We are all self-employed

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I heard from the lawyer who prompted my first post about the costs of opening your own law office. He said he realizes he will likely always be low man on the totem pole at the firm that employs him and says “we all need to own our own shop”.

He offers this advice to the lawyer I wrote about yesterday who also wants to go out on his own: “View the job as a temporary gig–a placeholder until he gets some of his own clients. [C]lient development comes first. The job–the boss–comes second. That mentality and your advice have made a tremendous difference in my life.”

“Marketing is everything” has always been a plank in my law-practice-building platform and it is as true for employees as it is for the self-employed.

It is also a corollary of my position that we are all self-employed.

You may currently work for a firm but if you have the ability to attract clients, you have the power. You can take your marketing skills and those clients with you to another firm or open your own.

If you work for a firm, think about things from their perspective. They can always hire attorneys to do the legal work and if that’s all you do, no matter how well you do it, they can always replace you. What they can’t replace is your ability to bring in lots of clients and keep them happy.

You either do this or you do not. If you don’t, you shouldn’t expect your employer to pay you more than is required to keep you from quitting.

They’re not going to pay you more because they like you or you’ve been with them a long time. We still live in a capitalist society. There are no unions for lawyers. Your compensation is proportionate to the value you bring to the firm.

If you want to earn more and have other benefits afforded to the partners, you have to do more. If you do, and you still aren’t compensated at the level you deserve, pick up your marbles and go play somewhere else.

Because we are all self-employed.

Marketing is easier when you know The Formula

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You know the answer, you just need someone else to say it

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I heard from an attorney who has been practicing for 15 years and is thinking of leaving his job with a law firm where he feels like he’ll always be the low man on the totem pole.

“I want to start out on my own. My wife [an attorney] is against this; we have 4 kids and a mortgage and she makes considerably less than I do.” He’d read my blog post about the costs of opening your own office but wanted to know more about actual costs. “I need a business license, insurance, an office, and a decent computer system. What’s your estimate for starting up?”

Here’s what I said:

“Okay, setting up the office is the easy part and it’s not expensive. You can get a furnished executive suite or take a spare office from another attorney in return for appearances or overflow. If you have a laptop computer that does what you need, you’re in business. If you don’t, you can finance one for next to nothing from Dell.

Insurance can wait. (That’s not legal advice). So can a lot of other things. One nice thing about low overhead is that it doesn’t take much to stay afloat.

The hard part is the family. You have to work that out. Your wife is scared and perhaps she has a right to be, but most people don’t understand “the itch” and aren’t willing to scratch it. So you have to have a long talk. Or a series of talks. And if you can’t get her on board and you still want to do this, you may have to do it without her permission. And then work your butt off to bring in lots of business.

Sometimes, when I’ve taken big scary leaps in my career, I first asked myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Will I die? End up in prison? Lose my house? Lose my wife? End up homeless, penniless, on drugs and wanting to die?

When you think about the worst case scenario in all it’s overly dramatic splendor, you realize that most of this is highly unlikely, and whatever does happen is probably something you can survive. Bad things may happen, but you probably won’t die, and as they say, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.

Whatever you decide, don’t second guess yourself. Stay or go, but don’t look back.”

He wrote back and said he’s going to talk to his wife and will keep me posted.

But here’s the thing. He’s a smart guy and surely knew I couldn’t give him an estimate of how much he would need to open his own office. But that’s not the real reason he contacted me. He was reaching out because he’s nervous about the whole idea and wanted to hear a friendly voice who had been there and done that.

Here’s the other thing. I’m sure he also knew the part about making the leap with or without his wife on board. He knew it but needed me to say it.

We all know more than we realize we know, don’t we? But we don’t always trust what we know.

Sometimes we use logic to guide us to the right decision. Sometimes we throw logic out the window and let our gut get us past the fear so we can do what we want to do.

When you face big a decision like this, it’s good to talk to someone who’s been down that path. They can provide information and encouragement and ask you questions that allow you to sort things out. You could also pray on it, write in a journal, talk to experts, and do a lot of research.

But while these might be the mature way of handling things, sometimes you just have to jump and see what happens. As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing.”

I’ve made many leaps in my legal career and with businesses I’ve started. Things didn’t always work out but I never wound up homeless and I always learned something about myself and about the world I was able to use down the road.

So am I saying you should do what you want to do even when there are lots of reasons why you shouldn’t?

No. I’m not saying that. You are.

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Suggested marketing budget for lawyers?

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Yesterday, I talked about the need to establish a marketing budget for your practice. A reader emailed me a link to an article with a similar theme. The author was speaking about technology companies, not law firms, but makes a good point about the vital need to invest in marketing:

“You need to be the best marketer in your marketplace to succeed in today’s Internet world. You need to spend at least 15% of your revenues on marketing and sales, and preferably over 20% of revenues to really grow.

If you do not spend at least 15% of revenues on sales, and more on marketing, then your company will have a very difficult time not just growing, but even surviving.”

This doesn’t mean lawyers must follow the same guidelines. Tech companies and law firms are as different as night and day. While I can’t tell you what percentage of your revenue you should invest in marketing, at least not without knowing your current situation and goals, I can tell you some of the factors I would consider:

  • Your current gross and net income. How much do you have available for marketing after overhead, debt service, and other fixed costs of doing business?
  • Your practice areas, current marketing methods, and budget. What results are you getting? (i.e., traffic, leads, percentage of sign-ups, etc.)
  • Your average fee per case or client. Are they typically one-time clients or clients with ongoing legal needs?
  • The lifetime value of a client. How many times will he return, how much will he spend, how often will he refer?
  • Your target markets. (Niche markets are usually easier and less expensive to reach.)
  • Your ideal client and the costs to attract and court them. (Big companies, for example, might involve more expensive presentations, wining and dining, and a longer time frame. If you advertise, your cost per client is likely to be higher than other marketing methods.)
  • Your competition. How many other lawyers or firms do what you do? What marketing methods do they use? How much do they spend?
  • Your experience, reputation, and USP? How are you different or better? How easy is it to market you?
  • Current marketing resources: in-house talent, size of your email list, websites/blogs, social media following, etc.
  • Your credit worthiness. Can you finance your marketing with a line of credit at favorable rates? If you advertise, note that many publications offer generous credit terms.
  • Your attitude towards marketing. Do you like it? Are you good at it? How aggressive are you?
  • Other offices, practice areas, lawyers in your firm? Can you amortize or share marketing expenses?
  • Your goals. How many? How fast? Do you want high volume or high quality? Where do you want to be in 5 or 10 years?

Lawyers tend to have big margins (i.e., the size of the average fee vs. the cost to deliver the service), which means you can probably justify a bigger investment in marketing than you currently spend. Don’t forget to include the lifetime value of a client in making that calculation.

Depending on your practice areas and primary marketing methods, you might find that you can do just fine with a modest marketing budget. If you get most of your business through referrals, for example, you don’t need to spend 15 or 20% of your gross on marketing. If you want to grow bigger and faster, however, or you’re in an especially competitive market, you just might.

Whatever other marketing you do, you should focus on referrals

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How much is your marketing budget?

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How much do you budget each month for marketing? If the answer is “zero” you might want to re-think that because it means you’re doing all of your marketing yourself or you’re not doing it at all.

While marketing professional services cannot be completely outsourced or delegated, there are many tasks that can.

And if something can be delegated, it should be.

So you need a marketing budget to hire talent, buy tools, and generate traffic to your websites. You should also have funds available to take advantage of opportunities when they arise.

Just as a separate bank account for savings makes sense, it’s good to have a separate bank account for marketing. It’s also wise to fund your account with automatic deposits from your general business account.

You should set up this account even if you’re not yet sure how you will spend the money. Putting $100 or $200 a month into your marketing account (to start) will not only allow you to have the funds available when you decide what to do, watching your fund grow every month may “force” you to find ways to spend it.

My daughter gave me a gift card for my birthday and I immediately deposited it with Amazon. I haven’t spent it, but it’s burning a hole in my digital pocket. Knowing the money is there means that every time I log into Amazon I go looking for something to buy.

The same thing will happen as you accumulate funds in your marketing account.

Knowing you have the money available, you’ll think about marketing more often. You’ll consider doing things you may have previously rejected or put off. When you’re busy doing legal work, your subconscious mind will be working on marketing ideas, and prompting you to take action.

What about budgeting time for marketing? After all, so much of marketing professional services–networking, speaking, relationship building, (some) writing, and other things you can’t delegate–require your time.

Yep, you can budget for this, too. Just as you can set aside regular time for personal development (e.g., 15 minutes a day, an hour a week), you can (and should) do the same for marketing.

Don’t dabble with marketing or try to do everything yourself. If you want to build a successful practice, you have to invest in it. I can’t tell you how much to budget for marketing but anything more than zero is a good start.

Get a marketing plan with this

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If I could save time in a bottle

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You know the wisdom of putting money into a saving account or retirement account each month, and not touching it. In five or ten years, or twenty, you’ll have a sizable nest egg.

If you’re not doing this already, the easiest way to start is to have your bank automatically deduct a certain amount each month and move it to a savings account. When it’s done automatically, you don’t think about it.

It’s a simple way to “pay yourself first”.

Start small if you must, with an amount you won’t miss. Even $25 or $50. You can increase the amount down the road.

Saving money isn’t difficult when you pay yourself first. You just have to start.

Now if it were only possible to do the same thing with time.

What if you could put away an hour or two each month, to be used at a later date? You wouldn’t miss those hours, and in five or ten years, you’d have enough time saved up to be able to take major vacations, retire early or spend time with someone you love.

Okay, that’s not possible. But you could do the next best thing.

What if every month you invested a few hours in yourself? It’s called personal development. The more you do, the more valuable you become. If you do it regularly, in a few years you may be good enough to earn fifty times what you earn now. A few years more and you may have enough money and passive income to be able to do whatever you want with your time.

If you do it regularly, in a few years you may be good enough to earn twenty times what you earn now. A few years more and you may have enough money and passive income to be able to do whatever you want with your time.

But first, you need to invest time to work on yourself. The easiest way to do that? Automatically.

Use your calendar to schedule time for personal development. You can schedule 15 minutes a day, or an hour a week, but whatever you do, you should do it regularly and automatically.

Without thinking about it.

If you calendar an hour every Friday at 4pm for personal development, you must keep that appointment with yourself.

Read, watch training videos, learn something new. Spend time with people who can teach you things about business and life. Learn from them and observe them so you can model their attitudes and behaviors.

If you do this regularly, the time you invest in personal development will have a tremendous payoff down the road. Five years from now, you’ll look back at the person you were when you began your journey and you’ll be glad you decided to pay yourself first.

Get good at getting referrals

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Thinking is hard but it pays well

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If you have multiple practice areas or offer a variety of different services, which one or ones do you promote?

Your best sellers? Your weakest? Your most profitable?

Do you lead with a low priced “entry level” service, seeking to create a new client, and then offer additional services through upsells and on the back end? Or do you lay out all of your wares up front and let the client choose?

If you advertise, which service(s) do you feature? Or do you offer information to build your list and talk about specific services only after they subscribe or inquire?

What do you highlight on your website? When you speak or write, what examples do you use? When someone asks you about your work, what do you say?

If you are a family law attorney, handling divorce and adoptions, but you’re not getting much adoption work, do you double your efforts and promote that or do you continue to advertise and promote divorce? Or do you do both?

Even if you have one practice area and offer one service such as plaintiff’s personal injury, you still need to decide where you will focus. Do you list a variety of different injuries, types of torts, or causes of action, or just one?

These are things you need to think about because they are fundamental to your “brand” and to how you conduct your marketing activities and spend your marketing dollars.

They are, of course, also an argument in favor of specializing. It’s a lot easier to make decisions about where to advertise or network or speak when you offer fewer services to a smaller segment of the market.

But I’m not going to bust your chops about that today. I’m just going to remind you to spend some time pondering these things and making some decisions.

You thought I was going to give you the answers? Sorry. No can do. It’s too complicated. There are too many variables. You have to answer these questions yourself.

All I can do is ask the questions and encourage you to explore your options.

I can also point out that the ultimate way to answer these questions is to test and measure your results.

Run ads for two different practice areas or services and see which one brings in the most inquiries or leads, which one converts to the most dollars on the front end, and which one results in more profits long term.

So you advertise your divorce services and your adoption services and see.

Testing allows you to make a decision based on hard evidence. That’s the “science” of marketing.

Of course marketing is also an art. Don’t ignore your instincts or your heart. If you think your market is ready to learn more about adoption, or you’re passionate about the subject, go for it. Even if the numbers don’t add up.

For help sorting things out, get this

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Write it once, use it forever

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I’m sure you have a welcome letter you mail to new clients. You probably also use some kind of “memo” or form to accompany mailed documents, along with check boxes to indicate what the recipient should do (e.g., sign and return, review, etc.)

Form letters save time and reduce the risk of errors or omissions and I encourage you to create them for all aspects of your practice.

Gmail has a feature called “canned responses”. Outlook and other email applications have something similar. They allow you to create email templates or “form letters” you can use instead of composing an original email each time, or copying and pasting paragraphs or whole emails from another document.

Go through your “sent” emails for the last 60 or 90 days and look for “frequently sent emails,” whether originated by you or sent in response to an inquiry. Flag them for creating canned responses.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • I got your email (and will reply soon/this week/after I review your questions)
  • Thank you (for coming in, calling, returning documents, for your help)
  • Here’s what to do/expect (what happens next, watch your mail, please call me, don’t forget to send us)
  • Answers to FAQs (hours, parking, fees, practice areas. Provide answers and/or direct to pages on your website)
  • Marketing inquiries (do you accept advertising, guest posts; I’m available for interviews)
  • Checking in (with clients, former clients, networking contacts)
  • Nice to meet you (after a networking event, introduction, phone conversation)
  • Announcing (new content on your website, firm news, new laws/regs)
  • Promoting (your newsletter, your ebook, your seminar, your podcast or youtube channel)
  • Reminders (next appointment, court dates, due dates)
  • It’s time to review (your lease, trust, corporate docs, agreements, legal status)

In addition to complete emails, you can set up a “library” of frequently used paragraphs, links, and subject lines.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to set up different “email signatures”.

For prospective clients, your signature might promote a free report or free consultation, invite them to connect with you on social, or invite them to review specific pages on your website. For existing clients, your signature might invite them to sign up for your “clients only” email list or cross-promote other services offered by you or your firm.

Using canned responses, form letters, and checklists might save you 30 minutes a day, or more. How much would that be worth to you over the course of a year?

Leverage is the key to earning more and working less. More

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Who are you? Who who who who?

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I used to talk about how clients use the yellow pages to choose an attorney. I said it was often a matter of chance because the client would open the book and see page after page of listings, most of which looked and said the same thing.

In fact, most of the ads were interchangeable. Take the name and contact information from one attorney’s page and swap it for another attorney’s page and nobody would be the wiser.

And that’s true today when it comes to websites. Or TV ads, brochures, articles and blog posts, and everything else most attorneys put out into the world.

It’s all the same. Most attorneys in a given practice area offer the same services and make the same promises and nobody stands out. Clients might as well close their eyes and point to the first page or listing or article they see. At least that’s how they feel about it because there are scant reasons provided for choosing one attorney over the others.

You need to give people those reasons.

Tell them why you’re different and better and why they should choose you instead of your competition.

But there’s something else you should do. If you want to stand out you need to show people not just what you do but who you are.

People want to know if you’re someone they will like and trust. They want to know what it would be like to work with you.

Because people buy YOU before they buy your services.

So talk about yourself. On your website, blog, newsletter, in interviews and ads, talk about your background, family, and hobbies. Show them what you look like and sound like. Mention your favorite sports team, and your favorite type of restaurant.

Share your views on popular topics in your niche market or community. Tell them your philosophies for building your practice, your exercise habits, or your favorite productivity apps.

Talk about what you did for a living before law school, or what you studied in school. Do you play a sport? Are you a big Star Wars fan or do you prefer Star Trek?

Don’t firehose them. A photo or two, a paragraph or three, is all you need.

Show them who you are because who you are is unique, even if what you do is not.

More on how to stand out–here and here

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Um, could you be more specific?

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I got an email today that had a link to an article with this headline: “Don’t make these 5 common legal mistakes”.

Not bad. It makes the reader want to know what those mistakes are so they can see if they’re making them. It appeals to curiosity and promises a benefit. It also invokes fear because if these are common mistakes, there’s a good chance, the reader thinks, that they’re making one of them, and because these are legal mistakes, they could cause serious grief and financial loss.

But while this is a good headline, it’s not good enough. Not today, anyway.

Most consumer and general business publications have this type of article and your reader has lots of other pressing things on his or her mind.

So no click.

The headline isn’t good enough because it’s not specific enough.

Let’s say I’m a good prospect for your practice and you wrote this article. If your headline promised to show me, “5 common mistakes made by California homeowners,” I might lean towards clicking because I am a California homeowner. Your article might earn my attention because it is obviously targeted to me, rather than “everyone”.

But it could be even more specific, and thus almost irresistible. If it promised to reveal “5 common mistakes made by California homeowners when filing their tax returns,” since that’s on my mind right now, I would almost have to read your article.

My point is that most headlines (email subjects, etc.) aren’t specific enough to cut through the morass of messages that come across everyone’s field of vision on a daily basis. Specifics will almost always get you more clicks and eyeballs.

It’s true that the more specific you are, the more you will appeal to a smaller number of possible readers, but that’s the point. The readers you do appeal to will be more likely to respond.

I’d rather have ten people read my article than 100 who thought about it but didn’t. I’d rather have five people who would make a good client for my practice read my article than 50 people who wouldn’t.

So, with all things marketing, as with all things legal, your challenge is to find the sweet spot so you can maximize your results.

You don’t need (or want) to appeal to “everyone”. You want to appeal to your ideal client, and you want him or her to immediately understand that that’s exactly what you’re doing. To do that, you have to be willing to give up everyone else.

This will help you identify your ideal client

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How to get your clients to advertise your firm

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Would you spend $30 on a client who agrees to advertise your firm?

If so, how about giving your new clients a collared polo or golf shirt, with your firm’s name and website on the breast, as a welcome gift?

If you hand out 100 shirts this year, that’s 100 people walking around town advertising your firm. Your clients aren’t a passive billboard, however, they are interactive. People will ask them about the name on their shirt and your clients will say nice things about you.

If you get one or two new clients this way, you’ll cover your investment. The rest is pure profit.

Of course, that’s just for this year. Most people continue to wear clothing after one year, especially if it still looks good on them. And every year they wear it is more “free” advertising for you.

Yes, you could buy $10 t-shirts instead, but some people don’t wear t-shirts and t-shirts are unlikely to hold up as well. But t-shirts can work, too.

Make sure you give shirts to your staff. If you have casual Fridays, office parties, or other firm events, everyone should wear them. You too.

You can give shirts to former clients, networking friends, and people in your office building you’re friendly with, especially if they work in an office that targets clients and customers who would be suitable for your practice.

You could also order a smaller quantity of more expensive “Tommy Bahama” style shirts and use those for special clients or special occasions (e.g., awards, milestones).

Have fun with this. Take pictures of people wearing your shirt and put them on your website. Hold drawings or contests and offer a shirt as one of the prizes.

Oh yeah, in case you’re wondering. . . I take an XL.

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