Thinking small pays big

I’ve written before about the wisdom of regularly examining your expenses and ruthlessly cutting them. All those $5 or $25 per month charges may seem insignificant but they add up.

When you cut them, you not only reduce your overhead and increase your net income, you increase the overall value of your practice because one of the most important elements in the value of your practice is your cash flow.

Cutting $20 per day off your expenses will increase in net income of $600 per month. That may increase the sales value or borrowing power of your practice by five or ten times that amount.

It also frees up cash you can invest in marketing.

The same dynamic applies to increasing your income. Adding a few hundred dollars per month to your (net) income via additional fees will similarly improve your bottom line.

So, what if in addition to targeting bigger cases and clients you also paid attention to bringing in some smaller ones? All those $1000 fees also add up.

A few new small clients per month might allow you to hire more staff or buy more ads which could bring in many times what they cost. And, don’t forget that smaller clients and cases can lead to bigger ones.

You should also regularly consider your options regarding increasing your fees. A five or ten percent increase in your billing rates or fees could have a profound effect on your net income.

Don’t obsess over any of this but if you want to increase your net income, don’t ignore the little things.

Because every dollar counts.

How to increase your fees without losing clients

Calculation fatigue

That’s the title of an article in this month’s Chess Life magazine. The sub-title is, “The dangers of delving too deeply into one particular variation”.

The article is an examination of a botched game by a strong player, a game that might have been awarded a brilliancy prize but for the player’s errors occasioned by following one idea too far and losing the central theme of the game.

What does this have to do with practicing law? Everything.

Because lawyers (and other very smart people) often do what this Grandmaster did. They focus too much on the details, the minutia of a case or an issue, and sometimes lose a won game.

I’ve done it. I’m sure you can think of times when you’ve done it, getting lost in researching an issue to the nth degree, perhaps, making a big deal about a small point.

You see it during oral argument when the judge or jurors eyes glaze over and you know they’re didn’t follow your last point, or no longer care.

You see it in marketing. You get bogged down in choosing better keywords or creating better funnels, months go by and thousands of dollars have been spent and you find you could have gotten better results with something simpler.

You see it in a lot of websites. A would-be client visits, hoping to learn something about his problem and what you can do to help him and is confronted by a library of information. There’s too much to read, he doesn’t know where to start, so he leaves.

(NB: keep the library but hide it and link to it for those who want more information.)

We see it in presentations where we try to make too many points and leave no stone unturned and we simply confuse the audience (and a confused mind says no).

What should we do? We should periodically stand down from business as usual, put aside all the small stuff and focus on the big picture.

The strategy, not the technique. The main argument, not the “Hail Mary” we throw in just in case.

You started practicing with a few simple ideas and you did okay. If you’ve found yourself getting off track lately, a return to fundamentals might be just what you need to reset and revitalize your practice.

It might even earn you the brilliancy prize.

The Attorney Marketing Formula can help you get back on track

Here’s your plan

What if there was a law firm that provided top-notch, added-value legal services instead of the “me-too” services most lawyers offer?

What if there was a law firm that understood what their target market and prospective clients wanted–not just their legal needs but also ways to improve their business or personal life–and worked diligently to provide this?

What if there was a law firm that dedicated time each week to improving their workflow, systems, tools, and other processes?

What if there was a law firm that had highly effective marketing strategies in place that consistently brought them traffic, leads, subscribers, and new clients?

What if there as a law firm that worked hard at making every client feel appreciated so their clients never left them and went out of their way to send them referrals?

Now, what if a law firm like that moved into your area and targeted your clients and future clients?

Don’t let this happen to you.

Don’t wait for other lawyers or firms to pose a threat to your livelihood.

Do something now, to make sure YOU are the one to beat.

Commit (or re-commit) to creating and continually improving superlative marketing and management systems.

And get busy.

Because you never know how many other lawyers or firms are doing this right now. Or reading this right now and are about to get started.

This will help you create a simple but effective marketing plan

Breaking in new clients

I saw a post recently praising Scrivener, my favorite long-form writing app. The poster said, “The best tools get out of the craftsman’s way and make the job easier.”

True.

What’s also true is that the best clients get out of their lawyer’s way, making their job easier.

But not all clients do that.

As you undoubtedly know, a big source of friction between client and lawyer are disagreements about how the matter should be handled. Especially with a client who wants to micromanage their case.

Is there anything you can do to help your clients get out of your way and let you do your job?

Sure.

Have a heart-to-heart talk with new clients before you do the work.

Explain that they will make the big decisions but you need to be able to handle the day-to-day strategy and other things lawyers do. Explain why this is important and in their best interest. You might give them an example or two of previous engagements to illustrate.

While you’re at it, explain your policies about other things that tend to cause friction, like fees and billing and updates.

Tell them when updates will be provided, how billing is handled, how long things should take, and what to do when they have questions.

Get them to tell you they understand and agree.

Put these “agreements” in writing–in your retainer agreement or in a separate document that both of you date and sign. You can use a standard checklist and leave room to write in things specific to the case or client.

This won’t eliminate all points of friction but it should go a long way towards reducing them. And, if there’s a problem, you’ll have something in your file that can help resolve it.

Managing your (new) client’s expectations this way will also help you deliver a better experience for them.

If they’re expecting monthly updates, for example, and you provide them more often, or if they expect to be billed for something and you absorb the cost, you’ll have some happy campers.

Happy campers who get out of your way and make your job easier.

How to prepare an invoice that gets paid on time

What could possibly go wrong?

Last week, I reminded you to do something you already know you need to do: anticipate problems and nip them in the bud.

A checklist can help.

Make a list of all of the “points of interaction” your clients have with your office. This would include things like

  • What they see when they visit the home page of your website
  • What happens when they fill out a form
  • What happens when they call your office for the first time, e.g., what are they asked, what are they told
  • What happens at their first appointment, e.g., parking, in the waiting room, being shown to your office, questions asked, information supplied, forms to fill out, etc.
  • Emails, letters, and documents they get from you (and anything that accompanies it)
  • What happens when they call your office for an update or to ask a question
  • The process for delivering work product/final appointment
  • Follow-up calls and letters from you, e.g., reminders re updates, requests (referrals, reviews, Likes and Shares, etc.)

And so on.

Chart these and then, for each interaction, look for

  1. Things that could go wrong, and how you can fix them, and
  2. Ways to improve the client experience

You don’t have to go crazy with every detail; look for big things–the kinds of things that usually win hearts and minds or, conversely, result in complaints.

Things like

  • How long they have to wait (on hold, at an appointment, to receive something you promised
  • Being kept informed
  • How they are treated, e.g., you know their name/their case, they are shown respect and patience, etc.
  • What to expect, e.g., outcomes, fees/billing

Don’t rely on your own observations and sensibilities. Ask your employees to weigh in, and also ask your clients, through exit surveys and by continually asking for feedback.

What could possibly go wrong? Find out and nip it in the bud.

Good client relations brings repeat business and referrals

Nip it in the bud

I went to the dentist yesterday for a cleaning and exam but my dentist wasn’t there. He was on vacation in Hawaii.

“Didn’t they tell you?” my hygienist asked.

They (whoever that was) hadn’t, so no. And no exam.

Strike one: Not telling patients you’ll be out of town and giving them the option to re-schedule.

Strike two: I’d already paid for the exam, so now what? Go without it? Make another appointment and come back? What if something’s wrong and I won’t find out until the next exam in six months?

Strike three: No dentist in the office means the hygienists aren’t working “under the supervision of. . .” which may be a problem for the DDS but also for the patients because he’s not there to check their work.

Which leads to strike four:

My appointment was right after lunch and. . . the hygienist’s hands smelled like pot. Once I noticed this I also noticed she wasn’t as sharp as usual.

Did she do a good cleaning? Who knows? Nobody there to check her work.

I wondered if she does this all the time or just when the boss is out of town. I also wrestled with telling her, so she could clean up her act before someone reported her.

Okay. This wasn’t a typical experience and I didn’t make a fuss but the next patient might, which could cause problems for the dentist.

On the other hand, he needs to know what’s going on.

As a professional, you have to stay on top of everything that’s going on in your office.

Everything.

You have to anticipate problems and do something about them before they occur. You have to train and re-train your staff.

And, when you see a problem brewing, you need to step in and nip it in the bud (pot reference intended).

After my appointment, I got a text inviting me to fill out a survey about my appointment. It’s not anonymous so I hesitated.

Should I fill it out? Wait until the dentist gets back and talk to him privately? Or should I let it go because it’s not typical?

What would you do? What would you want your clients to do?

How to get more repeat business and referrals

What to do when business is slow

It happens. You’re not bringing new clients at the same pace as before. You may have lost some clients. Your income is down.

Don’t panic.

Or maybe you should panic if you’re in denial about what’s happening.

Either way, there’s something you can do to turn things around.

Here is a 3-step plan to help you sort things out:

STEP ONE: ASSESS

Take half a day, or several days, to stand down from your daily routine and figure out where you are, how you got there, and what you can do about it.

Start by looking at your numbers. What’s different from before (when things were good)? Where have you lost ground? What’s stopped working?

Look at last year at this time. Do you see any pattern? Is this a seasonal fluctuation that’s gotten worse?

Look at your competition. Are things slow for them, too? If not, what are they doing differently?

What’s still working for you? Where does most of your new business come from? Which sources, which strategies, which markets, which types of cases or clients?

Look at your marketing. What worked before that you’ve stopped doing? What worked before that you’ve changed? Where are you spending less time? Less money?

Look at your target markets. What’s happening to your client’s businesses or industries or niches that might be affecting their need for legal services?

Look at your referral sources. Has their business slowed, too?

Talk to your colleagues. What are they doing that’s working well?

Talk to your employees. What do they see that you might be missing?

STEP TWO: PLAN

Brainstorm your options. Things you can do to get more traffic to your website, more sign-ups for your newsletter, more prospects calling to make an appointment?

What can you do to get more people to take the next step?

What can you do to get more referrals from your current and former clients?

What can you do to get more referrals from your professional contacts?

Where can you meet new referral sources? New prospective clients?

What marketing methods can you start doing again? What new marketing methods can you start doing?

What relationships can you/should you strengthen?

How can you improve your marketing message? Your website? Your lead magnet? Your offers?

What skills do you need to improve? Acquire? What tools do you need to acquire or upgrade?

After you’ve exhausted the possibilities, write a one-page plan. Choose no more than three strategies (for now). Decide on the best one and focus on that first.

STEP THREE: EXECUTE

Get your team on board with your plan and get busy.

Do the things that only you can do and delegate everything else.

Track your results so you can do more of what’s working.

Get help. Get a workout partner. Join a mentoring group. Hire a company or consultant to advise you. Hire a coach.

Keep a journal throughout this process to record what you’re doing and what you will do to prevent future slowdowns.

If you want help, let me know

The key to earning more and working less

If you want to earn more without working more, or earn more and work less, the simplest way to do that is to find ways to use leverage in your work.

Leverage means getting more with less. Less time, less capital, less effort.

When you hire an employee, you’re using leverage. When you create a checklist that allows you to get your work done faster or better or with fewer errors, you’re using leverage. When you conduct a seminar and deliver your message to 100 people at the same time, you’re using leverage.

Leverage also means using what you’ve got to get more of what you want. It can help your practice achieve compound growth.

When you win a big case or land a big client, your income grows. Featuring that win in your marketing can bring you new clients who choose you as their lawyer because you win big cases or represent big clients.

That’s leverage.

Use what you have to get more of what you want.

You have a base a clients. You can leverage that base to stimulate more referrals.

You have knowledge and experience. You can leverage this to improve your services, your marketing, and your productivity.

You have business contacts. You can use these relationships to meet new contacts and discover new opportunities.

Why work hard when you can work smart? Why spend a fortune in time and capital when you can get bigger results with less?

Leverage allowed me to quadruple the income in my practice while simultaneously reducing the number of hours I spent in the office.

If you want to grow your practice quickly, leverage what you have to get more of what you want.

This system shows you how to do that.

Organizing books and files

I have no life. That’s what some people would say if they saw me reading an article about the different ways to organize your bookshelves.

Behold a few of the ways:

  • Alphabetical, By Title
  • Alphabetical, By Author
  • By Genre
  • Chronologically
  • By Publication Date
  • By Why You Read them
  • By How Much You Like Them
  • By Color
  • By Size

What’s missing? Right, no mention of the Dewey Decimal System. Who are these whipper snappers?

Okay, I don’t use the Dewey Decimal System. I very loosely group books by topic. But since I’ve reduced my physical book collection from thousands of books down to one bookcase, it really doesn’t matter.

I do have thousands of digital files (and Kindle books) and for those, I rely primarily on search and tags.

I also organize digital reference files alphabetically. That way, I can browse through categories. That helps when I don’t know what I have (so I don’t know what to search for) or I’m looking for ideas.

In my law office, I filed client files alphabetically. I tried other systems but alphabetical (client last name, client first name; for litigation, client name vs. (or adv.) opposing party) was simple and effective.

I also set up a file number system–two digits for the year, followed by a hyphen, and then a four digit sequential number, starting with 1001.

The 25th file opened this year would have this file number 19-1025. I’m not sure how I came up with this but it gave me another way to track “come ups” (ticklers) and statutes in a paper calendar.

I know, fascinating.

Actually, it is. I think most people are interested in how others organize things.

So, what do you do?

How do you organize your client files and reference files (paper and/or digital)?

Okay, I’ll bite: how do you organize your books?

I’ll bet more people organize their books by color than by The Dewey Decimal System, but you never know. Steve?

RIP Grumpy Cat

Grumpy Cat died. You know, the cat with the down-turned mouth who looked like he was perpetually in a bad mood. The cat who inspired hundreds of Internet memes?

Yeah, that Grumpy Cat.

Question: when you’re a grumpy cat, what do you do about it?

You shouldn’t be around clients when you’re in a bad mood. It’s bad for business. Nobody likes a Debbie Downer.

Your employees might give you a little slack (because they have to), but they’d rather not have you in the office when you’re wearing the weight of the world on your shoulders.

When you have a sad or you’re feeling mad, what do you do?

Put on some music? Actually, that’s a good idea. Listen to some tunes that lift your spirits, or listen to some music that makes you sad–for some reason, that works, too.

If music doesn’t fix you up, if you’re still feeling like Lucy took your football, you’ve got to fake it. Pretend you’re in a good mood. Act as if.

Put on a (fake) smile and soon you’ll be smiling for realz.

If music and fake smiles don’t help, if you’re really bad off, leave. Flee the scene. Go home, go to a movie, go do some retail therapy.

Get out of the office for a few hours and get your head right.

Grumpy Cat was cute. Grumpy Lawyer, not so much.

How to get your clients to send you more referrals