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You’ve got to know your numbers

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How much is a new client worth to you? You need to know this so you can make better decisions about how much you can spend to acquire and service them.

If a new client is worth $5,000 on average and it costs you $1,000 in overhead to handle their matter, you might conclude that you can afford to spend another $1,000 to bring in a new client.

Spend $3,000, earn $2,000 profit, rinse and repeat.

To figure out how much a new client is worth to you, don’t limit yourself to the amount they pay initially. A new client might pay you $5,000 today and another $25,000 over their “lifetime”.

On the other hand, “lifetime” is a long time and you should probably use a shorter period, say two- or three-years. If the average client pays you $10,000 over their initial three years, for example, you’ll have a better idea of how much you can spend to acquire and service them.

Don’t forget to include the value of their referrals. If the average client refers one client or case every three years, and that client pays you $10,000 over their first three years, that means that a new client is worth $20,000 to you.

Knowing your numbers also tells you where you might need to make some changes. You may look at the average value of a new client and decide you need to get some better-paying clients. You might see that while you don’t make that much initially, you make a good profit on the back end and, therefore, can afford to spend more to bring in new clients. Or, you might realize the opposite. You don’t make a lot more after the initial engagement or case and so you have to maximize profits on the front end.

You might realize that you’re paying too much in overhead for each client. Or you may realize that you don’t spend that much per client and you can afford to hire more staff to handle the work, freeing up more of your time to do higher-margin trial work, networking, or other marketing projects.

Anyway, you need to know your numbers.

How many referrals does the average client give you?

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A simple way to cut your marketing costs

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When you’ve heard advertising spots on the radio or TV and even online, you’ve probably noticed that after a new ad has run for awhile, you start hearing a shorter version of it. The original spot may have been 30 seconds or one minute; the shorter version might be ten seconds.

The shorter version has the same message and offer but leaves out a lot of details. Advertisers will often run the long version for several weeks, followed by the shorter version for a period of time. They might then run the long version again, or run a mix of short and long ads.

Obviously, advertisers do this to save money. But aren’t the shorter ads less effective?

To some extent, yes. People who haven’t heard the longer version won’t hear all the details and thus won’t be persuaded to take the next step. But regular viewers/listeners have heard the longer version, and for them, the shorter version serves as a reminder to do what they “almost” did when they heard the original ads.

The shorter ads also prompt listeners to pay attention to the longer ads the next time they run.

If you don’t advertise (and never plan to), note that this concept can be applied to other kinds of marketing.

All marketing comes at a cost: money, time, or both. If you create content, for example, you either take some of your time to do that or you pay others to do it for you. Creating (or ordering) a mix of long and short content can reduce your costs without a commensurate reduction in effectiveness.

If you invest a total of four hours a month at networking events or engaging on social media, you might be able to get the same results (or close to them) by cutting out an hour or two.

Instead of writing 750 words once a week for your newsletter, you might get just as much engagement and results by writing 750 words (or 500 words) once a month, and 250 words the rest of the time.

This idea can be applied to direct mail (e.g., letters vs. postcards), printing brochures (e.g., full color vs. two-color or black and white), and any other marketing where your target market will hear from you more than once. Take the savings and spend it, or re-invest it in more ads, content, and so on.

Need more traffic? Subscribers? New clients? This will help

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I thought that was included

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I trust that most of your clients would describe themselves as “satisfied”. You want them to be thrilled (and let everyone know that), but you’ll settle for satisfied.

Because it’s so easy for a client to be just the opposite.

It happens when you don’t do something they thought you were going to do or you charged extra for something they thought was included.

If you read negative reviews posted about lawyers, after “not keeping me informed” or “didn’t return my calls” and the like, numero uno is a variation of not getting what they expected.

Of course, it’s never their fault. It’s your fault and the world shall know it.

That’s why you have to go out of your way to CYA. Not just to protect against bar complaints or lawsuits, but to make sure your clients know exactly what they get (and don’t get) so you have a shot at keeping them happy.

Especially when it comes to money. Especially because clients are stressed out. Especially because so many clients don’t trust lawyers.

You can’t just slide the retainer agreement across the desk and hope they sign it without reading it. You need to explain everything, slowly and in plain English. Give them a list of FAQs that spell out exactly what you will do and when, and what you won’t do and why.

Ask them to acknowledge that they understand everything. Asking them to initial lots of things is also a good idea.

Maybe give them a three-day cooling off period.

Because if it’s possible to misunderstand something, your clients will find a way to do it. And blame you.

Marketing 101: keep your clients happy

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High ticket vs. low ticket

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When I started practicing, I took anything that showed up and what showed up was mostly small stuff. That was fine because I needed to settle cases quickly to pay my bills and smaller, less complicated cases made that possible.

Besides, I didn’t have the experience or resources to compete with bigger firms. So I didn’t try.

Focusing on smaller cases also meant that no one case or client was make or break. If I lost a case, if the client went away, I had plenty more where that came from.

For a long time, I was able to keep overhead to a minimum so my practice was profitable. Eventually, as I hired more staff and moved to bigger offices, overhead made a significant dent in the bottom line.

There is also psychic overhead. More clients mean more people to worry about, and more staff to manage.

So today, I would do things differently.

As soon as I could, I would move towards having fewer clients who pay higher fees.

Fewer clients mean lower overhead and fewer people to keep happy. Bigger clients mean bigger paydays.

To earn $300,000 with small clients you need a lot of them. To earn the same amount with bigger clients, you only need a handful.

One writer summed up the difference this way: “I’d rather have four quarters than 100 pennies”.

True, to compete with the big boys and gals you need to be one of them. You need a higher level of skill. That takes time to acquire.

And, with fewer clients, losing one could be costly so you need to work hard to keep them happy and have a way to replace them when they go away.

Both models work. High volume and high ticket are both viable ways to build a practice. And there’s nothing wrong with having a mix.

But while I could handle the tumult of a high volume practice when I was younger, today I like to keep things simple. And quiet.

Earn more. Work less. Here’s how

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Perfect

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To some extent, perfectionism is a valuable attribute in an attorney. Exacting standards and an almost obsessive attention to detail help you to do a good job for your clients, keeping them and yourself out of trouble.

I say “to some extent,” however, because research shows that perfectionism can lead to burnout, anxiety, and even depression.

You can argue that there’s too much at stake and, therefore, no room for error. You can’t take any risks with your work. But, as I’ve said before, life (and the practice of law) isn’t about the complete elimination of risk, it’s about the intelligent management of risk.

There are things you can do to maintain your wellbeing while staying faithful to your high standards. Like checklists, that tell you when you’ve done the work that needs to be done, and self-imposed deadlines that force you to “turn in your homework” even though you might want more time.

Mistakes happen. But most of the time, most of what you do is “good enough” and good enough is usually good enough. Err on the side of “overly cautious” or “painstakingly thorough,” but do what you have to do to let things go.

Repeat after me: “Done is better than perfect”.

One area where you cannot afford to be a perfectionist, however, is in managing your practice.

You can’t wait for the perfect marketing solution, you have to run with things and see how they work. Marketing is messy. Somethings work, some don’t. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you lose your shirt.

Similarly, you can’t refuse to delegate work because “nobody can do better” or because someone might make a costly mistake. If you insist on doing everything yourself, you will never grow.

You will work more than you have to and achieve less than you could. And you’ll also go home exhausted.

Earn more, work less. Here’s how

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You are what you appear to be

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Marketing maven Dan Kennedy talks about something he calls the “full parking lot phenomenon”. He says nobody wants to buy from a store, eat at a restaurant, or hire a lawyer with an empty parking lot.

It’s true.

If your parking lot or office waiting room is empty, if you don’t appear to have many clients, people get nervous.

They want to buy from successful merchants. They want to hire successful attorneys. You need to do whatever you can to create and maintain that image.

If you have lots of clients, talk about the work you’re doing for them–in your newsletter or on your blog, and in your conversations. Yep, tell war stories (but make them quick.)

If you are just starting out, talk about work you did for the firm you worked for prior to opening your office. If you’re going through a bad spell and you aren’t flush with clients, talk about the clients you do have or the ones you’ve had in the past. Nobody needs to know how long ago it was.

Book appointments back to back so that clients see other clients in your waiting room.

Talk about things busy lawyers do–your speaking engagements, writing, and networking. Let the world know that you are “in demand”.

Perception is everything. If you look successful, clients will assume that you are successful.

Does that mean that you should continually upgrade your image as you grow? New office, furniture, clothing, and car?

To some extent, yes.

If your clients (or the clients you wish to attract) expect their attorney to fit a certain image or profile, you should probably accommodate them. I know, we’ve all seen some very successful (and wealthy) attorneys who wear old clothes and drive old cars, but not everyone can get away with that.

Keep up appearances but don’t go overboard. You don’t want clients thinking you charge more than you’re worth because you are addicted to wearing $4000 suits.

You don’t need an expensive website. Here’s what you do need

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Reverse engineering your big goals

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Let’s say you have a two-year goal of having 20 referrals per month coming into your practice from professional contacts.

How do you get there?

You get there by asking yourself, “What has to happen first?” and working backwards until you know what to do today.

Let’s say you estimate that you can achieve this goal by having 20 referral sources who send you an average of one referral per month.

You don’t have that now. What has to happen first?

You figure that to have 20 solid referral sources, you need 60 professionals who tell you they’ll do their best to send you business. You know that some will send you a few, some won’t send any, and some will send you more than a few. You can’t possibly know how it will work out, but you figure (for now) that it will average out to 20 referrals per month. (If it doesn’t, you’ll need to change your numbers, find different referral sources, or re-assess your strategy.)

So, what has to happen first?

To get 60 professionals who have the ability to send you referrals and say they will, you figure that, over time, you need to have conversations with 300. If 80% tell you no, that leaves 60 who say yes.

What has to happen first?

Before you can have those conversations, you need to make a list of candidates. Professionals who seem to have the right client base that would be a good match for you. Let’s say that to find 300 who seem to have the right client base, you need to work your way through a list of 2000.

What has to happen first?

First, you need to do some research and find lists, directories, associations, et al, with names and contact information. You also need to work on a script.

And then, you need to schedule the time to make calls.

And now, you have a plan. And you can start working on that plan.

For help on finding lists and creating scripts, get this

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Go plagiarize yourself

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I have another project for you for the new year. In a nutshell, you’re going to inventory everything you’ve written or recorded in the past so you can use it again.

It’s about leverage. Getting more value out of your previous work, and saving a bunch of time and effort in the process.

First, gather up the following and put them into digital files:

  • Forms, documents, and other work product.
  • Frequently used emails and letters.
  • Content: articles, blog posts, newsletters, podcast, video, and interview transcripts, presentations, reports, ebooks, etc.

You might break up work product by practice area, type of matter, type of client, or stage of the proceeding. Instead of files, you can use tags or labels.

Calendar some time in the coming weeks to go through your files, and then:

  • Update forms and documents. Create an index of these documents, with searchable tags.
  • Convert emails and letters into boilerplate: transmittal, demands, notices, client updates, marketing, newsletters, etc.

Re-use, update, or re-purpose other content:

  • Re-publish blog posts, newsletters, and articles. Or combine parts of several posts to create new ones.
  • Convert blog posts, articles, podcasts, and interviews into ebooks, reports, presentations, social media posts, lead magnets (giveaways), and bonuses. Convert presentations, ebooks, reports, etc., into blog posts.
  • Update older posts, etc., with new information, new results, different opinions, predictions, etc. Consolidate several posts into round-up posts. Break up longer posts into shorter ones.
  • Modify marketing documents for use with different types of readers or markets

Do a little bit each week and you should soon find yourself saving time and getting better results.

You should also set up files to save copies of “incoming” content from other lawyers–documents, emails they sent you, (subscribe to their newsletters), forms they use (when you sub-in on a file), and so on. No, don’t plagiarize their stuff, use it for ideas for updating yours.

C’mon, you know they’re doing that with your stuff, don’t you?

Evernote for Lawyers

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Opening your own law office?

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Statistically speaking, most new businesses fail. But although most new law practices struggle in the beginning, they eventually make a go of it.

Why?

One reason is low overhead. A lawyer can hang out a shingle just about anywhere and start taking clients. No inventory, employees or expensive office needed–just a smart person, a laptop, and a phone.

Another reason is high margins. When you are paid thousands of dollars a throw, you don’t need dozens of clients to pay your bills.

Low overhead and high margins give you time and space to figure things out. It took me five years to do that, but in the interim, somehow, I was able to survive.

A few suggestions on how to do that.

1) When you’re new and don’t have much business, one thing you do have is lots of time. Use it. Get out and meet people. Speak, network, volunteer. Get out of your comfort zone and hustle. Make 50 calls a day and talk to lawyers, other professionals, business owners, and other centers of influence in your niche or local market.

Introduce yourself. Ask for advice about getting started. Ask to interview them for your newsletter.

You might get some business this way but don’t count on it. Look at it as a way to learn from and model successful people, and through them, meet others who might someday become clients or referral sources.

2) Be prepared to do “whatever it takes”. Take cases and clients who aren’t even close to being ideal. Take overflow and appearance work from other attorneys. Accept lower retainers or no retainers. Charge lower fees.

3) Conserve cash. Negotiate everything. Watch your pennies. Stick to a budget.

Things always take longer than you think and you will need that cash (and open lines of cash) to stay afloat. And, when that’s no longer the case, continue being thrifty, and build up a reserve of 12 to 18 months of income.

Accept that this is where you are right now, cutting your teeth, paying your dues and that eventually, things will be different. And find a way to enjoy the process. You may not enjoy the struggle but if you think about the future you are creating, you’ll know that one day, it will all be worth it.

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A cost of doing business that pays for itself

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You have overhead. And discretionary expenses. Rent, wages, payroll taxes, equipment, advertising, and everything else, and each has it’s own category in your expense ledger.

Everything except one. Customer service.

Customer service should have its own expense category because it is clearly a cost of doing business and it should be accounted for.

The things you do for your clients–to deliver value, to give them a good experience with your firm, to “take care of them” and make them glad they hired you–has a cost.

Some money and a lot of time.

Money spent on overnighting copies at your expense, remembering birthdays and holidays, and providing extra services free of charge.

Time spent talking to clients about non-billable matters and explaining things you’ve already explained, to make sure the client understands. Time spent training and supervising your staff, to make sure they know why taking care of clients is good for business and so they are well equipped to do it.

There’s also time spent on personal development, to develop the habits and skills that make you better at serving your clients.

Add it all up and it’s a big number. Or it should be because it is a key factor in the success of your practice.

The more you give your clients, the better you care for them, the bigger your practice will grow. Clients who feel respected and appreciated are clients who hire you again and again and sing your praises to others.

Customer service also cuts down on problems. Clients who are well informed and regularly updated, for example, are less likely to call you again or complain to you and to the Bar.

Sometimes, customer service means giving clients the benefit of the doubt when they want more from you than they paid for. Sometimes it means cutting your fee or issuing a refund.

That doesn’t mean you should allow yourself to be taken advantage of or put up with abuse. It means understanding the lifetime value of a client and being willing to sacrifice a dollar today to earn $1000 long term.

Customer service is a cost of doing business. But it more than pays for itself.

Henry Ford said, “A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large.”

Your goal is to earn more income. One of the best ways to do that is to invest in your clients.

The Attorney Marketing Formula is here

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