Prepare to make yourself uncomfortable in 2011

I need to repent. I tell everybody to keep their blogs current, update regularly and to take ownership of their blogs. Between a death in my family, National Law Journal articles and the holidays it has been over a month since my last blog post. I’ve missed it, so I’m back- mostly because I have something I’d like to discuss.

Why is it so hard for lawyers to get out of their comfort zone? The answer seems obvious, your comfort zone is comfortable, it’s easy, you don’t ever have to rock the boat. So while we like to BE in our comfort zone, the prospect of staying their for a long period of time scares us. And frankly it should. We all want success in life, we all want to achieve our goals – but unfortunately many aren’t willing to pay the price or sacrifice their comfort to get there.

To help us escape our comfort zone there is an important principle called spaced repetition. In order to change your behavior, you need to practice the new behavior over and over spaced out over time. (Think free-throw shooting in basketball.) This seems boring and monotonous, but it is the only way to learn new behaviors. Failure to repeat a task over and over is responsible for our missed new year resolutions, failed exercise plans and failed marketing efforts. To keep things simple, lets talk about one behavior that if lawyers could master, would make them more successful in 2011:

Talking to strangers.

In order to make social media work for you, you need to be willing to bring online conversations offline. Set up a phone call, meet for breakfast or grab a cup of coffee. This is not just a tactic to try out, it needs to become a behavior. When you meet someone interesting online it needs to become second nature to set up a time to chat offline. The only way for you to get to a place where it will become a behavior is by practicing. So here are a couple of tips to help take conversations offline and make these first few conversations meaningful.

(Keep in mind, theses steps are for once you have already had a conversation with a person online. You have broken the ice somewhat, so your email won’t come out of nowhere.)

Step 1: Send a personal message to the individual requesting a time you might chat on the phone. Mention that you want to hear more about what they do and get a better understanding of what types of clients they are looking for.

Step 2: If they are interested in having a conversation, email them back with 2 possible dates and times that work for you. If you say you are free anytime in the next week, not only will it come across that you don’t have any business, but people also have a hard time picking a random time- studies have shown limiting their choices to just a couple will force them to accept one of them or if they are too busy for either they will simply suggest a couple of other options.

Step 3: First rule of the first phone conversation: resist the urge to talk about yourself. Second rule: resist the urge to talk about yourself. You want to find out about them, because as you probably know, people enjoy talking about themselves. You can build more rapport by asking good questions and listening than by merely trying to impress. In building rapport you want to ask two key questions here- first, what do you do? And second, what does a good referral look like to you? Or more basically, how will you know if one of your contacts is a good referral for this person?

Step 4: When the individual you are speaking with is done talking about themselves they will inevitably ask you what you do, and what types of clients you would like referred to you. Be prepared to give concise answers that focus on the problem you solve and how they can recognize an individual that would be a good referral for you.

Step 5: Follow up, and keep in touch with your new found contact.

These five steps are just one way in which you can talk to strangers and begin to build more business in 2011. Most importantly though, practicing these steps over and over will help to develop behaviors outlast the month of January. What once made you uncomfortable will eventually become routine. Any other ideas on talking to strangers? Feel free to share.

Also, check out my latest National Law Journal article: 5 Business Development Priorities for 2011

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