There are many striking commonalities between being a good golfer and being a good rainmaker, five of which are described below:
1. Know Your Handicap(s) –
Golf uses a handicap system that “evens out” the playing field (i.e., the golf course) for all levels of players. The better golfer you are, the lower your handicap. Handicaps start from 0 (those with zero handicaps are referred to as “scratch” golfers) to a high of around 40. Not only is it important to know your handicap, but if you want to become good at golf, it is important to establish a handicap through an accredited body like the USGA.
Handicap(s) in business development do not even out the playing field for lawyers. Instead they create challenges and possible detriments. Whether aware of them or not, ALL lawyers have and face handicaps in every single new business development situation. The most common handicaps are the lack of knowledge or understanding of “the playing field” and “lay of the land” and the key skills needed to succeed in different opportunities and in different situations. For example, the decision-making process for selecting outside legal services within each company or entity varies considerably, so creating and using a people-map in advance can help. Other handicaps lawyers face when working to develop business include the variances any client can perceive between what one lawyer or firm brings to the table versus competing lawyers and firms. A very common yet hidden handicap is any unconscious bias that may come into play when working to develop business with a specific person or company. For example, a “GenX” general counsel may have an unconscious bias against “Baby Boomer” lawyers.
As a lawyer wanting to be a better rainmaker, for each situation, ask yourself these questions as they apply to you: What are my handicap(s)? Which ones am I aware of? What handicap(s) might I have that I am not aware of? Using a proven rainmaking coach can help with these and many other issues, hurdles, and challenges.
2. Concentration –
Being “in the moment,” undistracted, and focused is important for success in golf and in developing new business. A major factor in the results you will achieve in either is a direct result of the degree and level of concentration you have and maintain throughout the game of golf and/or the process of developing new legal work (which is a proven process, part science, part art).
3. Career-Long Skill Development –
Some key skills needed to excel at golf include your swing, short game, and putting, none of which is possible to ever completely perfect (Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods - arguably the two best golfers ever - missed many putts over their careers). Few people are born as “naturals” in golf or rainmaking, and even those born as “naturals” must continue to enhance, upgrade and improve their skills over the course of their career. Embrace the fact that “perfection” is an elusive objective both in golf and in developing new legal work. No one will win them all.
4. Find Your Own Recipe for Success –
There is no “one size fits all” or simple solution to becoming a great golfer or a great business developer. There are many paths and avenues to success. Keys to success in either are knowing your objectives (how good of a golfer/business developer do you want to work to be?); making concerted efforts toward your objectives; creating and using disciplined preparation; regularly practicing; and finding and utilizing an effective coach.
5. Work Smarter to Win –
In golf, depending upon how good you are and other factors, putting can be 50% or more of your strokes. Yet most golfers “warm up” or practice on the driving range, when the weakest yet most important part of the game is the “short game,” i.e., putting and chipping. At most golf courses and practice facilities, the driving range is full of people while the practice green and chipping green are empty. Why? It’s more fun to hit 300-yard drives than it is to stand on a putting green and make 3-foot putts into the exact center of the hole, making the ball roll barely over the front of the cup and drop in. That’s why a winning golfer’s maxim is "drive for show and putt for dough."
The same is true for lawyers wanting to develop new business. Most lawyers focus the majority of their available business development time on speaking, presenting, attending conferences, and writing. Each of these activities increases visibility and may develop business, but not as productively as other means. The fact is, almost all new legal work is awarded either during or shortly after a private, one-on-one or small group meeting or conversation, yet most lawyers do not spend time focusing on improving their “sales” conversations and related approach and habits. Spending available time most productively (i.e., working smarter) is key to becoming the best rainmaker and/or golfer you can be. Great coaching can assist with these challenges.
*The author gratefully acknowledges the generous contributions, advice and edits for this article provided by her two brothers, father, and uncle, each of whom is a “scratch golfer” and excellent business developer.
About the Author: Julie Savarino is an attorney, rainmaker coach, and one of the world’s most highly recommended “sales” and business development coaches and consultants for lawyers and law firms. If you like this post, check out and "like" Julie’s new Facebook page @therainmakercoach where she will be posting useful and valuable "sales" and business development tips and content for lawyers, law firm marketers and law firms all year long!