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How to foster a culture of business development activity

As a Managing Partner, you know that your firm should have a business development plan. A business development plan can help you identify how to grow the firm, understand the competitive landscape, and improve efficiency of resources, operation and logistics.

A comprehensive plan will encompass a number of different parts that are interrelated and dynamic. It will take cohesive collaboration to successfully execute the plan and realize growth. Execution of the plan is the responsibility of not just management and the business development team, but all partners, associates, and staff members.

While a designated few might be responsible for developing the overall firm plan, this team must engage and work with the entire firm to implement the strategies identified in the plan.

Successful execution of the firm’s business development plan requires everyone in the firm to coordinate, working together with a common goal of actioning the firm’s business development plan.

Here are 4 steps to help you successfully implement your business development plan.

1 Share the firm's overall strategy with everyone in the firm

Successful implementation of the business development plan starts with sharing the details of the plan with everyone at the firm. Yes – everyone, from leadership to partners to associates to technical professionals to business professionals and staff members. When a law firm BD plan is only in the heads of senior people, it is harder to execute and grow the firm.

Since the comprehensive business development plan will encompass a number of different tactics from speculative lead identification to a client services plan and account management strategies, it will take the engagement of everyone in the firm executing specific and relevant parts of the plan.

With any staff members, and especially front line administrative support, client relations and service will be key.

For professionals conducting the billable client work, it will be important to have them support ways to market the firm’s services. If they are working on building their own client base without understanding how their efforts align with the firm’s overall strategy, they will become unmotivated, frustrated and confused. In the absence of purpose, a culture of independent silos where everyone is into self-interest rather than team interest, will fester.

Transparency of the firm’s vision including identification of everyone’s roles and responsibilities, along with visible leadership and management will foster a greater sense of respect, appreciation, and support for the plan.

When creating the business development plan with members of the firm, motivate everyone by communicating the value of the firm’s goal. This value should be one that resonates with all stakeholders and not just shareholders. This will ensure everyone feels connected to the goal.

Once everything is set, communication throughout the firm is important. In sharing the firm’s plan, it will be important to publicize support by leadership. Senior members of the firm should explain the plan, express the how and what of the plan and then model it.

2 Work with firm members to identify ways they can contribute to the strategy

People will have a greater sense of impact if they are working in alignment with the firm’s overall strategy.

So how can you make sure everyone is in alignment?

The most effective business development leaders know four things about each member of their team:

- how their desired practice fits in the larger firm wide business development strategy

Ideally, everyone’s independent desired IP practice fits within the firm’s sectors and service lines. If someone wants to pursue a new area that is not part of the overall firm, then careful consideration should be made to ensure any acquired work can be appropriately serviced.

- how they can manage their time and schedule to achieve goals

The goal of building the business should be part of each individual’s work plan without adding undue pressure. It will be important for leadership to manage the ability for each person to take on the additional work.

- what their specific skills sets are

Every person has different skills sets. Management already identifies what type of billable work each person should work on based on their technical and legal expertise. Likewise with business development activities, there should be careful consideration of each person’s skill set and preferences. Individual goals can be identified by leveraging an individual's strengths. This means identifying areas where the individual has a specific skill or expertise and setting goals that are complementary to those strengths. For example, someone may be more disposed to attend networking events than someone else.

- how to motivate them

Motivation is key to help each person take consistent and incremental steps towards their business development plan. People can experience stress, anxiety, frustration and setbacks as they work on their business development plan so support from management to stay motivated is important.

Knowing these four things about each team member will allow leadership to find the best way to support them to contribute to the firm's growth. Each individual’s growth plan should dovetail into the overall firm's plan. Individual plans should have a shared vision and shared values of the firm’s goals.

Although each individual and various service lines will have their own sub-plans, the shared vision and values will foster team work and collaboration – consider the tsunami of joint effort rather than independent trickles.

3 Provide opportunities, resources, budget and time

Once the overall strategy has been developed and individual plans created, the firm will need to provide the tools needed for individuals to take action. The overall firm plan should outline how the firm will allocate resources, such as personnel, time, and budget to execute its business development strategies.

Law firms should provide training and development programs that help develop the skills needed to be effective business developers. This may include training on networking, client relationship management, and effective communication.

There should also be access to client data and analytics. This information is important to help identify potential business opportunities and develop targeted marketing strategies.

Law firms, particularly larger firms, could also provide marketing support to help develop and execute effective marketing strategies. This may include providing templates and guidance for creating marketing materials, and providing resources for promoting the firm's brand.

Law firms will also be needed to provide access to various business development opportunities, such as invitations to networking events, client meetings, and opportunities to build personal brands and visibility. This includes budget to travel as needed, attend events, join organizations, etc.

The firm should leverage technology to streamline business development processes and make it easier for lawyers and staff to execute the plan. This may include using customer relationship management (CRM) software, marketing automation tools, or social media platforms.

Finally, time is always a pressure on fee-earning members so it will be important for firm leadership to ensure required billing targets permit members to spend time on non-billable business development activities.

4 The role of accountability

The firm should hold individuals accountable for their contributions to the business development plan. This includes setting individual performance goals including milestones to gauge progress. Leadership should conduct periodic review meetings to measure progress and to both provide and solicit feedback.

Periodic reviews should include reviewing performance metrics and milestones, evaluating individual activity, progress and contributions. Flexibility is a key characteristic of business development plans and the regular reviews may further include updating the firm's business development plan as needed. During the periodic reviews, it will be important to consider the possibility of revising strategies, reallocating resources, or refining tactics based on performance data.

The firm should recognize and reward individuals and teams that contribute to the firm's business development efforts. This can include financial compensation, promotions, and public recognition. This will require the firm to look beyond billable hours to determine compensation. Taking action should be rewarded regardless of outcome.

The feedback review process needs to be done in a culture fosters a safe environment where failures can be discussed as learning opportunities.

Overall, a business development plan for a law firm is a critical tool for setting priorities, managing the firm's resources, and identifying strategies to achieve its growth goals. Successful execution of a law firm's business development plan requires a collaborative effort across the firm, with everyone working towards the common goal of achieving the firm's goals. When leadership shares the firm's business development plan with firm wide, it can help to ensure cohesiveness, create accountability, encourage collaboration, support professional development, and increase engagement. By aligning individual goals with the firm's goals, using performance metrics, identifying areas for improvement, leveraging individual strengths, and conducting regular reviews with team members, a law firm can identify individual goals that contribute to the firm's overall business development efforts. By providing the resources individuals need to action their own individual business development plans, law firms can support their lawyers to do business development effectively and efficiently.

By taking these steps, a law firm can ensure that everyone is working in alignment with the firm's goals and contributing to its business development efforts. This helps to create a culture of accountability, collaboration, and shared success across the firm. This helps to build a strong business development culture within the firm, and can ultimately drive growth and profitability.


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