No shortcuts?

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We’re told we have to put in our dues, meaning we have to do the work and give it time. We’re told it takes hard work and we shouldn’t try to beat the system. We’re told it takes as long as it takes and there’s nothing we can do to speed things up.

But this isn’t true.

Knowing the right people is a shortcut. Knowing people who can send you business, give you good advice, and introduce and endorse you to key people in your niche or market will almost always shorten your path to success.

Timing is a shortcut. Investing in precious metals before massive inflation destroys the value of paper currency can lead to great wealth. Starting a new practice area before other lawyers realize its potential could help you get the lion’s share of the business.

The Pareto Principle is another shortcut. Figure out the 20% activities in your work that lead to 80% of your results, do more of those 20% activities, and you can multiply your results.

Personal development is perhaps the ultimate shortcut. Increasing your knowledge, improving your skills, becoming a better leader and communicator, are the very stuff of success.

So yes, there are shortcuts. But there are no guarantees.

So, while you’re looking for shortcuts, you might want to cover your bets by working hard and giving things time.

No, hard work won’t guarantee your success or speed up the process. But it might help you find some shortcuts that do.

More shortcuts for building bigger, faster

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Why do lawyers go out of business so infrequently?

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According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70% of business owners fail by their 10th year in business. In some industries, the failure rate is much higher.

So why do lawyers and law firms fail much less often?

Lawyers close shop because they don’t like the work or they find something else they’d like to do, but not so many leave because they couldn’t make it. Even with plenty of competition and tough times, lawyers can hang in there if they want to.

But why?

Many people start a business who have never run a business before. They may be good at making widgets or installing water heaters, but as Michael Gerber points out in The E-Myth, those skills don’t necessarily qualify someone to start and run a business.

But isn’t that also true for lawyers?

Just because we know how to prepare a lease or take a deposition doesn’t mean we’re qualified to run a law practice.

In addition, lawyers are far more risk adverse and often lack “people skills” that are the driving force of many businesses.

So why do we have better numbers?

Overhead and margin.

Lawyers have no inventory, lower rent, lower debt service, and a lower cost of doing business. It takes a lot less income to keep the doors of a law office open compared to many other businesses.

In addition, most businesses have smaller margins compared to a law practice. A business might markup their products by a few percentage points, requiring a lot of sales to make a profit, whereas a lawyer might need only one or two cases or clients a month to do the same thing.

The bottom line, therefore, is the bottom line. Lawyers don’t go out of business as often because they have staying power.

Lower expenses and higher margins give us time to learn how to build and manage a practice. We can survive lean times and growing pains and stick around long enough to become successful.

But don’t take anything for granted.

There are still lean times. Competition that wants to eat our lunch. A lot to learn and a lot to do.

If you’re like a lot of lawyers I know, you wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Eight days a week

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I got an email this morning that opened with, “Hey David, I’m on vacation this week. . .”

It was shorter than his usual and he wrote it, he said, “from the beach” in Atlantic City, but it struck me that if he was on vacation, he shouldn’t be writing to me—or anyone.

But who am I to talk?

I rarely take vacations, and when I do, I bring work with me. I don’t always do the work but I like knowing I could.

When I worked at an office, I usually brought a file or two home with me for the weekend.

And there were plenty of Saturdays when I was back in the office, sometimes half-day, sometimes all day. I got a lot of dictation done with the phones quiet and nobody else around. I would have worked Sundays, too, but the air conditioning was off.

Poor me.

Can you relate?

Why do we do it? Why are we always working?

Yeah, we’re busy, we’ve got bills to pay, goals to achieve.

But also because we see hard work as a virtue and time off as an indulgence.

But it’s not. We’re not machines. We need time off.

We need time to rest our bodies and our minds, to play and enjoy the fruits of our hard work. We need time away from from demanding clients, deadlines, and overwhelming inboxes.

Even if we love every minute of our work, we need time off. We don’t necessarily need long breaks, but we need something.

When we push ourselves to keep working, when we rely on willpower and negative reinforcement, we reach a point of diminishing returns. We might get more work done, but the quality of that work often suffers.

So does our emotional well-being.

Go for a walk this afternoon. Take the weekend off. Put your vacation back on calendar.

And when you take that vacation, don’t bring any work with you and don’t send me an email.

Read a book and enjoy the fresh air. The work will be there when you get back.

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Did I ever tell you about the time I messed up a case?

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Success stories are valuable tools for marketing professional services. They show prospective clients that you’ve helped others solve the same or similar problems, implying that you can do the same for them.

Talk about the problems people brought to you, the pain this caused them, and the hard work you did to deliver them from misfortune.

And don’t forget the happy ending.

On the other hand, don’t make everything look too easy.

You’ll be more believable and relatable if you tell people about cases that didn’t have a happy ending.

The client didn’t listen to you or the case had problems you couldn’t solve.

You might also tell stories about times when you messed up.

Talk about a case you lost and how this affected you. Talk about your struggles to “save” people and your guilt or sadness when you couldn’t. Talk about a mistake you made and what it cost you to fix it.

Show people the human you, the imperfect you, because people know you’re not perfect and they’ll love you for being honest with them.

But be careful. You need a deft hand to do this.

It’s best to talk about failure in the past tense. Talk about what you learned from the experience and how it made you better at what you do.

You’ll hear me talk about things I did when I first started practicing, how I struggled, what I learned, and how I changed and became successful.

A failure story with a happy ending.

You also need to be selective about the issues you talk about.

If you messed up a case because you got hooked on pain meds after surgery a few years ago and finally kicked the habit, I don’t think anyone would look down on you. If you abused recreational drugs for many years, however, and only recently got clean, you might find some people worrying about you relapsing.

I was late for court once and my case was dismissed. I had to file a motion and pay sanctions to save it. I can tell that story because people understand “being late” and because I saved the case. If I lost because I blew a statute and the client sued me and won, I probably wouldn’t tell that story.

Tell success stories, mostly, but occasionally talk about things that didn’t go so well. If it was your fault, be careful. It’s easy to go too far.

If you’re not sure, have a friend look at your story before you publish it.

Because friends don’t let friends publish drunk.

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If you don’t start, you can’t fail; you can’t succeed either

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What’s on your bucket list, your dream board, your list of someday/maybes? What projects have you been avoiding because they’re too big or you don’t have the time or you don’t what to do?

What would you love to do but have avoided because it’s important to you and you’re afraid you might mess up?

How about giving it a go?

If you’ve tried before and lost your way, how about trying again?

It’s not difficult. You only need to do 3 things:

(1) Do something. Anything.

Starting is the hardest part. Do something easy, something you feel almost zero resistance to doing.

Write a few ideas or questions, read an article, or set up a new file.

Focus on that first step, and nothing else.

Once you’ve taken that first step, you’ve started. You’re on your way.

(2) Take the next step.

It might be to write more notes or read another article. It might be to write a paragraph explaining to yourself what you want to do and why it’s important.

Whatever it is, the next step will be easier, because you’re not starting from scratch.

(3) Do something every day.

Make a commitment to yourself to keep going, and to do something every day.

Even 5 minutes.

But it has to be every day, or at least every work day.

Put it on your calendar or in your task or reminder app and don’t miss a day.

Some days, perhaps most days, you’ll work for just 5 minutes. Other days, you work for 30 minutes. What’s important isn’t how much time you give it but that you work on it every day.

Without fail.

If you work on it every day, your subconscious mind will understand that this is important to you and work on it when you’re doing other things. It will give you ideas, help you focus on the right things, and remind you to keep going.

Eventually, you’ll build build enough momentum to carry you through to the finish.

Even if you mess up. Even if it’s harder than you thought. Even if it takes longer than you imagined, eventually, you’ll get where you want to go.

Dale Carnegie said, “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”

But nothing happens until you take the first step.

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Why is more important than how

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I’m big on “how to”. I like learning how to do things and getting good at doing them. To be the best that I can be so I can accomplish my goals, feel pride in creating things and changing people’s lives.

So I read and study and practice the how-tos

But while “how” is important, it’s not as important as “why”.

You say you want to grow your practice by one-third this year? Why do you want that? What will you do with the money?

Pay some bills? That’s probably not enough to motivate you to do what you need to do to achieve your goal. Money in, money out, another day, another dollar.

On the other hand, if the reason you want to earn more money is to help your aged parents finally retire, because they worked hard all their lives and are still working to pay their bills. . . that’s a big reason why.

That’s the kind of “why” that will motivate you to make the calls or start a newsletter or do other things to bring in more business. It’s what will keep you trying new ideas, staying the course when things get tough, get past rejection or disappointment or fatigue that might otherwise cause you to give up.

Ask yourself what you want. And then ask yourself why you want it.

When you have a big enough why, you’ll figure out how.

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What would you buy?

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It’s been a rough year for a lot of folks. A lot of belt-tightening, deferring purchases, raiding retirement accounts. A lot of resistless nights, fatigue-filled days, and worries about the future.

Stimulus payments and PPP loans may help, but they’re not a long term solution. Building your practice is a long-term solution. For many lawyers, however, the client-pool isn’t quite as deep these days, given that many would-be clients have had an equally bad year.

And yet, there is more than enough business out there for you. I don’t know about the other guy, but for you, there’s plenty.

You just have to find a way to attract them.

I’m not talking about marketing. Yes, that’s part of it, but it might not be the key ingredient for attracting more clients.

What is that key ingredient?

You.

If you want to attract more business, you need to become more attractive.

When you’re feeling nervous about the future, worried, confused, skeptical, scared, or you are otherwise in a bad place mentally and emotionally, it’s difficult to attract anyone, least of all, people who are similarly situated.

Clients come to you because you give them hope for a better future. They need to feel like you can take them there.

It’s not just what you say or promise to do. It’s your music. How you feel and how you make them feel.

If your “music” isn’t attractive right now, you’ve got to change your music.

A simple way to do that is to use your imagination.

Humor me. This is the real deal.

Imagine what your life will be like when things are the way you want them. Or remember what it was like before lockdown living became the norm. Imagine a time when you have lots of clients and cases and money comes in like clockwork.

Get quiet and imagine a better future for yourself. A time when you don’t have to tell yourself you “don’t need that” or you “probably shouldn’t spend that”. A time when money is plentiful and you don’t have to think about it.

In that future, what would you buy? Where would you put some cash?

Would you upgrade that ancient laptop you’ve been lugging around? Hire another assistant? Advertise more?

Would you get some new clothes? Fix up your house? Give more to charity or help out a needy friend?

Would you start a passion project, get braces for your teeth, or hire someone to clean your house once a week?

Think about what you would do when you have plenty of money. More importantly, think about how you would feel.

Take a deep breath and imagine it.

Feels good, doesn’t it? Warm and fuzzy. That tightness in your gut is gone. You feel relaxed, centered, confident. You feel like anything is possible and you’re excited about the future.

Yes or yes?

The only thing left is to find a way to feel that way now, because that feeling is what will take you from where you are to where you want to go. It’s what will make you more attractive to clients who want that, too.

That’s crazy, you say? Woo woo nonsense. It’s just wishful thinking and you need a plan, something you can do that will bring in more money.

I just gave you that plan.

Give a try. Meditate once a day for ten or fifteen minutes and imagine things the way you want them. Do that for 30 days or 90 days. Make it a part of your daily routine.

Worst case, nothing changes, but for ten minutes a day, you take a mental vacation and feel great.

Best case? You change. Your confidence grows and you start taking action, inspired by your wishful thinking.

Your music changes. You become more attractive to people who need your help and they find their way to you.

Because the Law of Attraction is real.

If this is a message you needed to hear right now, if you are inspired by these words, realize that you attracted them to you. What will you attract next?

When you’re ready to take action, here is a great option

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Hard work is for suckers

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As kids, how many times did we hear about the value of hard work and self-discipline? How many times did we hear stories about parents or grandparents who sacrificed to make a better future for their family? How many times were we told that hard work is the path to a successful and virtuous life?

A lot.

We hear it a lot today, too.

Leaders, authors, speakers, clergy, and everyone else, it seems, who has something to say about our human condition, talks about the sin of laziness and the virtue of hard work.

But is it all true?

Yes, many people have achieved great things by putting their nose to the proverbial grindstone. But just as many seem to accomplish as much without breaking a sweat.

We all know people who are successful without working hard or forcing themselves to do things they hate doing.

Could it be as simple as choosing the right career or job or business? Our grandparents may have had limited career choices, but do we?

If we choose work we love, we don’t need self-discipline. We do what we do because we love doing it.

But it’s not always possible, is it? Surely the sanitation worker doesn’t love his or her job?

Maybe they do. Or maybe they love that they perform a function society depends on, they are (relatively) well-paid, and they don’t have to put in the hours their entrepreneurial neighbors do.

Hard work is okay, if you want to work hard. But doing things that come easily to us, that don’t require self-discipline or sacrifice, is okay, too.

And, if we can’t find work we love, perhaps we can find ways to do our work that don’t cause us stress or strain.

As attorneys, we might not love all our clients or all of the work we are asked to do. But we can always find something about what we do that we enjoy.

Even if it is the satisfaction of helping people solve difficult problems and earning a good living doing it.

Working smarter means you don’t have to work harder. Here’s how

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A simple way to feel better about the future

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I spent extra time doing my weekly review yesterday. I dusted off some projects I had planned to work on last year and prioritized them to work on this year.

I consolidated blocks of notes I have been accumulating and made new lists about what to do next.

For a couple of hours, I ignored the current state of the world and planned my future. When I was done, I felt good.

I have things to do and I’m looking forward to doing them. No matter what the world delivers to my doorstep, I will adapt and move forward.

Because that’s all anyone can do.

I encourage you to go through your apps and lists and notes and make a new plan or update your old one. Make it simple and focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do.

When you’re done, you’ll have a renewed sense of purpose and a picture of a better future, and you’ll feel good about that future, because you have a plan.

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Motivation follows action (not the other way around)

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YOU: I want to bring in more clients; I’ve made a list of 18 things I could do but I’m not motivated to do any of them. Do you have any advice?

ME: You’ve come to the right place, son. Pull up a chair and let me set you straight.

Now, the way I see it, you have 3 options:

Option 1: Make another list. Go find 18 more things you could do, and keep looking until you find something you want to do. There’s got to be something, right?

If not, go to option 2.

Option 2: Get out your checkbook. Pay someone to do something on your list for you, or babysit you and coach you while you do it.

If you don’t want to do that, you have option 3.

Option 3: Pick something on your list and do it anyway. Even though you don’t feel like it. Because research tells us that motivation follows action, not the other way around.

Pick something you hate the least, or pick something you hate the most so you can prove to yourself you were right, or pick something at random.

Just pick something, and start.

Do something, however small and insignificant, so you can say you started.

Because motivation follows action, not the other way around.

What will happen? Well, you might find it’s not as bad as you thought and decide to continue. You might find a way to make it easier or better. You might start to see some results, get excited, and say to yourself, “I wish I’d started this sooner.”

Or, you might hate it, in which case, you can choose something else and try that, or go back to option 1 or 2.

Those are your options. I hope this helps. I’ll put your bill in the mail.

How to create a simple marketing plan that works for you

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