What skills does a lawyer or accountant need for business development?

28 Jul 2020

When we talk to the solicitors, accountants, patent attorneys and barristers we work with about business development (whether they’re getting started or wanting to get better at BD) one of the topics we’ll invariably get on to is what’s required to be good at business development.

Hopefully it will come as some relief that there are many answers to that question (depending on your practice, your audience and your own skills and preferences).  Better still, all of those answers are not linked in some way to being an extrovert who’s never more comfortable than when they’re selling their wares in front of an audience!

For us, the skills you need for business development break down into 4:

1. Curiosity

As a professional adviser your job is to deliver solutions.  How can you do that if you don’t totally understand your clients, the markets you serve and - most importantly - how what you do fits in with both?

This is where a bit of curiosity works wonders. 

Firstly, find out about your clients.  How do they use your services?  Why do they use your services? When do they use your services?  What other services does your firm or chambers offer that they should be using?  What else should you be doing to make sure they get the best possible service and the highest value every time you work together?

Secondly, find out about your markets (and this is equally important whether you define your market by geography or industry sector/s).  What’s happening?   What’s in the news?  What are the trends shaping your markets?  What’s likely to happen next in your markets?  How will what you do help your clients either sidestep likely issues or take full advantage of potential opportunities?

Relevance is credibility.  If you can talk to your clients along these lines you will not only deliver better work, you will also create a springboard for the future growth of your practice because you’ll increase your client retention (and, most likely, their annual spend) and increase the number of client referrals you receive.     

2. Communication

Again your job is to deliver solutions but irrespective of how technically good these solutions are, you won’t get far if you can’t communicate the key points accurately and attractively.

Think about what you do from your clients’ perspective.  Then work out how best to articulate the benefits you can offer in plain English that those outside your profession can immediately grasp.

And remember, communication doesn’t just mean spoken and/or in person.  It means in writing if you are more comfortable writing blogs and articles for your website or for the local or trade press.   It means from the podium at conferences or seminars if you like a bit of public speaking.  It means through the lens or through a microphone if you’re happier doing a video or a podcast.

3. Commerciality

Your clients want your solutions but they also want to make sure that the benefit of your advice far outweighs the cost of your advice or involvement.

Always think about what you are doing and why before you suggest a way ahead. 

Do you understand exactly what your client is trying to achieve so you can put together the most valuable strategy or just steam in with what you think they want?

Do you need to bill every minute or is there a better way to price your services to insulate your ongoing relationship?

Do they really need the text book answer or can you come up with a quicker, more cost-effective solution?

Do you need to charge at all for an initial piece of advice?  Or will investing a little time now land a bigger prize down the line?

Commerciality isn’t about what you bill now; it’s about how much long-term value you can add from now.    

4. Confidence

Your clients want to see you believe in what you’re telling them. 

Part of that will come from the previous 3 points – if you understand what your clients want, know how to articulate how you can meet those requirements and act commercially, the job’s pretty much done.  However, you also need to deliver all of that confidently.  This means you need to concentrate your business development in the channels you are most comfortable with.

If you like networking, network.   Whether you’re at a formal event or just catching up in a coffee shop or a pub, your ability to chat will leave a positive impression of you and your firm. 

If you like writing, write.  Your perspective, approach and natural turn of phrase will impress your audience.

If you’re happy on stage, chase speaking slots.  It’s the most effective way to influence a whole room at once.

But what do all of those activities have in common?  They’ll only work if you’re totally confident in the delivery so choose wisely ...

... and honestly!   

If you’d like to discuss how you can refresh your personal business plan, please email douglas@tenandahalf.co.uk and we can find a convenient time to chat.


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