If any part of your job involves sales, your reputation can be reduced to a number. As a lawyer, real estate broker or IT consultant, your boss and the recruiters scoping you out will be focused on this one thing: how much rain you can make.
If you don’t excel there, you’ll be toast. So Mojo40 talked to an expert, Nanci Weissgold, about the essential steps to follow to bring in big bucks in today’s ultra-competitive market.
As a Partner in a large law firm, Ms. Weissgold once saw $600,000 worth of revenue walk out the door in one day, leaving her feeling shaken about her future. But through hard work building a national reputation in a niche, she has come out of that experience outfoxing competitors and ready to share her story.
Mojo40: What set you on the path to sharpen your rainmaking skills?
Nanci: As an Associate, I was always super busy with chargeable work, but as a Partner, I became responsible for bringing in business. You get judged based upon the work you bring in and the work hours you bill.
Inasmuch as it is key that junior Partners sell, in my big law firm, no one showed me how to do that. I could have observed others, but I had to “self-teach.”
When I lost the $600,000 client, I struggled over what to do and became convinced that I needed to diversify. I decided to hire a career coach who specialized in law firms. I found it really helpful. It is not that the coaching advice was hard, you just need to slow down and think about what to do, break it down into bite size pieces, and do it.
M40: Can you flesh out for us how to transform a practice?
N: Become a nationally recognized expert in a specific area. List your top five clients. Then, consider the current economy, trends and topics. I call these the “waves”. Ask yourself, what waves do I want to ride, and how am I going to ride that particular wave to get my message of expertise across to my clients and potential new clients? Your answer will most likely involve writing, speaking, networking. If you are the first out the door on a topic with high quality work, you can make rain.
To cite an example, in the summer of 2010 a 2000 page bill was passed. Many lawyers wrote articles on various aspects of that legislation, e.g. securities, hedge funds, mortgage lending. I spotted a couple of sections on residential real estate appraisal reform and said to myself, “I’ll do the appraisal issues.” With an Associate, we wrote a piece that was the first of its kind; it wasn’t one of the ten most popular topics in the legislation.
That article received a great response, and initially, I got several new clients from it. I followed it up a few months later with a webinar that brought five existing clients around. We formed a loose coalition and lobbied on their behalf. Now we get repeated compliance work from those firms.
M40: How do you and your firm communicate your expertise?
N: All the articles that I author are listed on the firm’s website, but beyond that, our marketing team aims to connect us by name with the keywords that we wish to “own”.
M40: In a nutshell, what is your expertise?
N: Generally, I focus on state regulatory compliance work related to mortgage banking, including appraisal issues.
M40: How does one get started?
N: Sit and think who all your contacts are and make a mission statement for yourself. Consider what kind of work you enjoy as well as what kind of work you want to get involved in. Make a business plan that details how do you expect to get this work. Writing articles and giving speeches are the means to establishing your authority on a specific topic. List who you know in companies you are targeting that would want the expertise that you offer. Those people can become your entree.
Also, be a really good listener to your clients so that you can figure out what they need even if it is not your expertise.
M40: Okay, I hear your marching orders to approach this as a business strategist would, and to emphasize listening skills, but is that all?
N: No! High quality work that is completed on time is a given. You deliver when you say that you are going to. But those two requirements are not enough to bring in additional dollars. It’s also important to have personal relationships with your clients. You really have to care about them and not just act like you care.
M40: Give me a checklist for the lame among us, in the interpersonal department.
N: Know your clients’ kids and pets, become their friends. I’ve known some clients over 15 years and I make it a point to have extra contact by sending a card when they get promoted, sharing an article of interest, or picking up the phone from time-to-time.
M40: What was the immediate impact of the coaching?
N: It is unrealistic to expect immediate impact, for example, to go from $200,000 to $2mm in billings by year-end. It takes a long time to bring in a new client. At first, you may get them to give you a small project. Or, aim to go out to lunch together.
Think in terms of gradual, incremental goals, i.e., a 10-15% increase in billings. Or, set a goal to write two articles, or give two speeches.
M40: I’ve heard that you’ve made your mark another way. Want to share it?
N: Going back a few years, I convinced my firm to pick up the expense of my weekly coaching for 6 months, and after those initial 6 months, I garnered such success that I persuaded them to support small group coaching for women income Partners in the DC office, and, ultimately, expand the program to our offices, nationwide.
Photos courtesy Creative Commons, darkmatter and Boby Dimitrov
Do you have other tips for bringing rain down from the clouds? Share them with us below.
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