If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough

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I was watching auditions for The X Factor. One of the thousands of people who showed up for a chance to become a star was asked what she thought about the seemingly impossible odds of winning the competition. In response, she said, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.”

I immediately wrote that down. And then I thought about it. I thought about how most people play it safe. They give up on their childhood dreams and reconcile themselves to the pursuit of sensible goals.

What fun is that? How likely are we to achieve greatness when we settle for so little?

I have a dream. Something I’ve wanted to do since I was a wee pup. (No, not sing.) But I decided a long time ago that my dream was not possible, that even trying would have to wait.

I talked myself out of following my dream because the whole idea was frightening. What if I fail? If I don’t try, I can’t fail, so it’s better that I don’t even start.

The fear we feel when we contemplate our dreams tells us our dreams are important. If we didn’t care deeply about the dream, there would be no fear. We would shrug it off as a passing fancy.

What dreams are you afraid to pursue because you are afraid or because they seem impossible?

Chicago architect Daniel Burnham famously said, “Make no small plans for they have no power to stir men’s blood”.

Make no small plans. Thing big and take big chances. Get excited and get busy, because even if you are a spectacular failure, you’re still spectacular.

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A simple legal marketing plan

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I like simple. Simple is easy to understand, easy to remember, and easy to do. So when it comes to writing a legal marketing plan, you guessed it, it should be simple.

Here’s that plan: “Two a day”.

Talk to two people a day who are in some way connected with your target market.

Examples:

  • Call a lawyer or other professional you don’t know and introduce yourself
  • Call a professional you haven’t spoken to in a long time and ask how they’re doing
  • Hand out your card to someone you meet in line for coffee
  • Call a former client, “just to say hello”
  • Invite a prospective client to coffee or lunch
  • Call a blogger in your niche and compliment something they wrote
  • Call someone who just got hired or promoted and congratulate them
  • Call new business owners and ask if they would like a free copy of your business report
  • Call the head of an organization and ask if they need a luncheon speaker

You get the idea.

The only rule is, you’ve got to call or speak to them in person. No email.

Why call? Because a professional practice is about the people. Not paper, not electrons. Flesh and blood people who can hire you or recommend you to others. Reach out and connect with enough people and you will never want for business.

If they’re not in, it’s okay to leave a voice mail message. Let them hear your voice, your sincerity, your lack of agenda.

Talk to two people a day. It should take you a minute or two, plus the time to decide who to call. If you don’t know who to call, call every one of your former clients. Or get a directory from a bar association, chamber of commerce, or business networking group and call through their membership list.

Two a day doesn’t sound like much but in the course of a year you’ll speak to more than 500 people.

At the end of each business day, before you go home, ask yourself, “Did I do my two today?” If you did, great. You’re working your plan. If you did not, pick up the phone and call someone.

For a slightly more robust, but still simple legal marketing plan, get this

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When you want “out” but can’t afford to quit

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You want out. You can’t take the practice anymore. But you’re making too much money and can’t see a way to replace it.

You’re stuck.

No, not really. You’ve got two options.

The first option is to do something on the side. A small business, something you could do part time. If it takes off, in a few years, you could have your ticket out.

That’s what I did when I wanted out of my practice. Over a period of three years, I wrote a marketing course and started selling it. It took a long time to get everything in place, but once I did, I was earning enough income to wind down my practice.

Today, the Internet gives you many more options. You can run a business from your smart phone, with little or nothing invested up front. This allows you to get into profit a lot quicker than a traditional business.

You may not have any idea about what kind of business you could start, and that’s okay. Use your lunch hour to begin exploring.

The second option is to take up a hobby. Seriously. Find something you enjoy doing and start doing it. Let your hobby provide the sustenance that is missing in your practice. See your practice as a way to finance your passion. No matter how bad it gets during the day, you know you have something you love to look forward to at the end of the day.

Maybe you love to paint. Do it. Take classes. Meet other painters. Go to art museums. When you find yourself stressed out at work, paint something. When you have a spare moment or two, read art magazines. Fantasize about being a great painter, or owning a successful art gallery.

There’s no pressure to earn income from your hobby. You do it because you love doing it.

But here’s the thing. Many a new career has been born from the pursuit of a passion. Don’t expect it, or try to make it happen. But don’t be surprised if it does.

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Successful attorneys do what unsuccessful attorneys aren’t willing to do

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In an interview, billionaire John Paul DeJoria (Paul Michell hair products, Patron tequila) was asked about the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people. He said something you may have heard before: “Successful people do all the things that unsuccessful people don’t want to do.”

When DeJoria was a young man working in a dry cleaning shop, this meant doing things he was not hired to do like sweeping floors or cleaning shelves. His employer noticed his initiative and gave him a raise.

What about attorneys? What is it that unsuccessful attorneys are unwilling to do?

Or, putting it another way, what is it that successful attorneys are more willing to do, or do more often?

Of course the answer is different for everyone. You may do things in your practice that other attorneys would never consider. You may look at something the attorney down the hall does and shake your head.

We each become successful in our own way. But we must ask ourselves what we might accomplish if we were willing to do things we have not been willing to do before.

Like what? You tell me.

Make a list of things you don’t or won’t do. You can add the reasons if you want. Here are some suggestions:

  • Advertise (I might lose money, it is undignified, it is unethical, it is not permitted)
  • Go out at night/take time away from my family (networking)
  • Do any marketing/sell (I shouldn’t have to, it’s not professional, I don’t have time)
  • Hire employees (Cost, compliance, risk, headaches)
  • Delegate (Risk, easier to do it myself, nobody can do it as well)
  • Take work home with me
  • Adopt new technology (Time, I’m old fashioned, the cloud is risky, cost)
  • Engage on social media (Many reasons)
  • Start a new practice area (I shouldn’t have to, learning curve, competition)
  • Open an office (Cost, I like working from home)
  • Work from home (I like to be around people, clients need to see me in an office)
  • Open a second office (Cost, risk, time)
  • Commute more than thirty minutes (Time, cost, stress, health concerns)
  • Move to another city
  • Work longer hours
  • Read outside of my field (Time, not interested, not needed)
  • Take a certain type of case or client
  • Operate in an ethical gray area

Next, go through your list and look for things you might be willing to re-consider. Think about some attorneys you admire. Are they doing any of these things? Perhaps you could ask them how they manage it. Did they have to force themselves to start? Do they do it today even though they dislike it? How has doing this helped them reach a new level in their practice?

You might find something you’re willing to do that you previously rejected. You might find yourself excited about something you have only done halfheartedly before. And yes, you might find that your unwillingness to do something is justified; you’re now convinced you won’t do it.

At least now you know.

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What to do when people ask you for free advice

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Do people ever ask you for free advice? Of course they do. So, what do you do about it?

Do you tell them to make an appointment? Give them the speech about “all a lawyer has to sell is his time and advice”? Or do you answer their question and hope you’re not wasting your time?

I have another suggestion. In fact, if you agree with my suggestion, you will no longer dread calls or emails asking legal questions or seeking free advice, you will encourage them.

The next time someone asks for your advice, don’t answer them over the phone or in an email. Write your answer and turn it into a blog post or newsletter article.

Quote the question but omit anything that might identify the questioner. Answer the question by explaining the law and procedure. Describe the options and the criteria for making the best choice. Provide advice in “if/then” terms.

Send a copy or a link to the inquirer and tell them you hope it helps. Tell them to contact you if they would like to talk to you about their specific case or matter or they wish to proceed further. Tell them you would be happy to quote a fee for this work or consultation.

Your post provides the questioner with guidance about what to do. It shows them that if they choose to take the matter further, you have the requisite experience and knowledge to help them. They’re happy because they got some information and advice from an expert. They understand that if they want more from you, they will have to pay for it.

You get a prospective client who is now one step closer to becoming an actual client. If they contact you again, they will almost certainly hire you and pay you.

You also get content for your website or blog that demonstrates your expertise, your thoroughness, and your willingness to help people. That content helps website visitors understand their legal issue and sells them on you and your ability to help them. If you get inquiries about similar issues, you can point people to your “library” of previous answers. That library of content will also attract visitors through search engines and social sharing.

Don’t merely answer questions, leverage those questions to create traffic, build your reputation, build your list, and pre-sell clients on hiring you.

For more on how to create online content, see this.

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Referrals for lawyers who want more referrals

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You’ve got a client list. A list of people who hired you once and will hire you again if they need you. But what if they don’t? What if your clients don’t need your services ever again?

Is that it? You invested time and money to attract them and persuade them to hire you. You worked hard to do the work and make them happy. Your clients know, like, and trust you. But if they don’t need your services, is that it?

No. Your clients can send you referrals. And they will if you stay in touch with them. They’ll send more if you ask for referrals.

In fact, for each $1,000 in fees a client pays you there may be $5,000 or $10,000, or more, in additional fees waiting for you via their referrals.

Your clients can help you in other ways. They can send traffic to your website. They can promote your content or seminar or newsletter to their social media connections. They can introduce you to other professionals they know who could become new referral sources.

And. . .

. . .they can buy products and services from professionals and businesses you recommend.

Perhaps they need legal services you don’t provide. Do you think they might hire an attorney you recommend? I think so, too. In return, you might earn referral fees from that attorney, or their referrals.

Tell your clients you know other lawyers and if they need legal services of any kind, they should call you first.

(Note to self: go meet attorneys with different practice areas.)

Wait, what else do your clients need?

An accountant? Financial planner? Real estate agent? Mortgage broker? Insurance broker?

Would you like to receive more referrals from people like this? You’ll get them. As soon as you start referring your clients to them.

Referrals for lawyers who don’t want to ask for referrals. Go here.

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You’re never scared? That’s a shame.

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If you’re never scared, you’ll never reach your potential.

You may be successful and happy but you could do more. You could do better. But only if you step outside of your comfort zone.

The most successful people in the world don’t rest on their laurels, they continually try new things, things that make them uncomfortable. They risk failure often, and often do fail, but they are successful enough to live extraordinary lives.

John Wayne famously said, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” Face your fears and push through them. Take on new projects that you have been avoiding.

The things that scare you the most are often what would allow you to grow the most.

For the record, I’m not advocating that you live every day in discomfort or that you continue to do things you hate. I’m saying give things a try. If you’ve been second chair on a jury trial or two and you are convinced it’s not for you, so be it. You felt fear, saddled up, and realized that it isn’t your path. Go try something else.

What could you try before this year ends? What new skill could you learn? What have you always dreamed about doing but never had the courage to try?

Don’t die before you find out.

Yoda said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” That may be true when The Force is with you, but for the rest of us, it’s “Try. Or try not.”

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Do you re-read good books?

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My grandfather used to read a lot of paperback novels. Mysteries, detectives, thrillers and the like. When he was done with a book, he would write a number on the cover, to signify his rating. He would know the best books to re-read or recommend (loan) to a friend.

He used a scale of 1-5, along with pluses and minuses. A good book might warrant a 4 or a 4-plus, a great book would get a 5, and so on.

I hadn’t thought about his system in a long time. But then I got an email from blogger James Clear with his fall reading list and his book rating scale and I was reminded of my grandfather’s system.

Although similar, Clear’s rating system is more appropriate for non-fiction:

Book Rating Scale

5 – Top-notch writing, thorough research, and highly valuable or interesting content.
4 – Often great writing or excellent content, but not necessarily both.
3 – It may have a chapter or two that are excellent, but the book is average overall.
2 – Perhaps you will find an idea or two, but there is little value inside.
1 – Do not read.

His current reading list can be found here.

You might want to subscribe to his blog. He always has something interesting to say about, well, interesting things.

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Why “Be Yourself” is NOT Good Advice

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“Be yourself,” we are told. There’s just one problem. What if we’re not good enough?

Whatever you are right now, whatever it is that defines you, was created by you. You took what God gave you and made yourself into the person you see in the mirror.

As long as you continue to be that person, you will continue to produce the same outcomes.  Be yourself only if you don’t want anything to change in your life.  If you want something better, however, you need to change.

If you want to be a better lawyer, you need to improve your skill set. If you want a bigger income, you need to change your habits and attitudes and activities to match the income of someone who earns what you want to earn.

You can’t say, “When I earn more I’ll change.” It doesn’t work that way. Change comes first. You can’t change your future until you change your present.

How do you change?

You read good books. You study them. You apply what you learned.

You associate with people who have what you want. You listen to how they speak and look for insights into how they think. Most of all, you watch what they do and you emulate it.

You get help. A mentor, coach, or accountability partner. A mastermind group.

You master the mundane. You practice. You get better and better at what you do.

As you become better, you attract better opportunities. Because you have grown, you’re able to capitalize on them.

Change doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t go from earning six figures to earning seven figures in a few months. But in a few years, you can accomplish just about anything.

But only after you stop being yourself and start being the person you want to become.

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Holiday planning for lawyers

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The holidays will soon be upon us. What’s your plan? What will you do to market your services and set things up for a good start to the new year?

What’s that? You don’t have a plan? Thank you for being honest. Grab a piece of paper and write at the top, “My plan for the holidays and beyond”.

First item on the list: “Come up with some ideas”.

Now you have a plan! Not a great plan but way better than no plan. At least you know what you need to do.

Time to put on your thinking cap and visit Uncle Google or Aunt Bing. Do a search for ideas related to the holidays, Christmas cards, year end planning, holiday parties, gift giving, and the like. You’ll come up with a bunch of ideas, most of which you will hate or can’t use, but you might get one or two that work.

Put them on your list.

Now you’re cooking.

What’s that? You want me to suggest something?

Okay. Here’s an idea for you. It’s simple, but very powerful.

Whether or not you plan to send Christmas cards (or some other politically correct variation), write a “year end letter” to your clients. Tell them how much you appreciate them. Tell them how much it means to you to be able to serve them. Say thank you.

Review your practice for the preceding year. Mention important cases or milestones. Mention changes and growth. If there were problems, talk about how you overcame them.

Then, talk about the future. If you have news to announce (an office move, new hire, new practice area, etc.), share this or hint at it if you’re not ready to go public. Tell them how this will positively affect them.

Add a personal comment or two, something about your kids or grand kids, or about something else you do that you are proud of. Give your clients a glimpse into your personal life.

(A glimpse. I’m not saying you need to invite them to the house for dinner.)

At the end, encourage them to contact you with any legal question or issue. You may not handle that type of issue but you know other attorneys you can recommend.

Why write this letter? Because it’s important to say thank you to your clients. You can’t do that enough. When you share your accomplishments for the year and plans for the future, you’re not just saying thank you, you’re showing them what your relationship with them means to you. They matter. You wouldn’t be where you are today without them. They’re not just names in a file folder and billing ledger.

The holidays are a time for giving thanks and this is an effective and memorable way to do that.

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