There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the [heck] is water?”
I read that anecdote in a Wall Street Journal adaptation of the commencement speech David Foster Wallace made several years ago at Kenyon College. It’s amusing, but it’s actually a great teaching story that provokes an important question …
Are you living in an environment
that you’re not really aware of,
just because you don’t know
it could be different?
Environment is critical to success, whether it’s success in business or in life.
We all know that a good effort to lose weight starts with emptying the pantry of sugary sodas and potato chips and stocking it instead with water and oatmeal. If you’d like to learn more about current events, you’ll probably choose to spend time with others who care about important world events and read the Wall Street Journal rather than to spend your time watching E! and talking about Honey Boo Boo.
Environment is often a significant but unappreciated factor for business development success.
Let’s look at four examples.
1. How do your systems support business development activity? Do you have a system for putting business cards you collect while networking into your database and following up with your new contacts, or is it catch-as-catch can? What’s your system for tracking business development activity so you can be sure you’re fulfilling the commitments you’ve made and to track the outcome of your actions?
Systems create your personal operating environment. When you create and use a system, you’re creating consistency, and consistency in business development is absolutely critical for success. Ask yourself whether you have strong systems for the key aspects of your business. If not, get to work to correct that problem.
And don’t get sucked into thinking that systems have to be big or involved to be effective. One of my most successful systems is to review my calendar each afternoon, then to review call strategy forms for the next day’s clients along with my notes from our previous meeting.
Taking that time the day before a client appointment not only orients me to the conversation, but it also gives me mental time to reflect and prepare. Simple and much more effective than planning to do that work “sometime” before each appointment.
2. What do you do and say about business development? The leadership you provide matters on two levels: the integrity required for self-leadership (do you do what you promise yourself you will?) and leadership of others.
Ask yourself: How fully do my actions reflect what I’d like those I lead (most especially myself) to do? I once worked with a lawyer who encouraged every person on his team to undertake daily business development activity so the practice could grow. Unfortunately, despite the promises he made, this lawyer didn’t like to network, was too busy to meet people one-on-one on a regular basis, didn’t consider himself to be a great writer or speaker, and—in short—didn’t do anything he encouraged his team to do. The practice didn’t grow, and even worse, the lawyer undermined his credibility with himself (by breaking his promises to grow the practice) and with his team.
3. How does the way you spend money support business development activity? It’s possible to build a solid book of business without spending a lot of money, but if you think you can do so without spending any money, you’re kidding yourself. Make smart investments in growing your business, which might include
- joining appropriate groups
- subscribing to key publications
- hiring a coach or consultant to help you uplevel your marketing, build opportunities, and address obstacles.
Cut your investments too much, and you’ll stunt any opportunity that comes your way. (Be sure that you can determine an investment that will deliver returns—marketing, for example—as compared to a cost that you won’t be able to recover, such as attending a conference even though you can’t expect to meet potential clients or collaborators or to learn something you will implement in your business.)
4. How do you approach business development spiritually? Do you come from faith or fear? You’ll find that when your business activity is divinely guided, you’ll be aligned and more successful. Note that “successful” refers to more than money, and ask yourself what your definition of success is. Money is a deep topic, often especially for Christian entrepreneurs, and it’s wise to be clear on what you’re aiming toward.
What do you notice about the environment you’ve created?
And who serves as your “older fish” to point out the environment that you can’t see?
About Julie Fleming
Julie A. Fleming, JD, ACC, principal of Lex Innova Consulting, teaches lawyers to use innovative and effective measures to build a strong book of business and a lucrative practice. A former patent litigator, she is the author of The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling, Seven Foundations of Time Mastery for Attorneys, and the forthcoming Legal Rainmaking Myths: What You Think You Know About Business Development Can Kill Your Practice,as well as numerous articles focusing on topics such as business development, practice management, work/life balance, and leadership development. Before launching her consulting business, Julie practiced law for over a decade in firms of 3 to more than 2100 attorneys, specializing in patent litigation. A graduate of the Emory University School of Law, Vanderbilt University (B.A.) and Georgia State University (B.S.), Julie is a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and currently serves as Vice Chair of the ABA Section of Science and Technology Law.
Jory has invited me to write on how to grow a solid business, and I’d love to hear your questions! What frustrates you? What challenges would you like to transform into opportunity? What are you curious about? Comment on this post and/or send your questions directly to Julie@LexInnovaConsulting.com. Please let me know you’re a friend of Jory’s. Can’t wait to hear from you!