An attorney I’ve known for many years asked me to create a workshop on confidence. She recommended that I read “The Confidence Code” by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. Although the book was written specifically for women, I found that much of the information and advice applies to many of the lawyers I have coached, particularly relating to their engagement in business development. While my clients are highly competent at practicing law, they tend to feel less confident about their abilities to build a book of business. Many of them know what they should be doing to acquire new clients, but the lack of confidence prevents them from taking action. It turns out that action is an important component of confidence. In fact, one of the messages that is repeated throughout “The Confidence Code” is that “Confidence…is about action. It also takes repeated attempts, calculated risk taking, and changes to the way you think.”

In discussing the work of psychologist Zach Estes, Kay and Shipman said his studies show that “the natural result of under-confidence is inaction…when we hesitate because we aren’t sure…we hold ourselves back…fear of failure led to inaction, thus guaranteeing failure.” As with so many things in life, one of the “tricks” of biz dev is simply to take action. When you take action, you will create more confidence for yourself. When you attend a networking event, you create an opportunity to make a new connection. When you make the follow-up phone call or send the follow-up email, you give yourself a chance to develop a relationship. When you agree to speak at an industry conference, you demonstrate your expertise and increase your visibility to potential clients. Each action gives you more confidence, and the more practice you have, the more skillful you become.

I often talk about developing the habit of engaging in biz dev. Like all good habits, it can be difficult or challenging at the beginning, but with repeated effort, you become more sure of yourself. Not surprisingly, that competence also makes you feel more confident. Each success encourages you to take further action. Then an important shift takes place, according to Nansook Park, a leading expert on optimism and a professor at the University of Michigan. “Optimism is the sense that everything will work out,” she says. “Confidence is, I can make this thing work.”

It might surprise you to learn that one of the things that may keep you from taking action is perfectionism. Martial artist Bruce Lee, who seemed to have super human abilities and was able to move in seemingly impossible ways, had this to say: “…if you are cursed with perfectionism, then you’re absolutely sunk. This ideal is a yardstick which always gives you the opportunity to browbeat yourself, to berate yourself and others. Since this is an impossibility, you can never live up to it…It hides under the mask of ‘self-improvement.’ It never works.” Although he reached a level of perfection that few martial artists achieve, it is clear that he continually took action. By attempting impossible moves and taking risks, he became more confident about his ability.

Moving From Inaction to Action

The only certainty in life is change, so even though you can’t predict the immediate outcome of your business development efforts, it’s important to take action. Here are a few simple suggestions.

  • Contact one potential client about scheduling lunch.
  • Complete an RFP even if you aren’t sure you will land that client. If you don’t submit the RFP, I can guarantee that you won’t get the work.
  • If you have joined an association, attend the next program.
  • Take a few minutes to send LinkedIn invitations to people who should be part of your network.
  • If you have committed to following up with any client, potential client or referral source, send those emails or make those calls today (especially if you made the commitment weeks ago).

Experiment with the suggestions above. Notice what happens. You just might experience a feeling of confidence.