Start chopping, already!

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Abraham Lincoln famously said that if he has six hours to chop down a tree, he would spend four hours sharpening the ax. Or something like that. His point, of course, was that taking time to prepare before you do a job will make that job easier and the results better.

Okay, we all get that. But sometimes, we use “preparation” as an excuse to procrastinate.

“I’m not ready,” “I need to do more research,” “I need to think about it a bit longer,” we say. Too often, we never start.

Starting isn’t nearly as important as finishing but it’s a close second because you can’t complete a task you never start.

So start, before you’re ready. In the end, you’ll get more done.

If you make mistakes and have to fix them, if you mess up and have to start over, if you have to admit defeat and abandon the project, you’ll still get more done.

Now, I’m not saying don’t prepare. That would be silly. I’m saying don’t over-prepare. Wherever possible, do only as much preparation as you need to start.

Maybe you don’t need a week to do research before you begin. Maybe an hour will let you get rolling. If you find you need more, you can do more. But at that point, you’ll know more about the project and that might make the additional research go faster or be more useful.

Of course, you might find that one hour was all you needed.

If you have big, overwhelming projects, break them up into smaller parts, things you can do in a few minutes, an hour or two. Start those, and finish them, so you’ll be able to start and finish something else.

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Step back and look at the big picture

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Yesterday, after my walk, I was cooling down in the park, and saw a bird perched near the top of a tree. I watched him move higher until he was sitting on the highest branch where he sat and actively looked around.

I wondered what he was looking at, or for. His mate? Scouting for predators? Searching for food? Or was he just enjoying the view, naturally climbing higher because his instincts told him that this was the safest place?

From his higher perch, he could survey the land and decide where to go and what to do next. I thought this was an apt paradigm for a human life, that is, the value of periodically stopping and looking at the big picture.

We need to get our nose out of books and away from our devices. We need to hang up our phones. We need some time and some distance from our routines so we can assess where we are and where we want to go.

I do a lot of thinking on my walks. But they aren’t long enough to explore much more than my day or my week–what I’m working on now or what I need to do next.

No time to asses what I’ve done this year, or contemplate what I want to do next year or in the years to come.

Maybe a longer walk would help. Maybe a retreat. Or a few days off at a resort (with room service) where I can think and plan.

I know some folks who take a couple of days off every year to decide on their goals for the coming year. It gives them clarity, they say, and allows them to focus, plan and manage their future.

“The Getting Things Done” methodology talks about the need to look at your life from the 50,000-foot level, and all the way down to the “runway” level where we work and live day-to-day. Other methodologies do something similar, having you first determine your long-term vision and then working backward to map out your yearly and then monthly goals, and finally your daily activities.

However you go about it, it comes down to stepping away from the minutia of daily living, to look at the horizon, asses the threats and the opportunities, and decide where to go next.

Make sure you also have a marketing plan

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Lawyers as clients

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They say that lawyers make the worst clients in the same way that physicians make the worst patients. They know too much and have their own ways of doing things. They second guess everything and often don’t follow your advice. And when something goes wrong, guess who they blame?

It’s all ego, and if you’ve ever had a lawyer for a client, there’s a good chance you swore you would never do that again.

As someone who consults with lawyers, I feel your pain. So why do I continue to target them (you)?

  • Because there’s a huge need, given that so many lawyers aren’t good at marketing but realize they need to do it
  • Because lawyers have money and can afford to hire me and buy my stuff
  • Because marketing to lawyers is easier, more effective, and less expensive/time-consuming than it would be if I offered my products and services to everyone who wants to get more clients or customers and increase their income.

For those reasons and others, I suggest you consider targeting lawyers in your marketing.

Think about it:

  • Lawyers have stressful lives. According to Bar studies, they have a higher incidence of problems with drugs and alcohol. I don’t know if that means they are statistically more likely to get charged with DUI (et. al.), file for divorce, or break up with their partners, but if they do, they have the money to hire you and much more at stake if they don’t.
  • In tort matters, a lawyer’s loss-of-earning claim and disability claim tends to be bigger.
  • Lawyers buy real estate and invest and understand the need for legal advice and representation in matters outside their area of competence.
  • They have clients they can refer to you. And what a powerful referral it is when a lawyer can tell their clients that they have hired you themselves.
  • They know other lawyers they can introduce to you.
  • They are influential in their target markets and communities, which means they can open doors for you, endorse you, and otherwise help your practice grow.
  • Marketing is easier because when they need a lawyer, a lawyer usually prefers to hire someone like you who is not only a lawyer yourself but specializes in representing lawyers.
  • Marketing is more effective because you don’t have to network everywhere, write for everyone, or advertise to every type of prospective client, you can focus your efforts on attracting lawyers.
  • Marketing is also more effective because your marketing message can be tailored to your specific target market. Testimonials, endorsements, are reviews from other lawyers are more compelling.

If you handle “delicate” matters, e.g., criminal, bankruptcy, legal ethics violations, etc., lawyers probably don’t want the world to know they have hired you themselves. But that’s where having lawyers for clients is a decided advantage for you over having non-lawyers as clients.

Think about it. Your lawyer-clients have a built-in excuse for “knowing” you. You’re a colleague. They don’t have to tell anyone they hired you themselves, and they know you are constrained by law not to let that particular cat out of the bag.

How to choose your ideal client and target market

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Can I randomly email businesses promoting my firm?

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Attorney J. B. writes and asks, “Can I randomly email businesses promoting my firm?”

I respond, “I don’t know, can you?”

Okay, I didn’t say that. But I thought it. Blame my seventh grade English teacher.

Anyway, here’s what I have to say on the subject: Don’t do it.

Don’t randomly send email to prospective clients promoting your firm. If you do:

(a) you’ll be subject to penalties from the spam-gods, from your bar association or law society, and from ISP’s who designate your email as spam and relegate it (and other emails you send) to the Internet sub-basement;

(b) you’ll fall flat on your tush. You might get some business out of it but not as much as you want and it won’t be worth it. See “a” above.

Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t email prospective clients. But you’ve got to do it right.

(a) Don’t email “randomly”. Learn something about the prospective client and send them a “personalized” email.

Go through their website and learn something about the business and the people who own or run it and say something about this in your email. Say something nice about their business or about their website.

Find a connection between them and you or someone you know. You know one of their customers? Great! Say that. You know their accountant, broker, vendor, supplier, neighbor, landlord, competitor, a former employee. . . great! Say that.

Show them that your email is anything but random.

(b) Do NOT promote yourself or your firm. Resist the urge to say anything about yourself, what you do, or why you’re the best thing since sliced bread.

The moment you do something like that, you lose. They write you off as someone who just wants their business and is wasting their time.

If you’re lucky, they’ll delete your email. If you’re not, they’ll mark you as spam and remember you as that clueless lawyer who spammed them.

No bueno.

(Sign your email with “Esq.” or “Attorney at Law”. Put your website address in your email signature. Just a link. No promotional copy. If they’re interested in finding out about you, they’ll click and take a look.)

Clear?

So, what might you do instead? Lots of things. Here’s an easy one: Send them a link to an article you found online about their industry, about one of their customers, or a prospective customer for them.

(Send a link, don’t attach the article.)

What will this accomplish? Not much by itself. But it might open the door to future communication with them, and right now, that’s as good as it gets.

Over time, there are other things you can do to get to know the principals of the business and for them to get to know you.

Want to speed things up? Send them a referral. Introduce them to someone you think they need to know. Promote their merchandise or services or their content.

Now you’re talking.

Don’t subscribe them to your newsletter. Don’t (yet) ask if they want to subscribe. Don’t move too quickly. You don’t even know if they need a lawyer (or a new one) right now. That might not happen for a year or ten.

Take your time. Woo them. Don’t “Harvey” them.

Marketing online for attorneys

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The three stages of a law career

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The way I see it there are three stages to a law career. Some lawyers go through all three stages. Some stay in one stage their entire career.

Stage one is where you love the work you’re doing or the challenge of learning and getting good at something new. Many new lawyers start out in stage one. Some skip over it right into stage two.

If you’re in stage one and you love what you do, congratulations. I wish you a long and happy career.

Stage two is where the work itself is no longer gratifying or challenging, or never was. You do the work because you have to but any joy or fulfillment you feel comes not from the work itself but from what your work allows you do.

You’re happy because your work allows you to get results for your clients, build a successful practice, or make the world a better place.

If you’re in stage two and the work no longer fulfills you, you might take on a new practice area or target a new type of client or market. You might look into teaching CLE classes or writing a book. You might find a charity or cause you care about and through it find new challenges and new ways to use your skills and training.

Stage three is where you don’t enjoy the work and the joy you feel from helping people or from personal success isn’t enough to make up for that, “Is that all there is” feeling that weighs on you.

If you’re in stage three and it’s just not working for you anymore (or it never did), you should probably do something else.

That doesn’t mean you have to leave the law. At least not right away. You can hire people and let them run the day-to-day of your practice while you explore and go find your plan b.

Of course, you may not fit squarely into any one of these stages. You may love some parts of your work and detest others. You may have good days, bad days, and days you feel like running away.

Those darn gray areas. They make your life complicated, don’t they? Hey, nobody said being a lawyer was easy.

You really can earn more and work less

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A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client?

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Is it true? Does a lawyer who represents himself have a fool for a client?

Some people say that if you represent yourself in a proceeding or negotiation, it’s too easy to compromise your power and invite your emotions to get in the way.

I think they might be onto to something.

I can be tough as nails when it comes to representing a client’s interests but I’m not so good when it comes to representing my own.

If we have a contractor over to the house to bid on something, I’ll read the contracts but do my best to avoid talking to the contractor. I’m afraid I’ll either give away what I’m willing to accept or piss the guy off and have him take a walk.

My wife doesn’t have these issues. She’s nice to people. Level headed. So she talks to contractors and salespeople for us. I look at the bid and tell her what I think and she gets the deal done.

Okay, but you can’t hire an attorney or hide behind your wife for everything in life. And I don’t. I can and do ask for lots of things, like asking vendors to honor an expired coupon, for example.

The other day, I was looking at some software and reading some reviews. I saw a bunch of coupons offering discounts, including a few for 80% off, but all of the coupons were expired. I contacted the company and asked if they had any current coupons or promotions. A representative got back to me this morning and said they didn’t, that the ones I saw online were part of their ‘kickstarter’ phase.

So sad. Too bad. (Don’t tell her. I’ll probably buy anyway. At least I tried.)

And then she said, “But I can offer you 10% off; just use [coupon code]”.

What did I accomplish? I’ll save a few bucks and that’s nice but I gained something far more valuable. I imprinted on my brain a successful ‘negotiation’ on my behalf. I asked for something and I got something. Yay me.

I know, some lawyers are reading this and thinking, “What a wuss. I’d go back and ask for 80%, maybe settle for 50%. It’s not over until I win!”

Okay, settle down.

Anyway, if you’re like me and you are sometimes reluctant to negotiate on your behalf or ask people for favors, do what I did and get in some practice.

Practice asking your clients for referrals or to share your content. Practice asking website visitors to sign up for your newsletter. Practice asking seminar attendees to make an appointment. Practice asking prospective clients to sign up.

It never hurts to ask. And who knows, you might actually get good at it someday. If not, talk to my wife. Maybe she’ll help you out.

You can ask for referrals without talking to your clients. Here’s how

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What I’ve learned using the Pomodoro Technique

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I mentioned I’ve started using a Pomodoro timer to see if it helps me get more work done. When you don’t have a boss or clients or a set schedule, it’s easy to end your day and discover that you didn’t get that much done.

Using the timer keeps me focused on doing the work until it is done. Done might mean might mean finishing another group of tasks or another chapter, or it might mean completed a bunch of unrelated tasks.

While I’m working, if I have the urge to look at something online, I know it has to wait until the timer sounds and tells me it’s time for a break.

I ‘m also tracking my time reading and watching work-related videos. I give myself one Pomodoro (25 minutes) to do that each day. It’s how I keep my saw sharpened and my head (and Evernote) filled with ideas.

Anyway, so far, so good. I’m getting more work done and it feels good.

Doing this for the past few weeks has revealed some interesting things about how I use my time. Mostly, I’ve learned that some things take longer than I had thought. When I look at what I’ve done for the day or the week and compare that to how much time I spent doing it, I can see where I need to reconsider some of my priorities.

As I keep doing this, I will no doubt make some changes to my work flow. Some things will be allocated less time or eliminated, to make room for other things I’m not doing enough.

So here’s the thing.

If you’ve tried a Pomodoro timer in the past and stopped, as I did, try it again. There are a plethora of web apps and mobile apps you can use. Or find another way to track your time. If you bill hourly, start also tracking your non-billable time. If you don’t bill hourly, pretend you do.

You may gain some valuable insights into how you spend your day and identify some simple ways to improve your productivity and increase your income.

How I use Evernote to stay organized

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Eighty percent of success is showing up

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Woody Allen famously said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Being where you need to be when you need to be there.

In the context of marketing legal services, that means showing up when someone needs your help. But how do you do that?

You don’t know when someone will be in a collision, want to file for divorce, or start a business. You don’t know when someone is unhappy with their current attorney and is looking for a replacement.

And if you don’t know, you can’t show up. Or maybe you can.

You can create search engine optimized content so that when someone needs a lawyer and goes looking, they can find you.

You can write articles and run ads in publications and on websites where your target market is likely to see them.

You can educate your clients about who would make a good client for you and the best way to refer them and let them keep their eyes and ears open for you. You can do the same thing with professionals and other referral sources.

These strategies will help you get your name and message in front of prospective clients when they need your help. But there’s another strategy you should consider.

You should get your name and message in front of prospective clients before they need you.

You do that through a newsletter, a blog, a podcast, or a video channel. You build a list of subscribers and you stay in touch with them, sharing your knowledge and showing them how you can help them. As you do that, they see your passion and commitment to their niche or local market. They get to know, like, and trust you, and when they need your services (or know someone who does), you’ll be right there, ready to help.

Many lawyers do marketing sporadically. When you understand the value of building a list of prospective clients and you “bake” marketing into your daily method of operation, when you are never not marketing, you are never without clients.

Start or improve your marketing with this

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You’re smart enough but are you lazy enough?

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You know I’m a fan of the book, “The 80/20 Principle” by Richard Koch. He wrote a sequel, “Living the 80/20 Way: Work Less, Worry Less, Succeed More, Enjoy More. In it, Koch quotes General Erich von Manstein, an officer in the German army, speaking about leadership:

“There are only four types of officers.

First, there are the lazy, stupid ones. Leave them alone, they do no harm.

Second, there are the hard-working intelligent ones. They make excellent staff officers, ensuring that every detail is properly considered.

Third, there are the hard-working, stupid ones. These people are a menace, and must be fired at once. They create irrelevant work for everybody.

Finally, there are the intelligent lazy ones. They are suited for the highest office.”

Different versions of this citation have appeared, sometimes attributing the quote to others. In 1942 Viscount Swinton (Philip Lloyd-Greame) spoke in the House of Lords in London. He described the four classes of officers and credited an unnamed German General:

The clever and lazy you make Chief of Staff, because he will not try to do everybody else’s work, and will always have time to think.

What does this tell us? I think it tells us that maybe we are too industrious for our own good. Maybe we need to do less work and more thinking. Maybe we need to delegate more work to hard-working intelligent people who will take care of the details while we take care of the big picture.

I’m going to take some time to think about this. How about you?

Behold: an easier way to get more referrals from other professionals

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Is asking your clients for help a sign of weakness?

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Some attorneys believe that asking their clients (and others) for help is a sign of weakness. They think that any help a client might give them–referrals, sharing their content, liking their videos, posting a review–should and will happen organically, with no prompting from them.

In truth, while some clients will help you on their own, most won’t. Not because they don’t want to but because they don’t know what to do or they’re busy and forget to do it.

Your clients want to send you referrals. They want to help you and they want to help their friends. If you don’t tell your clients who would make a good referral for you and show them the best way to facilitate the referral, you make it harder for them to do. So their friend might wind up with another attorney who doesn’t do a good job or charges them more.

By not asking for help, you’re hurting your clients and the people they care about.

Your clients want other people to know you did a good job for them. Other people who are looking for an attorney depend on reviews by people who have hired you in the past. If you don’t ask your clients to leave a review, they might think you don’t care about reviews and not leave one. You’re denying them the satisfaction of helping others find you.

You think asking for help shows weakness when in truth it is a sign of strength and confidence. It shows people that you know don’t live in an ivory tower, you live in the real world and depend on others for your success. It is a sign of humility and respect for your clients and for yourself.

When you understand this, you realize that asking for help is no more a sign of weakness than asking a client to pay your bill.

How to make it easier for your clients to send you referrals

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