Yes, it is your fault

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We all know people who live a life of blame. When bad things happen, it’s someone else’s fault. It’s the economy. It’s the government.

I got screwed by the judge. The other side’s attorney is an [expletive]. My client didn’t listen.

But as long as you blame someone or something else for what ails you, you can’t improve anything. Stuff happens and it’s not your fault.

But it is your fault. And that’s good because it means you can change things.

Jack Canfield says, “If you want to be successful, you have to take 100% responsibility for everything you experience in your life.”

If you don’t take responsibility, you relinquish your power. You become a victim. You go through life letting things happen to you because, of course, there’s nothing you can do about it.

But we all have a choice. We can choose to say, “oh well, that’s just the way it is,” or we can choose to accept responsibility and reclaim our power.

Sure, bad things happen. There is evil in the world. Sometimes the bird of happiness craps on your head. But you don’t have to accept any of it.

Canfield says, “If something doesn’t turn out as planned. . . ask yourself, “How did I create that? What was I thinking? What were my beliefs? What did I say or not say? What did I do or not do to create that result? How did I get the other person to act that way? What do I need to do differently next time to get the result I want?”

Okay, so people are out of work and can’t afford to hire you. Those are the circumstances. You can’t change them. But you can change what you do about it.

You can do things to attract clients who are working and have money. You can change your practice area. You can get set up to accept credit cards. You can do a better job of marketing than other lawyers in your market.

There are many things you can do, but only if you first accept responsibility.

Better billing and collection practices: go here

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Networking: how to make a great second impression

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You’ve met someone new, through networking in person or online. You’ve done the card exchange, traded links, and said, “let’s keep in touch”. What now? How do you bridge the gap between first contact and the next step in your budding relationship?

The answer is to pay attention to them and make sure they know it. This will distinguish you from the majority of first time contacts they never hear from again.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Subscribe to their newsletter, blog, and social media channels. Comment on things they post. Share them with your social channels and subscribers.
  2. Set up Google Alerts for their business name and for their name. Congratulate them when others quote them or say something nice about their work.
  3. Track their industry. When you see a relevant blog post or article, share it with them.
  4. Engage them. Invite them to write a guest post for your blog or ask if you can interview them. Offer to write a guest post for them. Send them your content (but don’t subscribe them to your newsletter without their permission).
  5. Introduce them to someone they should know. A prospective client or referral source, a colleague of theirs, a blogger in their industry.

Do this with one or two new contacts each month and watch your business grow.

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How to use your new client intake sheet to get more referrals

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There’s a very simple way to get more referrals from your clients. It will also help you build your newsletter list and meet more referral sources.

All you have to do is add two things to your client intake sheet.

The first addition is a prompt for the client to list people they know who might like to receive your newsletter, special report, video series, or anything else you offer, such as a free consultation.

You or your staff point out this section to them and explain how this helps their friends solve a problem or understand their options. Tell them there is no cost or obligation or pressure of any kind.

Also tell them what you will do if they provide names, i.e., send these people a letter and mention the client’s name (or omit it if they prefer). If they don’t want to give you names, you will instead give them copies of your report or a certificate they can give to their friends to redeem for a free consultation, report, etc.

The client gives you names and you contact those people, or you give the client something to give to those people and let them take the next step. Either way works.

Even if the client does nothing on day one, you will have planted a seed that may eventually result in referrals and subscribers. You can prompt them again by sending them a letter with a blank form they can fill out, or a link to secure web page form. As the case progresses, they may be more comfortable opening up their address book.

The second addition to your intake sheet are prompts to supply the names of other professionals they know. Who are their insurance agents? Do they have a CPA or tax preparer? Do they know any other lawyers? Do they have a financial planner, stock broker, or real estate broker?

Explain to the client that you will introduce yourself to these other professionals. If there is a logical connection with the work you’re doing for the client, explain this. For example, if you’re an estate planner, it makes sense to coordinate with their financial planner or tax professional.

If not, tell the client that you do this for marketing purposes. By meeting other professionals your clients know and recommend, it helps your practice grow. It also helps you meet other good professionals you can recommend to your clients, so it helps these other professionals, too.

Provide a check box for the client to indicate it’s okay for you to mention their name, or not.

Contact these other professionals, tell them you have a mutual client, and you’d like to find out more about what they do and see how you might be able to work together.

Clients will send you referrals without being asked, but if you ask, they’ll send you more.

Learn the formula for marketing legal services. Go here now

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Finding time for getting things done

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Spinning plates. Putting out fires. Treading water. Does this sum up a good portion of your day?

Lawyers are paid to solve problems. Other people’s, not our own. If you’re spending too much time solving your own problems, you won’t have time for things that advance you towards your most valuable goals. Like getting paid by more people to solve more of their problems.

Solving (your) problems is important. When someone quits, you have to find someone to replace them. When you are audited, sued, or charged with an ethical violation, you have to respond. But responding to problems like these only helps you keep the machine running. It doesn’t bring in new clients or additional revenue. Peter Drucker said, “Results are gained by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems.”

One good thing about problems is that they tend to repeat. It may be a few years before you have to deal with something again, but knowing that it will happen again allows you to prepare for it:

1. Make a list of problems that occur periodically. Small ones and big ones. Hiring and training new employees and temps, equipment leasing and purchasing, hiring vendors, moving offices, record retention, website security, and the list goes on. Add to your list throughout the year.

2. Create a system for handling each problem. Document your efforts to resolve the problem and minimize its consequences. Create checklists, forms/letters, and instructions.

3. Go through the list of problems and see which ones can be handled, at least in part, by someone else. Delegate responsibility for handling those problems (at least partially). Instead of running ads when you need to hire a new employee, for example, you might hire an employment agency.

It’s worth investing extra time in this project because it will save you time and headaches in the future. You’ll have more time for getting things done that help you grow your practice, instead of merely keeping the doors open.

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Hard work: what is it and why is it important?

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Everyone and their brother says that hard work is a key to success. But can someone tell me what hard work means and why it is important?

Is hard work defined by effort or number of hours worked? If you aren’t exhausted at the end of the day, does that mean you can’t be successful? If you are successful anyway, does this mean you don’t deserve it?

Does hard work mean doing things you don’t like or aren’t good at? What if certain things come easily to you? What if you love your work? Do those not count?

Does hard work mean persistence? Does it mean continuing to do things that aren’t working? So we can never admit defeat and try something else? We can’t get help?

Hard work, eh? Does it mean taking work home with you every night? Missing your kid’s soccer games or piano recitals and feeling bad about it? Does hard work mean pain, regret, and sacrifice?

I don’t know what it means. Or why it’s important.

What’s wrong with working smart instead of working hard? What’s wrong with getting lucky, having the right connections, or even marrying the right person?

Wait, I get it. Hard work is for those who aren’t naturally skilled, don’t know how to work smart, and never seem to have any luck. It’s a fail safe. When nothing else works, work hard.

Whatever that means.

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Be brief, be brilliant, be gone

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I just got off of a conference call. Thirty-five minutes intended to inform listeners about exciting new developments in our business.

Fail.

The news is exciting. Very positive developments. Great things lie ahead. The problem is that if you weren’t already aware of that news, the conference call did little to inform or excite you.

There was too much information. It was difficult to follow. That’s bad enough in a meeting with visuals or handouts, but on a conference call, it is the kiss of death. People are dialing in from their car or from the gym or while distracted with other things. Too much information begins to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Everyone tunes out.

There were also too many speakers. That meant extra time for introductions. There was a lot of overlap, with speaker B covering the same information covered by speaker A. It was also obvious that the speakers had not been told how much time they were alloted (or didn’t follow instructions). The host cut off one speaker who spoke too long so the next speaker could be introduced. Ouch.

The call ended with platitudes and hyperbole. Words that were intended to inspire listeners to take action, but simply made listeners (me) cringe.

Unfortunately, these are common issues with meetings and presentations. It’s why people dread going to meetings and find most presentations too long and boring.

Don’t let this happen to you.

For starters, make sure you have a very good reason for conducting a meeting, conference call, or presentation, instead of disseminating the information in some other way. If you decide to go forward, keep these ideas in mind:

1. Be brief. Succinctly present three (no more than five) key points, and organize them so they are easy to understand and easy to remember. Additional details can be made available via a hand out or web page. Have as few speakers as necessary. In a short presentation, one speaker is usually best.

2. Be brilliant. Don’t do an information dump, have a “conversation” with your listeners. Keep the facts to the basics. Talk more about benefits and less about features. Tell a memorable story. Tell them what and how, but mostly why. Leave them wanting more.

3. Be gone. Keep it short, under twenty minutes if possible, and end with a call to action. Tell participants what to do. Avoid hype. Let the benefits in your presentation inspire people to do what you have told them to do.

Be brief, be brilliant, be gone.

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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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