry groups that do not already have a heavy lawyer involvement.

Talk to your clients! Find out what their plans are for expansion, new hires, their five- and ten-year goals. Consider conducting a survey to find out what you do well and what you can improve upon. Visit your clients at their offices, manufacturing facilities or retail operations.

Tip 7: Update your biography. Update it on the firm website, on your LinkedIn profile, and anywhere people are looking online. Be sure to include experience/representative matters (after receiving client consent) and pay attention to the key words that will make it easier for people to find you online. What terms will potential clients use to find your experience? Be sure to highlight your niche and add links to any articles or presentations that are recent or relevant. If you are proficient in another language, be sure to include that information. Don’t forget to update community, industry and professional organizations which may lead to additional contacts.

Tip 8: Create a LinkedIn profile. If you’re not already using LinkedIn, sign up to do so. If you are already signed up, maximize its power. According to their site, LinkedIn has 562 million members in over 200 countries. While personal relationships continue to be the best way to nurture relationships, LinkedIn can open doors, reinforce brands and cement your reputation as a contender to earn business. LinkedIn has been helpful for professionals to:

  • Research people and companies prior to a sales pitch or to identify leads.
  • Reconnect with past business associates/colleagues.
  • Build new relationships with people who may influence potential customers.
  • Increase face-to-face networking effectiveness.
  • Drive people to your website.
  • Follow up to meetings with an invitation to connect on LinkedIn.

Tip 9: Get involved and stay involved. There are many different professional, industry, civic or charitable organizations in which to be involved, but don’t join organizations to only attend a monthly lunch and expect to bring in dollars. Be involved by not only being present, but by providing content to the organization, taking on leadership roles or joining committees, offering to speak on a timely or relevant topic, and connecting with the other members. When selecting organizations for which to get involved, be sure to select groups in which you have a genuine interest in and also put you in contact with legal decision makers.

Tip 10: Follow up and stay in touch. This might be the most important tip of all – follow up. Typically, this is where business development and marketing efforts may fail. Lawyers will spend hours writing articles, attending events, pitching their services, but in the end, if there’s no follow through, there’s no reason for potential clients to remember your services or know exactly what it is you do! Following up can include connecting on LinkedIn and/or other social media outlets, adding the contacts to your newly organized contact list, sending them your e-newsletter, asking them to lunch to find out more about their business - whatever is most comfortable to you!

 Susan McCourt Baltz has over 25 years experience in marketing professional services. She spent 10 years in legal marketing and business development before joining The Bar Plan as their Director of Marketing in 2008. She is a past Chair of the Legal Marketing Association, St. Louis Region, and serves on several legal industry-related committees.