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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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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Two lawyers walked into a bar. . .

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Okay it’s not a bar, it’s a networking event, but a bar is funnier. Oh, and guess what? You’re one of the lawyers. I’m there too, but I’m not me, I’m the owner of a small chain of restaurants and I’m looking for a new lawyer (who does what you do).

We meet and I ask “What do you do?” You tell me you’re a small business lawyer (work with me here or my story won’t make sense) and you tell me a little bit about yourself. I’m impressed. I can see that you have a lot of experience and think you must be good at what you do. You’re a nice guy, too.

I meet another lawyer and have a similar conversation. Her name is Alice and she also represents small businesses. She also has an impressive background.

During my conversation with Alice, she asks me if I know Joe Martin. Joe is the president of our local restaurant owner’s association and I know him well. Alice has handed several legal matters for Joe personally and he’s just invited her to speak at our next monthly meeting.

Then Alice asks me if I know Karen Collins, co-owner of a popular restaurant in town. I don’t know Karen, but I’ve had several friends tell me about her restaurant and I tell Alice that I plan to go. Alice tells me I will love the food. “Tell Karen I said hello; she’ll take good care of you.”

Yes, Karen is Alice’s client. In fact, Alice represents quite a few restaurant owners.

Before the conversation ends, Alice asked me if I am familiar with a tax proposal the national chapter of our association is supporting. When I tell her I don’t much about it, she asks for my email address so she can send me an article she wrote about the bill for our association’s newsletter.

Can you see where this is going?

Yeah, sorry. Better luck next time.

It helps to know people in your prospect’s niche market. It helps to be able to say you represent many of their colleagues or neighbors. It’s even better when your prospect knows them and can ask them about you.

How does this happen? It happens when you target a niche market and build your reputation in that market by writing, speaking, and networking. It happens when you focus on that market, learn all about it, and meet the top people in it. It happens when you focus your time and resources on that market and eventually dominate it.

You can do that in business niches and consumer niches. You can do that by targeting prospective clients or people who can refer them (or both).

Gotta go. I’ve got a reservation for lunch at Karen’s restaurant. Alice sent me.

How to choose the right niche market: The Attorney Marketing Formula

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Another “fee raising” success story

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I spoke to another attorney yesterday who told me that, at my urging, he increased his fees approximately 40% and has received no resistance. His fees were low to begin with, he said, but this has emboldened him to increase his fees even further.

He said the top of the market is still 70% higher than his new fee, and we talked about what he would need to do to justify another increase.

You don’t have to be the top of the market, I told him, but you should at least be in the top one-third to 20%.

But don’t be so quick to dismisss “top of the market” fees. Why couldn’t you be the most expensive guy in town?

You could. The question is how.

Much of marketing is about perception. To some extent, you’re worth more because you say you are. Who’s to say any different?

Your lower-priced competitors, you say? See, that’s where you’re missing the boat. There is no competition at the top of the market. It’s at the lower 80% of the market where everyone does pretty much the same thing and competes on price and good looks.

If you’re mucking about in steerage, you’ll never maximize your potential.

But there is a limit to how much more you can charge simply because you want to charge more. You’ve got to find something you do better or different than other lawyers, and make that a point of differentiation.

One way to do that is to specialize not only in the services you offer but the clients for whom you perform those services. Choose a niche market to target, focus on it, and groom yourself to become the “go to” lawyer in that niche.

There are big advantages to this strategy. Besides being able to charge higher fees, marketing is easier and more effective. Instead of networking with or advertising to “anyone” who might need your services or be able to refer clients, for example, you can concentrate your efforts on marketing exclusively to prospective clients and referral sources in your niche market.

That’s what this attorney said he will do.

He’ll save time, spend less on advertising (if not eliminate it completely), and develop a name for himself in his niche.

Word of mouth travels fast in niche markets. By next year at this time, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he has indeed become the “go to” lawyer in his market.

Learn more about niche marketing, with this

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Don’t stop to pick up pennies or you’ll miss out on the dollars

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At one point in my legal career, another lawyer and I were flipping real estate. The market was hotter than Hades and we were making a boatload of money.

I thought, “Why not get a broker’s license and get a piece of the commissions, too?”

Bad idea.

Many brokers didn’t want to work with me. Others were willing to do so but brought their best deals to other investors first.

If you compete with people who bring you deals, you get fewer deals.

I got rid of my broker’s license.

I also realized that if I wanted brokers to bring me the best deals, I had to make it clear that I would never try to cut their commissions, as many investors do. But I took it a step further. I told them that if I made money on the deal, I would cut them in on the profit. In addition, when it came time to put the property back on the market, I assured them that they would get the listing.

Guess who they brought their deals to?

If you want insurance agents and financial advisers to send you referrals, get rid of your insurance and securities licenses. If you handle divorces and you want referrals from business lawyers, think twice before you include business law on your list of practice areas. If you have bar licenses in other jurisdictions where you don’t actively practice, consider retiring those licenses.

When you compete with people who send you referrals, you get fewer referrals.

Think about where you earn most of your money, or want to, and focus on that. Don’t stop to pick up pennies or you might miss out on the dollars.

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If Bruce Lee had practiced law

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If Bruce Lee had practiced law he would have specialized in one practice area. Maybe a subset of one area.

Lee believed in being the best and never settled for good enough. And he knew that being the best requires focus, discipline, and a lot of hard work.

Lee said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

I did a consultation with an attorney recently. He doesn’t have a general practice, but he doesn’t specialize either. We talked about the benefits of specializing. I ran down the list:

  • More clients (because clients prefer to hire specialists)
  • Higher fees (because clients are willing to pay specialists higher fees)
  • More referrals (because other lawyers who won’t see you as a competitor)
  • More effective marketing (because your message is more focused)
  • Less work and overhead (because you only have to stay up to date in your practice area)

He said he’d like to specialize but he lives in a small town and there’s not enough work there for any one of the things he does.

“How far is the closest city?” I asked. “Thirty miles,” he said.

“How about opening a satellite office in the city?” I said. He should be able to find more than enough work in the practice area of his choosing.

He’d never thought of that.

Start slowly if you want. Find an attorney with a different practice area with a conference room or extra office you can use one or two days week to see clients. Let him use your office as a satellite for his practice.

If you’re not where you want to be in your career, take a step back and look at your situation with fresh eyes. You may see the answer, right there in front of you. If not, come talk to me.

Marketing is easier when you know The Formula

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Being a sole practitioner doesn’t mean doing everything yourself

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In response to yesterday’s post about taking the day off, a subscriber asked, “So how does a sole practitioner disconnect on vacation and turn off the phone? I haven’t had a real vacation in 15 years”.

Of course the short answer is you just do it. You have someone else answer the phone, something you should always do, and you have some else talk to clients and prospective clients and take care of the office.

In other words, you have people.

Being a sole practitioner means not having partners. It does not mean doing everything yourself. You have employees or virtual employees or assistants and outside lawyers who handle appearances and other things only lawyers can do.

Yes, this does add a layer of complexity to your practice. You have to supervise your people, or supervise people who supervise your people, and you have to be comfortable with delegating work. But this complexity gives you something even better in return. It gives you freedom. You can take vacations. You can sleep late. You can go to the movies in the middle of the day.

Having people also allows you to earn more money. If you do things right, you earn enough additional income to pay your people and have more net income after you do.

But there are a couple of additional things you need to do to make this work.

First, you need to specialize. You can’t expect to be good at “everything”. Nor can you make a compelling case to prospective clients as to why they should hire you instead of someone who specializes in what they need.

The email I received asking the question at the top of this post ends with a list of the attorney’s practice areas, to wit:

REAL ESTATE

** Residential Closings
** Commercial Closings
** Short Sales
** Loan Modifications
** Reverse Mortgages
** Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure
** 1031 Exchange
** Escrow services
** Property Tax Appeals
** Foreclosure Defense
** Motions to vacate foreclosure sales
** Mortgage Reinstatements
** Landlord Tenant

COMMERCIAL LAW

** Civil Suits
** Business Incorporations
** Debt Settlement

FAMILY LAW

** Divorce
** Child Support
** Modification of Settlement Agreements
** Mediation

CRIMINAL LAW

** Federal/State Defense
** Felony
** Misdemeanor
** Traffic Tickets
** License Suspension

It’s too much. No wonder she hasn’t taken a vacation.

Pick one practice area. Clients prefer to hire lawyers who specializes. They’re also willing to pay them higher fees because lawyers who specialize are perceived as being better, and they usually are. When you do lots of one thing, you tend to get better at it.

You also find it easier to keep up with changes in the law, new forms, and best practices. You spend less time (and money) on “compliance,” which gives you more time (and money) to invest in doing things that lead to more profits and growth.

Yes, you have to give up work that isn’t in your specialty. But you can refer that to other lawyers who send you business that’s outside of their specialty.

In addition, marketing is easier and more effective for lawyers who specialize. Which leads me to the last point. If you want to be able to take vacations, earn more and work less, you have to get good at marketing. Not great, necessarily. Good enough is good enough, as long as you do something on a regular basis.

Specialize, delegate as much as possible, and get good at marketing. Those were the three things that allowed me to go from being overworked and overwhelmed to quadrupling my income and reducing my work week to three days. You can do the same thing.

Learn more: The Attorney Marketing Formula

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Lawyers: the world’s second oldest profession

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We’re mouthpieces. Clients pay us to advocate their position. We don’t have to believe in what our client wants, or like them personally, we do their bidding. Kinda like the world’s oldest profession.

Now, now, don’t get your panties in a festival. I’m being real here. We don’t care if our client is ugly or smells bad, we only care if the check clears. We do our jobs. If we don’t, we’re out of business. Besides, if we don’t do it, some other shyster will, so all our righteous indignation and standing on principle is for naught.

At least that’s what some people think.

The truth is, we can decide who we will and won’t represent. We don’t have to represent anyone who shakes a bag of money in our face. We can refuse to take cases and causes we don’t believe in or represent any client who needs our help. And we can make a fine living doing it.

But I don’t want to talk about policy or the image of the profession. I want to talk about marketing.

At some point, you should have written a description of your ideal client. (If you have not and you need help doing so, get The Attorney Marketing Formula.)

Once you have decided on your ideal client. . . Don’t keep it a secret.

Tell people what kinds of clients you want to work with. Publish this on your website. Let everyone know.

Practice areas are easy: here’s what I do, here’s what I don’t do. (But I know a lot of other lawyers, so if you have X problem, give me a holler and I’ll introduce you to a lawyer who can help.)

What’s more challenging is describing clients by industry or demographics.

You represent only men or only women, only landlords or only tenants. You represent clients in certain industries or of a certain size or market sector.

“Yeah, but if I declare to the world that I represent clients in the automotive industry, I won’t get hired by clients who manufacture appliances.”

What you have to realize is that this is a good thing.

You may not get appliance manufacturers, but you’ll get more from the auto industry. They will be attracted to you because they see you are dedicated to serving them. They’ll see that you understand their needs and speak their language. You have helped others like them, so it’s obvious that you can help them, too.

We may be the world’s second oldest profession, but this doesn’t mean we have to represent everyone who can pay.

Specialize in the clients you represent. And don’t be afraid to announce it.

Choose a target market. If you don’t know who to choose, choose anyone. Jim Rohn said, “It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you get off on sometimes. What matters most is getting off. You cannot make progress without making decisions.”

On the great road of life (or business), some choose the left side, some choose the right side, and both can do well. The ones who stay in the middle of the road are the ones who usually get run over.

This will help you choose your ideal client and target market. 

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How to get better clients

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A lawyer emailed wanting to know how  to get better clients. He said he is in a slump. “People come see me but they don’t have the money to retain our services. It’s been a tough month. What can I do?”

Are there any lawyers in your market who do what you do and have clients who can afford to pay their fees? If not, you need to change practice areas or move. If the business isn’t there, it isn’t there.

On the other hand, if other lawyers in your field are getting paying clients, then it’s not the market. The work is there. You just have to get those better paying clients to come to you instead of those other lawyers.

Start by looking at what those other lawyers are doing. Study them, as I mentioned yesterday. What are they doing that you’re not doing? What are they doing better than you are doing? What are you doing that they don’t?

Do they specialize? Specialists generally earn more than general practitioners. One reason is that clients prefer to hire specialists. They are also willing to pay higher fees to a specialist. If these other lawyers specialize and you don’t, you have to consider doing so, or at least disguising the fact that you don’t. One way to do that is to have separate websites for each practice area.

How much do they charge? More than you, less, about the same? Most attorneys compete for the bottom eighty percent of the marketplace. The most successful attorneys target the upper ten or twenty percent, which obviously includes people with money.

How do they bill? Hourly? Flat fees? Blended? How big of a retainer do they get? What do they do to make it easier for their clients to pay?

Look at their website. What elements do they have that you don’t? Can you do something similar? How can you improve on what they have done? What are you doing on your website that they don’t do that might be hurting instead of helping you?

Valuable information, yes?

Also look at what you are doing. Look at the better clients you have attracted over the last year or two (the ones who have money). Where did they come from? If they came from referrals from your other clients, for example, figure out what you did that precipitated those referrals and do more of it.

In addition, look at what your better clients have in common. Industry, occupation, ethnicity? Where can you find more like them?

Also look at the people who are contacting you who can’t afford you. Where are they coming from? Whatever it is that you are doing to attract them, stop doing that. And screen them out before they come to see you. For example, you might quote your minimum fee package on the phone or on your website. This way, if they can’t afford this, they won’t call or come to see you.

I don’t know what you’re doing now to market your services but whatever it is, there are always other things you can try. It might be helpful to get out a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle, and on the left side of the page, write down everything you are doing that could be considered marketing. On the right side, write down things you aren’t doing, including things you used to do but abandoned. Keep adding to the list on the right and try some new things. Create a simple marketing plan.

In addition, look for ways to improve what you are doing. If you are networking, for example, consider finding a different group and/or working on your follow-up.

Finally, seek some perspective on your current situation. You say you’re having a bad month but everyone has bad months. Next month could be great. If it is, don’t rest on your laurels. The best time to ramp up your marketing is when you’re busy, not when you’re in a slump.

If things continue to be bad, don’t panic. It’s nothing five new (paying) clients can’t fix. You can turn things around quickly. Cut overhead to give yourself some breathing room and get busy with marketing. You have the time for it, right? That’s one of the advantages of a slump–less work means more time for marketing.

Think about getting some help. Get a workout partner. Hire someone to point you in the right direction and/or coach you.

Whatever you do, don’t dwell on the bad. Think about where you are going, not where you have been.

If you need help with your marketing, contact me and let’s talk. 

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The 80/20 Principle and your law practice

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One of my favorite books is The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch. In it, Koch makes the case first articulated as The Pareto Principle, that “a minority of causes, inputs, or effort usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs, or rewards”.

The idea is that as much as 80% of your results may come from 20% of your effort. In the context of practicing law, that might mean that 20% of your clients produce 80% of your income. The actual numbers, however, aren’t necessarily 80/20. They might be 90/30, 60/20, or 55/5. The point is that some things we do bring results that are disproportionate to our effort and that it behooves us to look for those things and do more of them.

Koch says, “Few people take objectives really seriously. They put average effort into too many things, rather than superior thought and effort into a few important things. People who achieve the most are selective as well as determined.”

We’re talking about focus. About doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t. About using leverage to earn more without working more.

Look at your practice and tell me what you see.

  • Practice areas: Are you a Jack or Jill of all trades or a master of one? Are you good at many things or outstanding at one or two?
  • Clients: Do you target anyone who needs what you do or a very specifically defined “ideal client” who can hire you more often, pay higher fees, and refer others like themselves who can do the same?
  • Services: Do you offer low fee/low margin services because they contribute something to overhead or do you keep your overhead low and maximize profits?
  • Fees: Do you trade your time for dollars or do you get paid commensurate with the value you deliver?
  • Marketing: Do you do too many things that produce no results, or modest results, or one or two things that bring in the bulk of your new business?
  • Time: Do you do too much yourself, or do you delegate as much as possible and do “only that which only you can do”?
  • Work: Do you do everything from scratch or do you save time, reduce errors, and increase speed by using forms, checklists, and templates?

Leverage is the key to the 80/20 principle. It is the key to getting more done with less effort and to earning more without working more.

Take inventory of where you are today. If you’re not on track to meeting your goals, if you are working too hard and earning too little, the answer may be to do less of most things, the “trivial many,” as Koch defines them, so you can do more of the “precious few”.

My course, The Attorney Marketing Formula, can help you.

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