You’re making things harder than they need to be

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As lawyers, one of our strengths is our ability to reason. Our strength, however, can also be a weakness because we often think too much and do too little and it is the doing, not the thinking, that brings results.

A key to doing more is to make things simpler. Break up big decisions, difficult tasks, and complicated projects into smaller components. Then, start with the easiest parts because starting is the most important element in doing.

As you begin, a good question to ask yourself is one posed by writer Alan Cohen: “How would I be doing this differently if I were willing to let it be easy?”

Among other things, letting it be easy means letting go of the need to avoid all risks and control all outcomes.

Stop making things harder than they need to be. Get out of the way and let them be easy.

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Does your practice need more sales people?

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Before you say no, give me one minute to convince you of the value of hiring a sales person for your practice. Someone who would talk to prospective clients and referral sources on your behalf and convince them to hire you or send you their referrals. Suppose that this was legal and ethical and could be done with little or no cost.

This sales person could deliver a steady stream of new business for you. Every day, prospective clients will call your office to make an appointment. When they meet with you, they are either sold on hiring you and ready to sign up or they have a few questions about their legal matter, and then they sign up.

So. . . how many sales people would you hire?

Hold on. Calm down. This is doable. In fact, there’s a very good chance that you’re already doing it. You already employ one or more sales people who are bringing you new clients.

Okay, I’m not really talking about people. I’m talking about information.

Articles, blog posts, reports, ebooks, videos, audios, podcasts, seminars, and other content you deploy on your website and elsewhere. This information attracts prospective clients who learn what you do and how you can help them, and persuades them to call you, fill out a form, or otherwise take the next step towards becoming your client.

Your content does what a sales person does, but in many ways, it does it better. It works for you 24 hours a day, never complains, and never asks for a raise. And once your content is deployed, it works for you tirelessly, endlessly, for many years to come.

So the next time you’re looking for a way to bring in more clients, start writing, or hire someone to help you, and get more content out into the world.

Here’s how to create content for your website

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The lawyer who would be clown

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Okay boys and girls, gather up your blankets and let’s form a circle, it’s storytelling time.

Once upon a time there was a lawyer who wanted to be more successful. Does anyone know what a lawyer is? Johnnie? No, it’s not someone who loys. A lawyer is someone who gets paid a lot of money for writing letters and talking on the phone. So children, pay attention to your reading and writing lessons and someday, you’ll drive a nice car and live in a nice house.

One day, the lawyer decided he wanted to get more clients. Do you know what a client is? Right, Cindy, a client is someone who pays you to tell them what to do, and if you pay them more, they’ll do it for you.

Anyway, the lawyer didn’t know how to get more clients because they don’t teach you that in law school. Yes, Johnnie, it is incredible to pay six-figures for a degree and learn nothing about how to make money with it.

Anyway, the lawyer looked all over the Internet to find out how to bring in more clients. One thing he learned is that he should do something to stand out and look different from all the other lawyers in town. He needed to do something to get noticed. Can you think of any ways he could do that?

Yes, Johnnie, dressing like a clown and chasing people down the street with a knife would definitely get him noticed, but that’s probably not the best way for a lawyer to stand out.

The lawyer learned that since many lawyers offer the same services, one way to get noticed is to offer services that are better or different. If he did that, people would notice him and talk about his services and go to his website to learn more about how he can help them.

He also learned that he could stand out by telling people about himself. He heard that a lot of people choose a lawyer based on their personality and style, more than anything else. If they learn more about your background, personal life, and outside interests, they often relate to you  and like you, and this brings them a step closer to hiring you.

The lawyer thought about what he had learned and decided that he would do both things. He would offer services that look different from what other lawyers offer and he would show people some things about himself. Not too much, just enough to let them get to know him.

A few months went by and the lawyer was already getting more clients and earning more income. A few years went by and he was very successful and very rich.

Unfortunately, the lawyer let his success go to his head. He decided he would run for office. He started lying, cheating, and stealing, got elected and ruined the world.

Well kids, what lesson have you learned today? That’s correct, it’s better to dress like a clown and chase people down the street with a knife than to become a politician.

More ways to stand out from the competition: here

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How to double your income in five years or less

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There is a very good chance that you’re not charging enough for your services. By enough, I mean the amount your services are worth and what good clients would be willing and able to pay.

Why do I make this assumption? Because when I consult with lawyers and we talk about their fees, almost all of them are on the low side. That, plus recent surveys which show that two-thirds of solo lawyers earn a gross income of less than $200,000 per year and 28% earn less than $100,000 (again, gross income), tell me I’m right.

If you have been following me for awhile and have moved away from offering the same basic, “commodity” services most lawyers offer, in favor of higher-level, better-paying work, you’re offering more value and you should be paid for it.

How much more? Perhaps double or triple.

It’s exciting to think about doubling your income without doing anything more than increasing your fees. But you might be afraid to do it, thinking that most of your clients would leave.

Don’t let that fear stop you.

You can minimize the risk of a wholesale exodus by doing it over a period of years.

If you increased your fees 20% starting next year, yes, you might lose some clients. My guess is that it would far fewer than you imagine, perhaps very few or none at all, but if you do lose some clients, two things would happen:

  1. No matter how many clients you lose, if the rest of your clients pay you 20% more than they had been paying, your net revenue for the year would increase, and
  2. Any clients who leave would make room for new clients who will pay your higher rate.

If you increase your fees by 20% per year, in five years your income will double, not including compounding.

Too much? Too soon? Okay, start by charging new clients the higher rate. Once you’re comfortable with this, once you see clients are still signing up, you can begin phasing in higher rates for existing clients.

(For contingency fees, you can “raise your fees” by increasing the minimum size of the cases you accept.)

Look, I’ve seen lawyers (and accountants) who haven’t increased their fees in ten years. That’s not a professional practice, that’s a charity. You are entitled to charge what you’re worth and what the market will bear. You don’t have to settle for less.

How to ask for, and get higher fees

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Direct mail or email newsletters?

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A subscriber wants to know what I think about print newsletters sent by postal mail versus email newsletters. “Is print better and worth the additional cost?”

My answer is that the dynamics of print and email are completely different and can’t readily be compared.

No question email provides an incredible ROI for any lawyer. Don’t even think about it, just do it.

As for print, the question isn’t “is it worth it” it is “is it worth it for YOUR practice?”

There are many variables, ranging from your practice area and market, how long after a prospect gets on your list will he need your services, frequency of repeat business, your margins, print and mailing costs, how often you mail, and more, especially the quality of your content. And by quality, I mean how good it is as selling you and your services.

The only way to find out if a print newsletter will show a profit for you is to try it. After a suitable period of time, add up your pennies and see if you come out ahead.

Of course, before we had email, I would have said, “Yes, do it, it’s well worth the investment,” because compared to doing nothing to stay in touch with your clients and prospects, a print newsletter is a fabulous resource. Now that we have email, the decision isn’t so clear.

Can you do both? Sure. But start with email. You may never want to do anything else.

Note, we’re talking about a newsletter, not using direct mail for any other marketing purpose.

Also note, the subscriber who asked this question referenced companies that tout the benefits of print newsletters (and sell services related thereto). If you do go with print, you might use companies like these to handle list management, printing, and mailing (although you may get better pricing if you source these separately), but whatever you do, don’t use them for content. Write your own.

How to build your practice with an email newsletter

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Is it okay to charge some clients less than others?

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Is it okay to charge some clients less than others? Why yes it is, thanks for asking. Here are some situations where you might want to do that:

  • New clients, to encourage them to sign up with you instead of another lawyer
  • Returning clients, to encourage them to come back or to hire you for something else
  • Old clients who have been with you a long time, to reward them for their loyalty
  • Bigger clients, who give you more work or bigger matters
  • Clients who are easier to work with, pay on time, never complain
  • Clients who send you lots of referrals or who go out of their way to promote you
  • Clients who do something you support, as a way to help their cause
  • Clients who give you a big retainer up front, especially if it is non-refundable
  • Clients referred to you by some of your better clients or referral sources
  • Clients who are family or friends (yeah, sometimes you gotta)

In fact, sometimes it makes sense to give some clients free services, but that’s a subject for another day.

Be careful, though. You don’t want your other clients to find out that some clients pay less than they do. Unless you do want them to know. If you want all of your clients to know they’ll pay less if they always pay on time, for example, then spread the word.

Another way to look at this subject is to charge more for clients who aren’t on this list. If they are slow-payers, for example, they pay a higher rate.

The point is, you don’t have to charge every client the same amount for the same work (unless there’s a law or a bar rule that says you do, in which case you should think about moving).

Go through your billing records and client list and see who might warrant a lower or higher fee.

The lawyer’s guide to stress-free billing and collection

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To attorneys who refuse to change their underwear

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We know that attorneys resist change and we know why. Change implies risk and risk avoidance is in our DNA. We’re paid to watch our clients’ backs and it’s only natural that we do the same for ourselves.

Yes, change implies risk. If you change your strategy, tools, or process, you might get poorer results. You might waste time or money. You might embarrass yourself or your firm. So we often wait until other attorneys do it first. (Is it any wonder that the average attorney gets average results and earns an average income?)

Anyway, for most attorneys, change usually happens slowly, if at all.

But change can be good. It can lead to better results, especially if you’re the first lawyer on your block to do something. Change also allows you to learn new things and meet new people and open up opportunities for growth.

Change can also feel good. I get a rush every time I buy a new computer, don’t you?

Attorneys are smart and have the resources to accommodate change. They can afford to buy new tech and try new ideas, they can afford to hire people to do most of the heavy lifting, and they can afford to lose their investment should things not pan out.

For many attorneys, accepting change comes down to ROI. They know it takes time to learn and implement new ideas and in return, they demand a big return on that investment. Not just an incremental increase but a huge increase, to compensate for their time and the risks of being wrong.

Nowhere is the potential for a huge ROI more apparent than with marketing.

One new strategy, one new referral source, one new keyword can lead to a massive increase in traffic, leads, prospects, and new clients. On top of that, the potential downside is de minimis.

So take off your training wheels, remove your protective padding, leave your first aid kit at home, and dive in. Do something you’ve never done before. Or change something you’ve never changed before.

Worst case, you’ll find something that doesn’t work for you.

But if things go well, you might find, as I did when I fully embraced marketing, a measure of success beyond anything previously imagined.

Marketing is easier when you know the formula

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Working hard or hardly working?

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All our lives we’ve been told that hard work is essential to success. The person who works harder than other people generally achieves more than other people.

But is that always true? Does someone who earns a million dollars a year work ten times more than someone who earns $100k? What about people who work incredibly long hours every day but continually struggle?

We’ve also been told that there are no shortcuts to success. It doesn’t happen overnight. Okay, then how do you explain the many tech entrepreneurs who are billionaires before they’re 30?

I don’t purport to have all the answers but clearly, there isn’t an absolute causal connection between effort and results, hard work and success. There are other factors at play. That’s why I continually look for ways to work smarter.

Working smarter is about leverage. Getting bigger (or quicker) results with the same or less effort. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to do that.

You frequently hear me prattle on about the 80/20 principle. I do that because it is the quintessential illustration of leverage and I encourage you to continually look for ways to use it to increase your income and improve your life.

Where does most of your income come, for example? The odds are that a high percentage of it comes from a few things you’re doing, the so-called “20% activities that deliver 80% of your results”. Look at your practice area(s), target market(s), and marketing methods. You’re likely to see that most of your income comes from a “precious few” things, not from the “trivial many”.

When you find your precious few, do more of them. Get rid of other things to free up time and resources so that you can make that happen.

If 80% of your income now comes from one or two marketing activities, for example, doing more of those activities could increase your income by 160%. That’s because you’ll have two blocks of 20% activities instead of just one.

Back when I was a cub lawyer, struggling to figure things out, I made three changes to what I was doing and my income skyrocketed. In a matter of months. I also went from working six days a week to just three.

So nobody can tell me there aren’t any shortcuts. Now, if you will excuse me, it’s time for my nap.

How I learned to earn more and work less. Yep, it’s all here

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Marketing legal services without a list

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For most attorneys, especially solos and small firm practitioners, one of the best ways to build their practice is with an email list. If you don’t have one, you should start building one immediately.

Having a list allows you to stay in touch with prospective clients and people who can refer them. When they’re ready to hire you, or they know someone who is, you won’t have to wait for them to find you and then convince them that you know what you’re doing. They’ll already know you via your newsletter.

Marketing legal services is so much easier and profitable when you have a list.

Start by setting up an email capture form on your website. Write a report that would interest website visitors and offer it as an incentive to sign up for your list. Tell everyone you know about your newsletter and invite them to sign up.

There are lots of other ways to build your list. One of quickest is to seek out people in your niche who already have a list. Find other professionals who write an email newsletter, for example, and offer to write an article for their newsletter or blog. You can also offer to do a webinar or a Q and A hangout.

Business owners, professionals, bloggers, and consultants, need high-quality content and many will jump at the chance to have you supply it. Some of the people on their list will then sign up for your list.

Yes, you can benefit from this approach without having your own list. Instead of promoting your newsletter or report to their clients and contacts, these professionals, et. al., will promote you and your website. Some of the people who learn about you will need your services immediately.

But many won’t. And that’s why having a list is better.

Here’s how to write a report that will help you build your list

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Lawyers, what’s wrong with this picture?

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A business owner’s truck was in front of me in traffic the other day. I knew it belonged to a business owner because there was a decal on the back window of the cab that advertised the owner’s business. Actually, it advertised the owner’s two businesses.

Behold:

“[Owner’s last name] Professional Auto Detail & Landscape [phone number]”

Okay, what’s wrong with this picture?

If you’re looking for a landscaper for your yard, are you going to choose one that also does auto detail or will you keep looking and hire a specialist?

Correct.

It’s okay to own more than one business. But you have to be careful about how you market them.

If you’re a lawyer and a licensed as a real estate broker, for example, stifle the urge to mention both in the same breath. Or ad. Or car decal.

In fact, consider not telling anyone you’re also a broker. You’ll scare away prospective clients who want to hire someone who is dedicated to practicing law and successful enough at it that they don’t have to do anything else. Mentioning you’re also a broker will also scare away prospective real estate broker referral sources who see you as a competitor.

You know where I’m going with this. If you have more than one practice area, be careful how you promote yourself.

Clients prefer to hire a lawyer who specializes. If they’re looking for a divorce lawyer, for example, the fact that you also handle criminal defense doesn’t help, it hurts. Clients think you might not be as good as a lawyer who only handles family law. (Some clients may stay away because, “ew, she has criminals in her waiting room. . .”)

Does that mean you should have separate websites, brochures, ads, presentations, and other marketing collateral for each practice area? Unless your practice areas are a natural fit, you should consider it. Personal injury, workers’ compensation, and med mal, go together. Small business transactional and litigation are fine. Estate planning and elder law work. Other mixes, perhaps not so much.

Think about it, okay? Especially when you order your next truck decal.

Make sure you don’t send out a mixed marketing message. This will help

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