One step forward and two steps back

Today’s title is a line from the Don Henley song, “A Month of Sundays,” which laments the loss of small farms and businesses to “progress.” Lawyers tell me that business development sometimes feels like a constant struggle, with sustained forward motion being elusive. They take a productive BD step today, then do nothing for a few days or a few weeks. Their feeling is accurate.

If you’re not moving forward continuously, you’re falling behind; your markets and competitors aren’t standing still. If your business development is episodic or random, rather than consistent and sustained, you can’t escape the effect or the feeling. Do you do something to interact with your market every day? Not “most days,” or “frequently,” or worse, “occasionally,” but every day?

Yeah, yeah, I see the excuses coming. “I’m swamped with work.” “I’m in the middle of a big case (or transaction).” Really? And when that’s concluded, will you be sitting around with nothing to do? Will you not have to bill any hours then?

A lot of billable work is either your norm, or the norm that you aspire to. The point is that billable work is not an excuse to defer pursuing business because it’s not an aberration, one that will go away, suddenly freeing you to pursue business development like a madman.

Dig the well before you’re thirsty

“Dig the well before you’re thirsty” is a Chinese proverb (and later a networking book by Harvey Mackay). It reminds us that you can’t wait until you need work to seek work. If we want to have work next month, next quarter, next year, we must do things now to make that happen.

When you’re really busy, do you neglect personal hygiene? Do you eschew showering, or brushing your teeth? It’s not something you think about; you just do it, every day, no matter what. A few years ago, in a blog post titled I meant to brush my teeth, but I was too busy, I argued that BD must become hygiene, i.e., something we do every day, no matter what.

“Think time” vs. “do time”

Business development requires a mixture of time spent thinking and time spent doing. The scarcity is “think time,” not “do time.” No matter how busy you are, you can carve out a few minutes a few times each day to do something: make a call, send an email, read something. The problem is that unless you’ve already thought through who you want to call or email, and what you have to say that they’d thank you for saying, when those few minutes become available you’ll be paralyzed, wasting the time trying to decide what to do.

To exploit interstitial time, you have to have done the thinking and preparation ahead of time. It’s this “think time” that’s scarce. It can’t be done in a few minutes, nor suddenly because, well, it requires thinking.

Enable a hygiene approach to BD to prevent one step forward and two steps back

  1. Set aside an hour this weekend, maybe on Saturday morning in the quiet time before the rest of your family gets up and begins the chaos of a day.
  2. Think about who you’ve been meaning to get in touch with.
  3. Make a list, including email addresses and phone numbers. (Otherwise, you’ll waste your few minutes of “do” time looking for the contact info.)
  4. For each, define what you have to say that you’re confident they’ll welcome amid their busy day.
  5. If it’s a call, write your opening declaration of purpose. This will become your voice mail if you don’t reach them.
  6. If it’s an email, write the opening declaration of purpose and save it in your Draft folder.
  7. When you have a natural stopping point in your case or transaction, or simply need to take a break, make one of your calls, or complete one of your emails and send it.
  8. If you have time for two, do two.
  9. Repeat as often each day as circumstances permit, but never allow it to be zero.

This obviously isn’t a complete BD discipline. It’s a Band-Aid, but it will help you integrate BD into each busy day, and form habits, so that your one step forward isn’t followed by two steps – or two weeks – backward.


RainmakerTVMike O'HoroMike O’Horo is a co-founder of RainmakerVT, a very special service through which lawyers learn by doing in a virtual world.

Mike may be contacted by email at and follow him on Twitter: @rainmakervt.

One step forward and two steps back was first published on Mike’s blog on April 25, 2017.

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