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Attention Associates: How To Create
Your Personal Sales and Marketing Plan


By Beth Marie Cuzzone and Catherine Alman MacDonagh           

With all the demands placed on associates — by partners, clients, families, friends, community work — how do develop your personal marketing and selling skills in order to build your book of business? The answer: You must have a plan. Here's a road map (including a business plan worksheet) to help you design your own plan — today.

associates guideThis article is excerpted from: The Law Firm Associate's Guide to Personal Marketing and Selling Skills - By Beth M. Cuzzone and Catherine Alman MacDonagh, published by ABA Press.
Related Free Download: pdf Business Plan Worksheet

Each associate has vastly different needs depending on many variables, including years of practice, firm size, resources available and geographic region.  In all situations, the time you take up front to determine who you are, with whom you want to spend your time, where you are going, and how you are going to get there should not be underestimated. We urge you to create a simple business plan — not just once, but annually — in which you will determine where you focus and how to spend your marketing and selling time. 

It’s About You

As you begin drafting your plan, remember that it isn’t “one size fits all.” Also, set yourself up to succeed. That way, you’ll be rewarded, you will gain confidence and you will want to do it again. Don’t push yourself too far too fast. Your life and career are marathons, not sprints. Finally, keep in mind that since it’s your plan, you are completely free to revise it at any time.

We have provided a form for individual business planning purposes in this chapter. It is comprehensive, but you should feel free to choose the elements that are appropriate for your experience level, practice, firm size, comfort-zone, time you are willing to invest, personal and professional interests and so forth. In other words, consider the form a starting point that you can personalize for your own use.

Once you have planned your activities, lock in deadlines and other important dates on your calendar. When associates are just starting to work with administrative assistants, they sometimes overlook them as a valuable source of support and information. Ask yours to help keep you organized and efficient. Your assistant may also be well positioned to share suggestions and best practices that specifically apply to you.

The SMART Plan

We’ve all heard the phrase: “plan the work and work the plan.” Your individual business plan does not need to be some formal document, since substance is more important than form. However, your plan does need to contain “SMART” goals. SMART is an acronym that stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely (sometimes the “T” stands for “tangible”).

Specific: In order to focus your efforts, you must first decide and then very clearly define what it is you are going to do. It sounds simplistic when you first think about it, but it can be difficult to actually do.

Your plan should address what you want to accomplish, what you are going to do, and how you are going to do it. It should also have timelines that indicate your commitment (to yourself) to get it done by a certain date. We all know the power of deadlines.

Measurable: You must measure it so that you can manage it. It is important to set measurable goals and determine concrete ways of evaluating your progress for each one. You will gain a real sense of accomplishment as you make incremental progress. This is as important for staying on track as it is for your confidence and success in maintaining your efforts.

Attainable: When you identify the goals that are most important to you, you begin to figure out ways you can realize them – you develop a vision. You also may begin seeing previously overlooked opportunities.

If you make the mistake of setting goals that you just can’t reach, then you won’t truly commit to them.  The net effect is you will have prevented yourself from being successful. Some lawyers fall into the self-fulfilling prophesy of failure this way. With that said,however, you should definitely reach and stretch yourself.

Realistic: It is important to realize that nothing is going to happen quickly. In addition to the fact that there is a learning curve involved, developing a network and clients takes time and attention. So your annual and mid-term goals must be realistic for you and where you are in your life and career. Pick goals that you can attain with some effort – aim too high and you set the stage for failure, but aiming too low sends the message that you aren't very ambitious.

Timely: Set a timeframe for the goal. Putting an end point on your goal gives you a clear target to work towards.  If you don't set a time, the commitment is too vague and invariably, the goal will not be reached. Without a time limit, there's no urgency to start taking action now. The time element must also be measurable, attainable and realistic.

Example: SMART Goals

Compare the first-stated goal to the SMART goal that follows it and note the differences:

Goal: To have a successful personal injury practice.

SMART Goal: My personal injury practice will reach $250,000 in annual revenue in three years. I will accomplish this by:

How to Identify Prospects

Identifying where to start and who to target can be challenging. First, inventory your contacts (see checklist below) and get your database of the people you know into shape. This is a MUST.  A good contact list is the cornerstone for most (if not all) of marketing and selling efforts. Contacts are everyone you know,  have ever met and will meet. Everyone is a prospect, or a  client and/or a referral source!

Contacts include:

• Family
• Friends
• Neighbors
• Classmates from college, law school, high school,  etc.
• Other lawyers
• Business people
• Community/charitable/religious/other organizations
• Acquaintances

Capture as much information as you can about your contacts – basic information such as address, phone numbers and email address are critical, of course. But also include where you met the contact or how you know them, especially if they were introduced to you by someone else—don’t rely on your memory. Also, we suggest categorizing your contacts as a prospect, client, or referral source. Some lawyers like to have separate categories for family and friends too.

In Chapters 4 and 5 of the book, we identify many ways to leverage your marketing successes and to stay in touch with people in your network. Investing your time to have a well organized and maintained contact list will save you time and energy in the future.

Next, use this list to identify prospects. Do this by determining who has direct or indirect influence with people and organizations that are likely to need the legal services you provide.  Be overly inclusive to start and recognize that the earlier it is in your career, the more unlikely it is that you will land a “big fish.” Remember, your main task is to plant seeds.

A key question at this point is how to define the limits of your search for clients.  For example, if you specialize in banking and finance, should you limit your list to organizations that focus on a single specialty such as syndicated lending, investment banking or structured finance?  Or should your list of potential clients include them all?

This is an important question, and the answer must be determined case by case, depending on a realistic assessment of yourself, your experience, the firm’s ability to sell to sub-markets, the resources available for selling, and so forth.  It may also be affected by the geography of your competition.  In cities like New  York and Chicago, where there are many competitors, you may need to focus on a narrower niche.  In smaller cities, it may be more practical to aim broadly.  

When the time comes to move from strategy to tactics, you must compile a list of the names of people to contact.  A firm that chooses investment banking, for example, could start with a list of the organizations in their geographic area (since it may be easier to develop relationships with people who are nearby), then figure out whom to approach in each.

Success in business development demands prioritization, and it is easy to spend too much time with the wrong people. Too often, the people who have the most time for golf and lunch are the people with no need for your services, or have no budget to pay for them.

Therefore, to identify prospects that are worth pursuing, lawyers must narrow down the list to focus their time on the prospects that are most likely to engage the firm within a reasonable period of time.  If it does not appear that this is likely, you must move on to the next candidate. 

This can be hard to do, because once one has invested time in building a relationship, the natural inclination is to be optimistic this will lead to new business.  This is further complicated by human nature:  when you develop a genuine liking for someone, it can be hard to cut back on a business relationship even after it becomes clear that they are not likely to buy. However, keep in mind that this contact may serve as a valuable referral source.

In any event, periodically review and assess your list; prioritization is an important step in any successful campaign.  Once it is clear that a person is not going to retain you (or your firm) in the short term, or they are not going to be helpful to you in building your business, you have a decision to make. Consider demoting that contact from the short list of people who receive your proactive and regular attention, such as valuable “face time,” and moved to the longer list of people you can stay in touch with in a more efficient way.

The Value of Current Clients

When lawyers first think about selling, many immediately start planning how to find new clients.  But selling begins at home, and they would have much greater success if they focused first on the clients they already have. Experts agree that regardless of business or industry, it’s much easier to sell to people who know you and have already hired you than to sell to strangers.

You might think that as law firms increase their marketing budgets and hire more business development and marketing professional staff, they would quickly get to the point where their current clients were well taken care of and would no longer be a good source for additional revenue.  This seems to be logically inevitable, but it hasn’t happened yet.  American Lawyer Media’s (ALM) 2006 Law Firm Business Development Practices survey found that in 2006:

“The largest share of growth by far is from selling more of the same work to existing clients.  Selling new work to existing clients and selling work to new clients, each account for much less revenue growth on average.”

One way to get started with your current clients is to schedule “off the clock” meetings to learn more about their business needs.  At a minimum, this will help build a relationship and protect you from competitors. 

In sum, always begin with your clients. Active pursuit of new prospects should be left to year two or three of a plan.  It’s more efficient and a better business investment to make sure that you have penetrated your current client base, are providing as many services as you can to each one, and have created clients who are first satisfied and then loyal before you start spending your time and money on people who don’t even know you.

In today’s competitive environment, other law firms are working hard to take your best clients, so you will need to put in more effort to protect what you have if you want to keep it. 

Measuring Progress

Obviously, there’s a difference between activity and results. To ensure success, you will periodically need to assess whether what you have been trying is working.

Whether you track your activities in a client relationship management (CRM) tool, Outlook, Excel or on a legal pad, there is one critical thing your “To Do” list must be: in a format that you will keep up to date.

Measurements of progress can be subjective or objective. In terms of the former, for example, you might rate your progress about how your relationship with a contact identified in your business plan is progressing, such as whether you’ve established rapport and built trust. Or you might rate how well you think you understand what is going on in that contact’s business or industry. However, objective metrics are also important, as well as somewhat easier, to use.

Measurements of Success

• Conversion rate - the number of meetings you had with people to number of people who hired you;

• Number of meetings with targeted contacts;

• Number of new contacts added to your list;

• Number of activities to build relationships.  Remember, it takes an average of six – eight contacts before a prospect becomes a client.

• Billable and billed hours for a particular client

• Fee receipts (all associates should learn basic finance terms like realization rates)

• Originations

• New clients

• New matters

• Proposals and win/partial win rates

• Number of lawyers who participated in client pitches

• Referral rates

• Formal measures of client satisfaction and loyalty

• Percentage of the work in your practice area you have for each client (market share)

• Percentage of the client’s total legal budget that is paid to you and your firm (wallet share)

Sample Business Plan

The sample plan (Download PDF here: pdf Business Plan Worksheet) is intended to serve as a guide, to stimulate your thinking and to give you a ready-to-edit form. Not every item in each section will be relevant to you or possible to include.

We stress that the main point of doing a plan is SUBSTANCE, not FORM. It’s about the steak, not the sizzle. Over the years, we have seen too much time wasted on creating well conceived, nice looking plans that, once finished, only gather dust on a shelf. Nothing is going to happen if you put all your energy into creating a beautiful plan. The plan is supposed to keep you moving forward. That is why it is so important for your goals to be SMART and for you to take action.

One thing that helps is to keep your plan where you can see it and refer to it when unexpected (but attractive) opportunities arise. This way, your plan stays “top of mind,” plus you have a benchmark against which to gauge these opportunities. You can always change your goals, but too often, we have seen efforts diverted by the “bright, shiny object” phenomenon that results in a failure to achieve any goal.

We know a lawyer that kept her goals posted right on her computer monitor. This helped her to remain focused but also allowed her to be flexible enough to seize unforeseen opportunities - if they helped her achieve her goals. Naturally, she was very successful.

Some final pieces of advice before you embark on this planning journey. Build time into your calendar for planning. For example, schedule time at the beginning of each quarter to review your plan. You don’t need to take more than 15 minutes to do this. Schedule at least 30 minutes to measure your success at the end of each year. Afterward, make an appointment with yourself at the end of the year. Take at least 1 hour to create your plan for the following year, allowing enough time to pass so that you have reflected on your progress before doing so.

Start strong. Choose one or two approaches to start with based on what you’re best at and what you enjoy doing:
• Networking
• Writing articles
• Blog
• Public relations
• Speaking
• Teaching

Finally, if you are planning for the first time, keep it simple. Outline a straightforward plan for the next six months.  The goal is to maximize the number of people you reach from your target audience.  Try it for six months, and then revise the plan.  Ask mentors and others you trust and respect for their input.

legal sales bookThis article is excerpted from The Law Firm Associate's Guide to Personal Marketing and Selling Skills - by Beth Cuzzone and Catherine MacDonagh. To learn more about this book or to order a copy, please visit or call 1.800.285.2221.

Also available on

© Catherine Alman MacDonagh and Beth Marie Cuzzone.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission.

April 2008.            Bookmark and Share

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