New clients: the be all and end all

Lawyers are increasingly being judged on their ability to win new business and convert it into long-term clients, thus effective new business developers (or rainmakers) are in high demand. Research has shown that winning new clients takes persistence, systems and hard work. It takes an average of 18 months and/or six independent ‘contacts’ with your prospect before you will win your first instruction from it. Add to this the fact that successful rainmakers rate their chances as only one in five (or worse) of converting a tangible business lead into new work, and the statistics are startling. However, with the right system in place it is possible to make winning new clients both achievable and a positive experience. Create a small team and set a realistic goal, such as ‘win one new client in 2005’ or ‘bill £X,000 in new fees’. A team approach will also give you a forum to discuss issues. Then decide what you’re really good at. Do you or your colleagues have unique legal know-how or do you understand a particular industry inside-out? Can you undertake legal work to a better standard for less money? This will give you a list of markets where your services are likely to be well received and where you will outshine your competitors.

Door openersNext, identify issues within these target markets that can ‘open the door’ to decision-makers. Has a significant event occurred within the industry sector? Is the sector affected by regulatory changes? Or is a company changing, eg the appointment of a new board or a move into a new market? Door openers provide you with a reason for contacting the client and the platform to present your expert skills.

Narrow down your target listThink about the criteria you can use to create a list of the hottest prospects so you don’t stretch yourself. Use criteria such as personal contacts, the probability of winning them over or your track record to pick out 10 targets per team member.

Set objectives for each prospectEach target will have a different set of circumstances and potential needs, and these must be reflected in the way that you approach each one. By setting simple objectives for each target you will give yourself manageable, bite-sized chunks to make progress on. Objectives should be realistic, such as phoning a particular person each month or meeting them for lunch.

Review your progress regularlyMeeting on a regular basis enables you to review progress and change your objectives if something material occurs. It will also give you a supportive boost if things aren’t going to plan. Delegate task responsibilities to other members of the firm and get colleagues involved and interested. Record the progress you are making and circulate it around your firm.

Making an organised and thorough attempt to win new clients is far more likely to succeed and will bring benefits to you and your firm. Sixty-five per cent of successful rainmakers have a system in place to track the new business opportunities they are working on and all of them allocate a portion of their time each week to regular business development activities. It also pays to be persistent, focused and to break big goals up into smaller ones. By recording the amount of non-fee-earning time you spend on this work, you will also be able to demonstrate a return on the fruits of your efforts.

Matthew Record is director of Record Associates