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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Dream big, start small. Or big.

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Are you the type of person who jumps into the deep end of the pool or do you dip your toes in first?

Deep-end divers usually say the water may be cold and jumping in is the quickest way to overcome the shock. Toe-dippers say they prefer to become acclimated to the cold and go all in when they’re ready.

This isn’t a referendum on swimming habits, of course. It’s a metaphor for how you handle change.

If you have a big goal you want to accomplish or a big project with lots of moving parts, do you throw yourself into it with everything you’ve got and sort it out as you go along? Or do you create a detailed plan, study and prepare before you take the first step?

Either way is fine. What’s not recommended is “none of the above,” that is, sitting on the sidelines and doing nothing. Don’t do that. Better to do something and back away if you’re not ready or you decide it’s not worth the effort.

Every experience is a learning experience and the more of them you have, the better. Half-finished projects, abandoned ideas, and unfinished first drafts are all fodder for your creative brain. Try lots of ideas and you’ll surely find some winners.

It’s also okay to use different approaches for different projects. You might start some projects by diving in and splashing about. With others, you might check the temperature before you decide what to do next.

In either case, do something. Read something. Make some notes. Talk to someone. Great accomplishments often start with very small steps. Big steps are okay, too.

For a simple marketing plan, get this

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How could I earn $500,000 per year?

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I talk to many lawyers who tell me they couldn’t afford to hire themselves. This isn’t a condemnation of their fees, it is a comment on the sad state of their income.

They’re not making much money. What can they do?

The first step to solving a problem is to admit that you have one. If you’re not earning as much as you would like to, admit it. Acknowledge your current reality.

Because if you don’t, you’re going to have a hard time changing that reality.

The next step is to ask yourself a question.

Don’t ask yourself “why” you’re not earning more, however. All you’ll get are excuses. Instead of lamenting your current state of affairs and wishing it was different, ask yourself a question that primes your subconscious mind to find the solution.

Ask yourself, “How could I earn $500,000 per year?” and let your subconscious mind go to work for you.

“How could I. . .” is a powerful question. Ask it a couple of times a day, especially just before you fall asleep. Let it percolate in the deep recesses of your brain. Let your subconscious mind come up with ideas and put them before you.

Write down all of the ideas that come forth, and keep asking.

Your brain will no doubt tell you that one thing you need to do is bring in more clients. It might even do the math for you and reveal that you need 100 new clients or cases per year, for example. So now, you have a new question to ask: “How can I bring in 100 new clients per year?”

You’ll get ideas. “Well, I could advertise. I could get more referrals. I could add more content to my site.”

Referrals sound good. So ask, “How could I get more referrals?”

More asking, more ideas. Keep asking “how” until you have some things you can do. And do them.

There are solutions to almost any problem. You may find them by accident, but you’ll have a better chance of finding them if you ask the right questions.

Don’t ask why, ask how.

To get more referrals, get this

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Never apologize for wanting to get rich

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More than two hundred years ago, Adam Smith wrote, “it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our own dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest.”

Some people mistakenly accuse Adam Smith of promoting selfishness. He was merely pointing out the economic truth that a society prospers because of the collective pursuit of its citizens’ self-interest.

The merchant and the lawyer make the world a better place by pursuing their own needs and wants. They want to do more for their families and themselves. To do that, they create better products and services and sell more of them.

As individuals pursue their own self-interest, they become more industrious. Competition forces them to make better products and offer better service and lower prices. As they do better for themselves, society does better. And the more that society prospers, the more that society can do for others.

Americans are the most generous people on earth, we are told. One reason is that we have more to give.

Everyone is driven by their own self-interest. Even Mother Teresa.

She lived modestly and gave herself to others, with little thought to her own material needs. She was driven by her spiritual needs and worked hard to get her message heard. She wanted others to heed the call to help others. That was her self-interest. By pursuing her self-interest, she did make the world a better place.

Never apologize for wanting to do better. Never feel guilty for earning more than your neighbors, or for wanting to earn more still. You work hard and you deserve it. And the more you do for yourself, the more you can do for others.

If you only do for yourself, however, it can lead to selfishness.

Andrew Carnegie, of the richest men in the world in his day and also one the biggest philanthropists, earned a fortune and then gave most of it away. He said, “Successful men should help the unsuccessful into more productive lives, and a man who neglects this duty and dies rich, dies disgraced.”

Earn as much as possible so you can give away as much as possible. Because avoiding disgrace is clearly in your self-interest.

The formula for earning more than you ever thought possible

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Are you stuck in first gear?

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Do you ever feel like you’ve stuck? You work hard and do the right things but you don’t seem to be getting ahead?

You’re in a rut, my friend, but don’t worry. It’s nothing five new clients can’t fix.

Five new clients who pony up big retainers or five big cases could be all you need to jump-start your machine and shift into high gear.

You know I’m right.

So yes, I’m going to pound on marketing yet again. Can you handle it? Unless you utterly loathe what you do and you need a new career, marketing is always the answer to what ails you.

But today, instead of digging into your bag of attorney marketing tricks, I’d like to see you go in another direction.

What do I mean? I mean exposing yourself to a completely different field. Immerse yourself in something unrelated to the practice of law and see how others have built or are building a successful business or practice.

Read a book, take a class, talk to someone. Get inspired by what they did and adapt their methods or ideas to your practice.

You might be surprised to discover some great ideas that have been right under your nose this whole time.

This morning, I downloaded a Kindle book, The College Entrepreneur. I’m not in college and I’m not interested in starting a new business right now but the book is receiving high marks and was free, so clickity-click and I own a copy. I haven’t read it yet but I’m almost certain I’ll find something in it that I can use in my business.

Get thee to a bookstore and start browsing. Don’t leave until you find something to read that has nothing to do with law or even marketing or business. Learn how others have climbed the mountain of success in whatever it is they do, and then go climb your own mountain.

When you’re ready to apply what you learn to your practice, get this

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Is that the best you can do?

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Does it ever seem like there’s an invisible ceiling over your head that limits your ability to earn more income? Do you ever wonder if you’ve hit a plateau in your career?

Wonder no more, my friend. If you believe you’ve reached your peak, you have, because your beliefs determine your reality.

Your limitations are all in your head. They’ve probably been there a long time. Parental messages probably had something to do with it, and a whole bunch of other things. But what’s important isn’t how you developed your current beliefs but how you can change them.

Because if you don’t change your beliefs about yourself and about what’s possible, those beliefs are going to continue to hold you back.

How do you do it? How do you change your deep-seated, long-held beliefs?

Hypnosis? Therapy? Visiting a sweat lodge? Can you read your way to a new self-image? Take courses? Hire a coach?

To some extent, all of the above have some value because doing them, even thinking about doing them, signals your self-conscious mind that you want to change.

But I have another option for you: get some new friends.

Yep, one of the best things you can do to change your life is to spend time with different people. People who have done what you want to do and people who have what you want to have.

While you’re at it, spend less time with, or completely disassociate from, people who don’t.

The so-called “law of association” says that we become like the people we associate with most. If you hang out with people of one political persuasion, for example, the odds are you are on the same side. If they work hard, you probably do, too. If they exercise and eat well, you are more likely to do the same.

If your friends and business associates read a lot, you’re more likely to do that, and more likely to read what they’re reading. If they invest their money wisely, you are more likely to think twice before buying into the latest fad.

When we associate with people, we tend to adopt their way of looking at the world. We learn their “language”. We adopt their habits. We share many of the same beliefs. Those beliefs influence our attitude towards what we do and don’t do, and those activities determine our results.

And let’s not forget that the people we know can introduce us to other people like themselves, and open doors to new opportunities. If you want new opportunities, you need to know some new people.

Think about the people you spend the most time with right now. Your closest friends. Your colleagues. Your professional contacts. The odds are that your income and lifestyle are on a par with theirs. If you’re happy about that, great. If not, if you want to achieve more, you should probably find some new friends.

Here’s how to find and meet new professionals who can send you referrals

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How to bring out the champion inside you

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Last night, The Warriors clinched a spot in the NBA finals by beating OKC. After being down three games to one, watching them come from behind to win the series was a beautiful thing to behold.

The message? Never give up. No matter how bad things look, champions never give up. That’s what makes them champions.

But there is another message.

After The Warriors won game six and evened the series, Charles Barkley said, “Your flaws show up under pressure”. That’s true. But what he might have also said is that it’s the pressure that makes you into a champion.

Whether it’s professional basketball, building a law practice, or doing anything else that requires skills and determination and hard work, it’s the struggle that allows us to reach our potential. If it was easy, there would be no growth and no greatness.

Don’t fear your problems, embrace them. Don’t lament your mistakes, learn from them.

Do you want more income and greater success? Solve bigger problems. Take bigger risks. Fight bigger battles.

Your flaws show up under pressure and show you where you need to improve. Every battle, every loss, every adversity you overcome makes you stronger and better.

Don’t hide from pressure, go look for more of it. It turns a lump of coal into a diamond and a rookie into a champion.

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7 out of 10 lawyers agree

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Remember that toothpaste commercial from years ago claiming that, “7 out of 10 dentists agree. . .”? What if I told you the real number was “8 out of 10”? Why on earth would they low-ball it?

Actually, I don’t know what the real numbers were. They might have been “8 out of 10,” “9 out of 10,” or nearly “10 out of 10,” but they would have been smart to use a lower number.

Because “7 out of 10” is more believable than “9 out of 10”.

“7 out of 10” has verisimilitude. The appearance of truth. Which is a critical element in sales and persuasion. Because if your prospective client, reader, judge or jury, doesn’t believe your assertion or promise, it doesn’t matter that it is true.

As long as there are no legal or ethical reasons why you shouldn’t do it, it’s better to understate the truth.

I guess you could call this “reverse exaggeration”.

Anyway, remember this for your presentations, negotiations, advertising, motions, and anything else where you want to persuade someone to do something. If the real numbers or facts stretch credulity, lie (in a positive way) to tell them something they will believe.

Add qualifiers if you must. Say, “More than. . .” or “Better than. . .” before your statement, to cover your behind and let your conscious be clear. But as long as what you say is true, it doesn’t matter that it’s not completely accurate.

Okay? Make sense? Good stuff.

Now before I let you go, you’re probably wondering what it is that 7 out of 10 lawyers agree on?

You probably think I’m going to say “nothing”. Lawyers are a bunch of cantankerous, argumentative, pugnacious souls, genetically incapable of agreeing on anything.

But this isn’t true. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

Most lawyers, more than 7 out of 10 I am sure, agree about nearly everything. No, not when it comes to arguing a client’s case or negotiating their lease. We do the job we’re paid to do. I’m talking about things like marketing and image, the things that allow us to stand out from other lawyers so that clients will choose us instead of them.

When it comes to marketing, most lawyers look the same.

You could take their ads, marketing documents, presentations, and the like, put another lawyer’s name on it, and no one would be the wiser.

The reasons aren’t important. What’s important is that because 7 out of 10 (or is it 8 out of 10?) lawyers conform and follow the same (narrow) practice-building and career-building path, most lawyers never get past “average”.

Average activities, average results, average income, average lifestyle.

If you want to stand out from other lawyers and have more clients choose you, if you want to have a better than average lifestyle, you need to be one of the 3 who isn’t like the other 7.

Let everyone else do what everyone else does. You be one of the few who doesn’t.

To be different, start here

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You know the answer, you just need someone else to say it

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I heard from an attorney who has been practicing for 15 years and is thinking of leaving his job with a law firm where he feels like he’ll always be the low man on the totem pole.

“I want to start out on my own. My wife [an attorney] is against this; we have 4 kids and a mortgage and she makes considerably less than I do.” He’d read my blog post about the costs of opening your own office but wanted to know more about actual costs. “I need a business license, insurance, an office, and a decent computer system. What’s your estimate for starting up?”

Here’s what I said:

“Okay, setting up the office is the easy part and it’s not expensive. You can get a furnished executive suite or take a spare office from another attorney in return for appearances or overflow. If you have a laptop computer that does what you need, you’re in business. If you don’t, you can finance one for next to nothing from Dell.

Insurance can wait. (That’s not legal advice). So can a lot of other things. One nice thing about low overhead is that it doesn’t take much to stay afloat.

The hard part is the family. You have to work that out. Your wife is scared and perhaps she has a right to be, but most people don’t understand “the itch” and aren’t willing to scratch it. So you have to have a long talk. Or a series of talks. And if you can’t get her on board and you still want to do this, you may have to do it without her permission. And then work your butt off to bring in lots of business.

Sometimes, when I’ve taken big scary leaps in my career, I first asked myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Will I die? End up in prison? Lose my house? Lose my wife? End up homeless, penniless, on drugs and wanting to die?

When you think about the worst case scenario in all it’s overly dramatic splendor, you realize that most of this is highly unlikely, and whatever does happen is probably something you can survive. Bad things may happen, but you probably won’t die, and as they say, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.

Whatever you decide, don’t second guess yourself. Stay or go, but don’t look back.”

He wrote back and said he’s going to talk to his wife and will keep me posted.

But here’s the thing. He’s a smart guy and surely knew I couldn’t give him an estimate of how much he would need to open his own office. But that’s not the real reason he contacted me. He was reaching out because he’s nervous about the whole idea and wanted to hear a friendly voice who had been there and done that.

Here’s the other thing. I’m sure he also knew the part about making the leap with or without his wife on board. He knew it but needed me to say it.

We all know more than we realize we know, don’t we? But we don’t always trust what we know.

Sometimes we use logic to guide us to the right decision. Sometimes we throw logic out the window and let our gut get us past the fear so we can do what we want to do.

When you face big a decision like this, it’s good to talk to someone who’s been down that path. They can provide information and encouragement and ask you questions that allow you to sort things out. You could also pray on it, write in a journal, talk to experts, and do a lot of research.

But while these might be the mature way of handling things, sometimes you just have to jump and see what happens. As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing.”

I’ve made many leaps in my legal career and with businesses I’ve started. Things didn’t always work out but I never wound up homeless and I always learned something about myself and about the world I was able to use down the road.

So am I saying you should do what you want to do even when there are lots of reasons why you shouldn’t?

No. I’m not saying that. You are.

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How much cash should you have before you open your own office?

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I just heard from a lawyer who works for a firm and is thinking of going out on his own. He wants to know how much he should have in savings before making the leap.

Well, you need some cash–but a lot less than you might think.

You don’t have to invest in inventory. You don’t need to hire anyone until you have clients. You can get into an office with a couple months rent.  And if you plan to advertise, you don’t have to buy TV time or billboards, you can start with a small budget and scale up.

In other words, you don’t need a big pile of money to open your own practice. What you need is some cash on hand to pay your bills until the practice is producing enough income on its own.

But how much?

Six months? A year? Two years?

I don’t know. I don’t have a formula. But I can tell you this: it’s better to have “too little” than “too much”.

A big pile of money in the bank takes the pressure off of you. You can take your time. Be selective. Relax and do things “right”.

And that’s the problem. If you don’t have to hustle, you probably won’t.

When I opened my first office, I had almost no money in the bank. I sold my childhood coin collection to buy some (cheap) furniture and pay the first month’s rent on a small office. I bought an IBM Selectric typewriter with nothing down and payments of $43.43 per month. I bought some stationery, cards, pleading paper, legal pads, file folders, and pens. I had enough left over to cover a couple of months rent and basic expenses.

I was open for business, but I didn’t have any. No clients.

I took out a cheap classified ad in the local bar journal, seeking overflow work and appearances. And I hustled my rear end off to bring in some clients of my own. At first, I took anything, including work I hated and was barely qualified to handle. Most of my clients paid me next to nothing because that’s all they could afford and I took it because I needed whatever they could pay.

Every month was a struggle to cover my bills. It took five years before I figured things out, but I made it.

I made it because if I didn’t bring in business, I didn’t eat.

Looking back, I don’t know what would have happened if I had had lots of money at the start. Yeah, I do. I probably would have gone through it, thinking I had lots of time, and only then would I have had enough pressure to make things happen.

Your situation is different. You have more experience as a lawyer than I did. You know more about marketing than I did. And you have the Internet, which allows you to ramp things up more quickly. But you also have more competition than I did.

The bottom line on making the decision to open your own practice has little to do with how much money you have at the start, and everything to do with your drive and determination.

How bad do you want it?

If you’ve got lots of energy and you’re willing to work harder than you’ve every worked before, if you’re prepared to do whatever it takes to make it, you’ll make it.

Or you won’t. There are no guarantees. No paycheck, no benefits. Nothing. You have to build it all.

It’s called risk, but risk is the path to reward.

Make sure you have a marketing plan before you open your own practice

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