Imagine going to a networking event where you know everyone there and you’re totally comfortable and at ease.  It’s local and at a convenient time that doesn’t interfere with getting work done. Even better, everyone there is a potential referral source and no one is worried you’re going to hit them up with a sales pitch. Would you want to go to a networking event like that?  Maybe a better question is: who wouldn’t want to go to a networking event like that?  The good news is: You’re Invited!

Believe it or not, this amazing networking opportunity is happening right now at your office. Networking with colleagues at your place of business is one of the easiest, and most overlooked, ways to expand your practice and the best part is that it’s low stress and high return.  Not only are you able to hone your rainmaking skills before a friendly audience, you will find that your network of referral sources (not to mention your book of business) will grow almost effortlessly. We call this “Business-based Business Development” (BBD).  While it can (and should) happen as naturally as having an impromptu conversation with a co-worker, the key to successfully leveraging your rainmaking efforts at work is to approach BBD with the same degree of preparation and strategic planning as you would any other networking activity.  You need to know what you want to say, how you plan to say it and have a plan for what you’ll do after these conversations to get the most rainmaking bang for your BBD buck.

Before getting into the “how” of BBD, let’s focus on the “why.”  BBD is an excellent precursor to collaboration and cross-selling.  Cross-selling (where your partner introduces you to his client to provide additional services) is an excellent outcome from BBD, but the ultimate goal of BBD is collaboration.  When you and your partners collaborate to work together as a unit to deliver cohesive legal services involving multiple specialties, everyone’s practice benefits with increased revenues. A recent study by the Harvard Law School Center on the Legal Profession found that:

“[r]ainmakers who systematically involve other partners in their work benefit by significantly growing their books of business in coming years. … [B]y teaming up with colleagues from different practice areas, your colleagues understand what you have to offer—and that makes them more likely to refer you for matters down the road” (Gardner, Heidi K. Collaboration in Law Firms. Harvard Law School Center on the Legal Profession: The Practice,  Vol. 1, Issue 6, September 2015).

The study proved empirically that “the more practices that are involved in servicing a client, the greater the annual revenue that client generates” (Gardner, 2015).  Imagine increasing your revenue simply by taking the time to build relationships with your colleagues which foster the understanding and trust needed to refer business with each other– without ever attending a single awkward, anxiety producing cocktail mixer!

With this in mind, let me ask you a question: can you describe the ideal client of any of your partners? Do you think your partners could describe your ideal client? The first step in BBD is being able to clearly describe who your ideal client is so your partners will know exactly what type of work to refer your way.  Describing your ideal client is a bit like your elevator speech: it should clearly explain the type of work you like to do and the type of client you like to work with.  Spending the time to flesh out your ideal client description so you know what you want to say while developing relationships with colleagues will not only benefit your BBD efforts, it’s a critical first step for all rainmaking endeavors.  After all, until you know what type of fish you’re fishing for, how can you know where to drop your line?

Another key to successful BBD is remembering the golden rule of networking: networking is putting two people together for their mutualbenefit.  It’s not just about telling your partners who your ideal client is, you also need to learn who their ideal client is.  Being in a position to truly understand the type of work your colleagues do will enable you to refer work their way, as well, creating a relationship built on mutual benefit and enhancing your chances of collaborating.  Moreover, the best rainmakers practice the subtle art of “tell me how I can help you” which puts their listener at ease, allows them do most of the talking and leaves them with the feeling that they’ve gotten more out of the conversation then they’ve given.  Not only will actively seeking to learn who your partners’ ideal clients are provide a natural conversation starter, approaching your partners with a natural curiosity about their work will ensure they look forward to chatting with you when you stop by their office or run into them in the elevator.

Finally, you need a plan for how you’ll put all this great BBD to work for you.  Simply getting to know your partners’ ideal clients won’t necessarily make it easier for you to collaborate and refer each other business unless you systematically build and nurture those relationships over time.  An easy way to do this is to set up a list (on a spreadsheet works well) of the partners you want to talk to and then update it with when you spoke, what you spoke about and any next steps.  So much of rainmaking comes down to consistently following up and following through, so have a plan for when you’ll follow up with your partners and be on the lookout for ways you can collaborate and refer work.

Rainmaking isn’t just wooing clients at fancy dinners or mingling with strangers at conventions.  BBD with your colleagues is an excellent way to increase referrals and revenue.  Indeed, collaboration is the tide that raises all ships.  This month, I challenge you to pick 5 partners and have a conversation about ideal clients.  I am confident you’ll be glad you did! If we can help you zero in on who that ideal client is that will grow your business—or answer any other BBD questions—please reach out for a complimentary strategy session.  After all, we’ve been helping professionals succeed at rainmaking for over twenty years at Maraia & Associates and we’re rooting for your success.