Fly-fisher’s guide to business development

Topics: Law firm & practice management

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  • Sue Bramall

When trying to win new clients, preparation and patience are required.

At the end of a hard week in the office, weather permitting, there is no better way to unwind than to pack a picnic and head for a river with my fishing rod and some optimism. Having met a number of fly-fishing lawyers and legal marketers recently, I got to thinking of the parallels between fly-fishing and successful business development.

Right time - if the fish are not feeding, then it does not matter what fly you try to tempt them with as it will not be of interest. Similarly, a happily married couple will not be interested in a divorce, a sole trader will not need employment law advice. Understanding feeding patterns is akin to understanding what triggers a need for a particular service. It is also important to understand that most of the time people do not need legal advice and are not looking for it. Lack of response to your marketing approach is not a personal rejection – usually just a case of bad timing.


Right place - when you become familiar with a river, you come to know the places where the fish lie and so where you stand the best chance of catching one. Similarly, as you understand your marketplace, then you will identify the best places to encounter and entice your potential client. 

When choosing where you start to fish, reduce competition by keeping away from any other fishers on the same beat – try to find networking opportunities that are not already overpopulated with other lawyers

As you watch the river when you are not fishing to spot where the fish feed and rest, so you should keep a close eye on your target market so that you understand their habits and can predict their needs.

Right lure - just as you need different flies for salmon or trout, so certain clients will be more attracted by one marketing approach than another. For example a mobile phone app may appeal to a Generation Y client, whilst the baby boomer still prefers a white paper.

Timing the hatch - there are times when you can anticipate a (frenzy) of feeding and, with the right fly, you hit the jackpot. Similarly there are times when there is a rapid growth in the need for legal advice on a particular issue, such as the introduction of new regulations. Anticipation and preparation means that you can benefit if you have the right solution to offer at the right time.

Fly on the water - despite having all the right equipment and spending hours watching the river, you will never catch a fish if your fly is not on the water. Dreaming up great ideas and preparing (but not completing) marketing initiatives will never generate leads unless you get your material and yourself into the market – brochures in boxes will never make the phone ring, and you cannot build strong relationships from your desk.

A quick response - is required when you feel the slightest tug on the line or you can lose your fish. Failure to respond to an enquiry, can see a potential client go elsewhere to find a more enthusiastic response.

Patience is a virtue - many experienced fishers will recount periods when hours, days, weeks and even years have been spent without a significant catch before the triumph of landing that mighty salmon. Through good weather and bad, high and low rivers they persevere and learn from their blank days. Business development can be like that, with huge companies and contracts taking many years to reel in.

Relax and enjoy even the blank days - once you realise that no day should be considered a failure, just a step on the learning curve or a step forward in a working relationship, then you can relax and enjoy your marketing and business development activities.

Of course the analogy only goes so far. Whilst fellow fishers will usually share which flies are working for them on a particular day – you shouldn’t go sharing the secrets of your marketing and business development successes.

Tight lines.

Sue Bramall is managing director of Berners Marketing and advises law firms in the UK and overseas

Readers' comments (4)

  • More words you'd never thought you'd hear yourself say: "all the cool kids are fishing"...

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  • How about worms? Trout go bonkers for worms.Or know...cheating?

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  • The trouble with worms is that where there are trout there are generally eels, who are equally attracted to them. So perhaps the best option is a kernel of sweetcorn with a shred of silver paper - equally deadly to trout but of no interest to eels. And yes, it is cheating, but after a long fruitless day....?

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  • This is a very good analogy of the mix required. Fundamentally, if you are not identifying and talking to your prospects, you are nowhere. Talking to prospects at the right buying level is vital and using an intelligent resource to break these doors down will reap its rewards. Happy Hunting and fishing to all!

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