At a recent MBL seminar on “Developing and sustaining your private client practice” a delegate said that while she found the day really good, she had so many ideas that she didn’t know where to start. So this blog post is for her.

1. Understand the numbers

Make friends with the folk who produce the numbers at your firm.

Understand the financial situation of the firm and the various departments. What has happened in the past? What are the plans for the future? Is your team expected to grow at the same rate or faster than other teams? If you are in a multi-office environment, get to grips with any financial differences between the teams.

Get to grips with the economic engine of your business. Look at your work (or that of your department) over the past three years. Which were the biggest/most profitable cases? What drove the highest profits? Where did these cases come from? Are there any patterns or similarities in the nature of the work you have attracted in the past?

How much time and money is available to help you grow the business?

2. Set some goals so you can measure progress

Find out what contribution you are expected to make – in fee terms and also in profit terms (gross margin). Consider these figures for at least the next three years.

Make some decisions about the extent to which this income will come from existing compared to new clients. Break down the goals into manageable steps. Are you going to aim for a few small but lucrative cases or many smaller value cases? Maybe you need a different blend in year one to what you expect in year three.

As well as goals against which to measure your progress (do you have the relevant systems to obtain the information you need to monitor this?), you may need some short term process or milestone indicators. So, for example, if you know that you need to build relationships with five new referrers in order to generate the right sort of work from two of them you can consider the steps you need to take to develop those five new relationships as bite sized goals.

3. Study the market

Some people select a chunk of the market based on geographical basis (what is near to our office?). Others will adopt a more focused approach to their segmentation – selecting a smaller group of potential clients who have some shared characteristic (e.g. stage of their life cycle, some aspect of their assets, the particular issue they face etc). This process of segmentation is important as you are unlikely to have the resources necessary to compete in the mass market.

During the course we look at many tools to analyse the market and help develop a segmentation strategy. See here for a reminder:

An important idea is to consider the needs of the market first – and then consider how you are best equipped to meet that need. It may be that you need to package up and/or price your service differently. You may consider developing a new “product” (such as an online service or a smartphone app) to meet the need instead. Or you ma

4. Decide on your message

There is a link between the market you are targeting and the client needs you intend to meet and your message.

But you also need to consider how you will stand out from the crowd. How will you differentiate yourself from other professionals offering similar advice and services? What do you want to be famous for? What three or four things would you like people to think about when they hear your name? Is it the same internally as externally? Is it the same in different segments of the market?

Maybe you need to allocate six months to “becoming famous” for a couple of things and plan a later campaign to build on other aspects of your expertise.

In social media circles there is the idea of “brand me” – that you, as a person, embody a set of values and attributes that you promote through various channels. You should also consider what the key words and phrases that people might use to search for your expertise on-line.

5. Choose how you will promote yourself

There are a myriad of ways to promote yourself and we discuss many of them on the course. Your choice of the right mix of activities will depend on a number of things. First, what is appropriate for your market? Some markets are heavy users of social media and others depend more on face-to-face networking. Others are more tricky to reach and you have to work with third parties such as their accountants and other financial advisers in which case your strategy will concentrate on referrer and relationship management. In many cases, your colleagues in other departments are an important source of work so your focus might be on internal marketing.

The second factor is your personal strengths and preferences. Some people, because of their lifestyles, are unable to spend time networking in the evening. Others may enjoy using social media. Some may have a talent for writing great material – either for articles in the media or for blogs. Others may prefer nurturing and collaborating with a small group of fellow professionals.

The third factor will be resources. Some promotional methods (for example advertising) require a lot of cash. Others (e.g. digital marketing) require specialist expertise. And others (e.g. personal networking) require a lot of time.

6. Position yourself in the market

There are some things you need to do to position yourself in the right market with the right message.

Like your team description and biography on your firm’s web site. You should certainly take a look at your LinkedIn profile (and while you are there, you should consider a mini-plan to start connecting with your existing clients, referrers and contacts and checking that the relevant people are also in any database that you might use to send e-mail alerts or newsletters in the future).

You might also consider what content you need and in what format. Some people may often present talks to groups of referrers or clients – can these be edited into short SlideShare presentations or made into videos? Do you need to prepare a series of articles that can be used for an internal communications campaign, with the local or specialist press or in an existing or new blog? Of course, there is possibly a need for a short leaflet for your colleagues to give to relevant clients and referrers.

Maybe there is an issue that is important to your target clients and you intend to undertake a thought leadership campaign? See

7. Write a simple plan

At this stage you will have done a lot of analysis and made a number of decisions. As I explain in the course, you cannot possibly attempt to do everything. The keys to a good strategy are focus and choice. Find out the core challenge and select a few activities that tackle the heart of the issue. Less is definitely more.

It would be a good idea to draw these ideas together in one place and organise your thinking. So build a simple plan. Not only will this help you remember what you need to do next (and why) but it will also show your supervisors and colleagues your intentions – so that they can help where possible.

During the course we looked at a format that answered the questions – Where am I now? (an analysis of the current situation) Where do I want to be? (your goals) and How will I get there? (your decisions about what you will do).

We also considered the value in building a campaign plan – where you blend the various activities to ensure that you move through the pipeline of profile raising, lead generation, sales conversion and relationship development. After another course on the same subject, I provided the following blog on developing a business development campaign which might provide further insight:

8. Just do it

The plan or campaign is just the start. Now you have to go out and do the stuff that you planned.

You will need confidence. Perhaps this is something you can improve by doing some training or acquiring some coaching. Some people find it easier to work as part of a team – to share the load and to also allow each person to play to their strengths. Others may seek out a mentor either within or outside their team – someone who they can confide in, pick their brains or even shadow.

But there is no alternative but to take some action. Small steps are fine. Just tackling one business development activity is a good start. But your success will depend on the extent that you can sustain this effort over time. Marketing and business development rarely work overnight.

My most recent book “Rainmakers and Trailblazers – Step-by-step guide to Business development for lawyers” provides more detail on each of the steps.