Robin Hensley, Raising the Bar Robin Hensley, Raising the Bar

Who is your ideal client? That’s the first question I ask when I coach top-billing lawyers. Usually, their answer comes quickly: The ideal client is the owner of a very successful, privately held business.

I follow up with a less obvious question: Who is your ideal client’s ideal client? No one in my 20 years of coaching has had an answer.

Knowing your clients and prospects includes understanding what they need to accomplish and who they need to reach. This ability to help your client succeed is vitally important; however, it’s not easy when you’re bombarded with firm leadership responsibilities, billing hours and many other daily demands. The  reality is that client management should dominate your schedule.

What does successful client management look like? The activity is twofold: deepening relationships with current clients and engaging prospective clients.

It is a truism of business that it’s better to work with established clients rather than seek out new ones. From an efficiency perspective, shoring up existing clients is the first thing any prudent counsel must do. Call your client (off the clock, of course) to learn about their business and industry. Read their trade publications and introduce them to potential clients.

A prominent family law attorney recently requested my help in generating leads for a trusted referral source. We combed through his contacts, and he sent his referral source a list of names, with an offer to take them to lunch together.

Write down your five best referral sources. Email each one with a list of at least three—but no more than five—referral sources for their businesses. Follow up with each referral source at least once a month with an email that targets an interest. It doesn’t have to be business related. If your referral source is a Georgia football supporter, pass along an article on the upcoming season.

Supporting your current clients with their business development needs can develop business leads for you. Even small interactions keep you top of mind with your clients. If you help them build a client base, they will remember you and return the favor later. Remember, it’s a small world.

Think back to your ideal clients. Where did they go to school? Are they basketball fans? Where do they go to church? Just being aware of your clients and their objectives and interests provides an opportunity to help them build their client base.

Talk to your colleagues in the office. Visit other floors and practice areas to see if they know anyone in your client’s target industry. The more contacts you have, the more opportunities you have. Set aside a dedicated time to work on the most important matters—marketing yourself and your firm. If it’s not on the calendar, it won’t get done.

Never get complacent and start thinking that you’re the only lawyer in town. In years past, it was possible for the best lawyers to put their heads down and, like cicadas, emerge years later into an established firm that doesn’t need to compete for business. Those days are over. The modern lawyer needs to proactively market himself or herself to stand out from the rest. This takes grit. And the best way to do that is to show your ideal client you know what they want.

Robin Hensley’s column is based on her work as president of Raising the Bar and coaching lawyers in business development for more than 25 years. She is the author of “Raising the Bar: Legendary Rainmakers Share Their Business Development Secrets.”