Planning 2015 and beyond

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What do you want to accomplish this year? Be specific. Next year at this time, if I ask you, “Did you do it?” I hope you’ll be able to answer in the affirmative, but what is “it”?

You have many options. You must decide what you want and be very clear about it. What’s the number? What’s the outcome?

Do you want more clients? How many? Do you want better clients? How do you define better? Do you want fewer clients who pay you more? How many and how much?

Start with the big picture–where do you want to be five or ten years from now?

Do you want to expand into a new market? Branch out into a new practice area? Attract different types of clients?

Do you want a big firm, with lots of employees and offices, or a small firm with low overhead and low(er) management requirements?

Do you want to build a war chest to finance something new, or passive income so you can retire?

Before you make a plan or take action, you must know what you want. But there’s something else you need to figure out.

Why?

Whatever it is that you want, you have to know why you want it. You want more income? Why? What will you do with it?

When you think you know your “why” take it deeper. You say you want more money to pay off debt, start a college fund, or hire some new staff. Fine. Why do you want that?

Ah, more staff will allow you to earn more and work less. Okay, why do you want that?

It will give you more time with the family you love. You won’t miss soccer games and ballet recitals. You’ll be able to pursue music or art or travel the world.

Okay, but why do you want those things?

Keep asking yourself “why” until you get to the emotional core that is driving what you want. That core will be fueled by one of two emotions: love or fear.

Your love of your children will keep you going when you hit an obstacle. So will your fear of disappointing them.

It is our emotions that drive us and unless we access those emotions, it’s too easy to get distracted, procrastinate, or give up.

When you have emotional clarity about what you want, nothing will stop you from getting it. Without that clarity, anything can stop you.

Get clear about what you want, and why you want it.

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We get what we expect, not what we want

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Years ago, my wife and I attended an annual New Year’s party at her agent’s home. Every year, all of the guests wrote down what we expected to happen that year. Not our goals, our expectations.

The agent collected our scribbles in a basket and before we wrote our current expectations, we read what we had written the previous year. We could share with the group if we wanted to, or not.

The idea is that we don’t get what we want (our goals), we get what we expect. Goals are aspirational; expectations are objective.

I believe this is true. Our subconscious mind is a servo-mechanism, after all. It accepts our beliefs (expectations) as reality and works to create that reality.

I never quite got the hang of it, however. Every year, I wrote down what I wanted to happen, in the guise of what I expected. And every year, I missed the mark by a long shot. But this was my fault. I didn’t put a lot of thought into the exercise.

Maybe I was afraid my wife’s agent would secretly sneak a peak at what we had written so I wrote down something acceptable.

Anyway, if it is true that we get what we expect and not what we want, how does this help us? How do we access our deepest beliefs, and how do we use them to get what we want?

You got me.

Hypnosis? Meditation? Prayer?

All I know is that as we write down our goals for the year, we should give some thought to our expectations. That way, instead of choosing random goals that we hope will magically come true, we will choose goals that come true because they are the natural progression of our current reality.

If it turns out that our goals and are current reality are miles apart, and we’re honest with ourselves about that, after we write our goals, we will write down a list of things we need to work on in order to close that gap.

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Give it away, give it away, give it away (but not everything)

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You’re thinking about next year, aren’t you? If you’re not, just check your email. It’s undoubtedly filled with messages about goal setting, resolutions, organizing your work flow like a boss. . .

Oh, and don’t forget to register for the next goo-roo webinar that promises to reveal the secrets to profligate wealth. (Note to self: the free webinar is a sales pitch).

Not all free webinars are like that. Just most of them. You don’t learn that much. Or they tell you the “what” but not the “how”.

I know, they can’t give away everything for free. They’ve got a business to run. Just like you do. You don’t give away all of your wisdom and advice during a free consultation (nor should you), so you get that.

But you’ve got to give people something.

I’m not saying you can’t sell your services without “content”. You certainly can. Advertising still works. But if you’re asking people to invest an hour of their time with you at your seminar, watching your videos, or reading your blog, you’ve got to give them something in return.

And the more you give them, the more likely they are to see you as the solution to what ails them.

So, as you plan your next move, I suggest you add “content creation” to your list. If you already do this, ask yourself how you can do it more or make it better.

Put some articles on your website. Write a report or ebook. Make some screen capture videos. Teach people something about your area of expertise, so they can see that you know what you’re doing and get a sense of what it would be like to work with you.

People go online for information. Give them some.

The Attorney Marketing Formula comes with a simple marketing plan that really works. Go here.

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I’m dying and so are you

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In a galaxy far, far away (in the 1970’s) I attended my first real estate investing seminar. I was young and ambitious and had no money, but I had spunk. Mr. Grant may have hated spunk, but it was going to make me rich.

Yes, I was scared. I’m sure most of the people in the room were, too. The trainer knew this, of course and spent time encouraging us. He suggested we adopt the “I.G.D.S.” philosophy. That stands for, “I’m gonna die someday” and is meant to suggest that we get on with life because it will one day be over.

What are you waiting for? This is your life, not a dress rehearsal. Do or not do, there is no try. (Okay Star Wars wasn’t out yet. I got a little ahead of myself.)

Years later, Steve Jobs echoed this sentiment when he said,

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Over the years, I’ve reminded myself that I’m gonna die someday and I had better get on with things. Sometimes, this helped me do just that. I overcame inertia, stopped researching and planning, and got things done. Some big things, too.

As I have aged and thought more about my mortality, I realize that the clock is still ticking and there are many things I still want to do. I.G.D.S. and I had better get on it.

I also know there isn’t enough time in the day to do everything. But I have a plan.

My plan is to give myself permission to dabble. A taste of this and a taste of that. I don’t have to be “all in” with every project on my bucket list. I can sample things, not with the intent to build something big necessarily, but to savor the feeling of doing it.

Of course the challenge is that I will fall in love with what I’m doing and get completely sidetracked. But I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure, or it is nothing.”

Steve Jobs dreamed big dreams and took big chances. He make lots of mistakes and more than a few enemies, but no matter what anyone says about him, I think we can all agree that he left a huge footprint in the sand.

So, how about it? What have you been putting off until “someday”?

Life is short and so is Danny DeVito. He didn’t let that stop him, and neither should you.

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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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Turn your goals into problems and then solve those problems

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Lawyers are good at solving problems. We can look at a situation, decide what needs to be done, and take action to solve the problem. That’s what we do all day long for our clients. We know the objective–to win the case, to negotiate the contract, to protect the client’s business or assets–and we able systematically proceed towards solving the problem.

Why is it, then, that we’re often not very good at achieving our goals? Isn’t a goal really an unsolved problem?

Let’s say you have a goal of earning x per month by the end of the year. Your goal is also a problem: you’re not currently earning x per month. Now, how do you solve that problem?

When we solve problems one of the first things we do is look at the obstacles. If you want to win the case, you look for ways to eliminate or minimize your weaknesses. If there is a eye witness who hurts you, for example, you look for ways to challenge their sight line or establish bias.

Why aren’t you earning x right now? What are the obstacles? And what can you do to eliminate or minimize them?

Start by scrutinizing the elements. Look at your fee structure, practice areas, average fee, and number of cases or clients. You may discover that the weakness is simply that you’re not bringing in enough new clients. Fair enough. You have a new problem to solve.

Or perhaps you realize that your practice area is waning. You need a new one. You knew this but only now are you able to admit it.

But knowing the solution to the problem is only half the battle. It doesn’t mean you’ll do what you need to do.

You’re good at solving client problems because you want them to pay you and return and send referrals, and because your reputation (and bank account) are at stake. You are accountable to your clients. If you mess up, they’ll tell others. They may report you to the state bar. They may sue.

That kind of accountability ordinarily doesn’t exist with our goals. When nobody knows about your goal but you, if you don’t make it, oh well.

Tell your spouse, your partner, or your mastermind group about your goals and ask them to hold you accountable. If a lawyer friend knows about your goal, you won’t want him to know that you didn’t achieve it, or that you dropped the ball and didn’t even try. You’ll do what needs to be done to solve that problem.

Accountability is a bitch, but she loves you and wants you to succeed.

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How to get your work done on time

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The statute runs on the ninth, so we get the complaint filed by the eighth. We have to, so we do.

What about things that don’t have a deadline? We put them off. We procrastinate. Especially if it’s something we don’t want to do.

But we know this is a bad habit and we want to overcome it. So we make up a deadline. A firm date when we will have the work done. We put it on our calendar. It’s in writing. We see the due date coming up. We’re determined to beat the deadline.

But we don’t.

The day comes and goes and we don’t do the work. We were probably busy doing things that had a real deadline.

I read about a study that confirms what we already know: self-imposed deadlines don’t work. At least for things we really don’t want to do. We procrastinate for a reason, and writing down a deadline doesn’t eliminate that reason.

There is a solution. A way to make a self-imposed deadline work.

You need a deadline AND a penalty for missing it.

When you set a deadline, tell someone. Someone who will hold you accountable.

Tell your client when the work will be done. Promise to deliver it on that day. Put that in writing. You don’t want an unhappy client. Or a client who thinks you are incompetent. Or a client who sues. So you get the work done. Because you have to.

If you really have a problem with procrastination, put in your retainer agreement that the work will be delivered on the date promised or there will be no fee. Or, 10% reduction for every day it is late. Or some other costly consequence.

You’ll get the work done on time, won’t you? Yeah, you will.

You can do something similar with non-billable work or projects. Have you been procrastinating on your website? Tell your boss, partner, or spouse when the work will be done and ask them to hold you accountable.

If you have difficulty estimating when you can finish a big project, break it down into components and set a deadline for the first one. If you want to write a book, for example, set a deadline for completing the first chapter or the first draft. After that, set another deadline for the next component.

You can use penalties to finish any project or achieve any goal. I know a vegetarian who publicly promised that if she didn’t meet a certain goal, she would eat a McDonald’s hamburger every day for a month. Her goal was a big one, but yeah, she made it.

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Goal setting for lawyers and other smart people

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After yesterday’s post about goal setting and the value of having both “result” goals and “activity” goals, an attorney emailed me and said that when he sets results-based goals and doesn’t meet them, it is discouraging. “By establishing activity based goals, I largely control whether I meet them or not. Therefore I am much more motivated to achieve them.”

Exactly.

Results-based goals are inspiring, but if you continually miss them, you get to where you don’t want to set them anymore.

Before you give up on them, there are a couple of things you can do.

The first thing you can do is to break the rules about “when”. In other words, instead of saying you want to earn $20,000 this month, let go of “this month”. Focus on what you want, not when.

It’s a “law of attraction” thing. The ticking clock is a constant reminder that you don’t have what you want, and when you think about that, all you get is more of what you don’t want. You attract the “not having”.

So, set (results) goals that feel good when you think about them. What and why, but not how or when.

The second thing you can do is to change your thinking about what a goal is. Normally, a goal is a fixed target that you either hit or you don’t. Since we usually set goals that are somewhat out of reach, we get conditioned to missing them, and that quickly gets old.

The answer isn’t to set goals that are so low we always hit them. It is to set three version of the goal:

  1. The minimum (what you absolutely know you can do without much in the way of extra effort);
  2. The target (a realistic goal that will take reasonably significant effort but is not out of reach);
  3. The dream (you probably won’t reach it but it’s not impossible).

If $20,000 is your dream goal, $12,000 might be your target, and $8500 might be your minimum.

Another way to do it is to keep the goal at $20,000 but change the month for hitting it: Six months from now is your target, one year from today is your minimum, and next month is your dream version of the goal.

This way, you almost always hit your goal and are almost never discouraged.

Goals are meant to serve you, not the other way around. If setting goals isn’t working for you, change how you do it, or let it go completely. Leo Baubata, having been a strong proponent of goal setting, relinquished it completely and found that he is just as productive, if not more so.

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Two ways to look at your goals

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I was washing dishes the other night, thinking about my goals for a new project I’m working on. First, I thought about an income goal for the rest of the year. I earned a small amount on this last year. How much do I want to earn this year?

Then, I thought about it in a different way. I thought about how much I want to be earning, per month, by the end of the year. For some reason, I like that better. Perhaps it’s because the end of the year is in the future and I have time to get there. I can build towards that goal instead of having to produce meaningful results right now.

Of course, most income goals are fanciful. You can’t control results. What you really need are activity goals.

Income goals are inspiring, but impractical. Practical goals are based on the activities needed to produce those results.

You can’t control whether your new website will get any traffic or subscribers or sales, but you can control when you will write the first page. You can’t control whether you will get any referrals from contacts at your networking group, but you can control how many new people you will speak to next Tuesday night.

Both types of goals are important. As you see progress towards your result-based goals, you can adjust your activity goals. Want to earn more? Do more. Or do it faster. Or do something different.

The Attorney Marketing Formula comes with a template for a simple marketing plan 

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The one thing. . .

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If an angel sat on your shoulder and whispered in your ear the one thing you need to know or do right now, what would it be?

Not two or ten things, just one.

You may have to search for it, but deep down, you know the answer. There’s a message you need to hear, something that will profoundly change your life in a positive way. What is it?

It’s simple, a single word or a short phrase, but important. You’ve thought about it before. Now it’s time to embrace it.

It might be personal, like a reminder to “lose weight” or “smile” or “call her”. It might be work related like “new clients” or “start the blog” or “networking”.

It might be anything.

When you have the answer, write it down and keep it in front of you, so you will see it often. You might put sticky notes on your computer, on your bathroom mirror, and on the visor in your car. If you have a reminder app, set it to pop up several times a day and display your “one thing”.

Mine came to me last night. The message to myself is “write faster”. I have several projects in the works that involve writing and I’m not an especially fast writer. If I can get the work done more quickly, good things will happen for me.

Note, these aren’t affirmations or goals or anything formal or structured. Just something to think about. A place to start. You might turn it into a project, with specific tasks, or you may leave it as a simple touchstone.

This is supposed to be easy, and inspiring. When you look at your “one thing” you should feel good. If what you wrote makes you feel guilty or unhappy or any other negative emotion, change it.

Aside from inspiration, there is a practical application for writing down your one thing. It summons the power of your subconscious mind to make your one thing come true.

Every time I look at “write faster,” my subconscious mind is working on my behalf to make it so. It will help me notice tools and techniques that can help me write faster. It will help me stop editing as I write, so I will get first drafts done more quickly. When I slow down or go off on a tangent, it will pull me back to the task at hand.

When I got up this morning, I had forgotten that I had written down my “one thing”. When I saw it for the first time, I smiled and started thinking about what it will be like to write faster and get more done, and what a wonderful year it will be to have that play out.

What’s your “one thing”?

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