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Lost horizons?

20 June 16

The Word of Gold: it's easy to go from inundated to invisible

by Stephen Gold

“Everybody’s got plans until they get hit.” (Mike Tyson)

What is the worst mistake we can make in building our practice, outside of negligence, misconduct, or running out of cash? A serious contender is to stop marketing because we are too busy.

Juggling the demands of the here and now with building for the future is always tricky. Much of the time, here and now wins, leading to lost 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 see the well running dry. Larger firms with the advantage of business development (BD) and other support may suffer less, but ultimately this is about individual perspective and a firm’s culture. How far is our horizon? Are we focused solely on what is on our desk, or are we also thinking strategically about the next three, six, 12 or 24 months? The market is full of people who will need legal services over the long term, but it is 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. Attending events, networking, writing, speaking, social media, planning with colleagues: all of these need time and high-quality thought. They cannot be shoehorned into fleeting gaps between the last call and the next email. Crossing this mental rubicon is the first step to success.

Hurdle of the blank sheet

Time is precious, but really, none of us needs to work 24/7 and there are few client assignments needing so much attention that with thought and determination we cannot carve out some meaningful time for ourselves. It is said by some alleged marketing gurus that if we are not working on BD for at least two hours a day, we are not really serious, but I do not think daily targets are helpful.

There are days when even the most dedicated marketeer has more important things to do, and trying to work on a marketing plan late at night when you have just done 12 hours straight is unlikely to produce much except a migraine. It helps, though, to mark out a block of time in advance every week, and commit to not being deviated from it except in genuine emergency.

The great American humorist Robert Benchley once found himself suffering from writer’s block. Determined to overcome it, he got up extra early one morning, fed a new piece of paper into his machine and typed: “The”. Six 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 often takes a long time to get cranked up. 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 got distracted?

Organisation is everything. You need a method, preferably a simple one, which gives you a framework. The enemy, as Benchley found, is to start not just with a blank sheet of paper, but a blank mind. Decide in advance what you are going to focus on for that session: an article, a presentation, a project, research into targets, drawing up a schedule for sales-focused meetings with clients and colleagues. A good tip I took on board some years ago, listening to a presentation by Richard Branson, is to carry a notebook just for jotting down ideas. So many unrecorded good thoughts perish in the daily tsunami of distractions.

Culture of creativity

The creative process needs not just time, but peace and quiet. The last place to be when you are in this mode is at your desk. Find a quiet space, preferably out of the office. Switch off the phone and the laptop. Be strict about not checking emails, Twitter, Facebook and all the rest.

Culture is crucial to individual success. I still come across organisations where everyone is made to feel that if they are not on the treadmill, furiously recording six-minute units, they are wasting time. Ever met a creative hamster? The best firm leaders do not just permit, but encourage non-chargeable time to make plans for building the business, and recognise it is not an optional extra, but fundamental to a prosperous future. They understand too that not every initiative will succeed, but that without the failures and the learnings they bring, there is no possibility of progress.

So stay visible. However brilliant we are, if we choose to go off-market, in no time at all the market will go off us.

Stephen Gold was the founder and senior partner of Golds, a multi-award-winning law firm which grew from a sole practice to become a UK leader in its sectors. He is now a consultant, non-exec and trusted adviser to leading firms nationwide and internationally. e: stephen@stephengold.co.uk; t: 07968 484232; w: www.stephengold.co.uk; twitter: @thewordofgold

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