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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How to make next year your best year ever

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Where do you want your practice to be next year at this time? Wherever that is, the way to get there is to identify and exploit your current “areas of opportunity”.

Areas of opportunity include

(1) weaknesses you can reduce or eliminate;
(2) strengths you can make stronger; and
(3) unexplored or underutilized strategies, techniques, tools, and relationships.

Take some time to examine your practice, and yourself, and look for areas of opportunity you can work on in the coming year.

Here are a few examples:

  • new target markets
  • new practice areas
  • strategic alliances with new business contacts
  • new places to advertise, network, speak and write
  • improving client relations
  • new skills to acquire, hire or outsource
  • eliminating bad habits
  • developing new habits
  • retraining or replacing under-performing employees
  • marketing strategies that work and should be expanded
  • new marketing strategies
  • improving website copy
  • eliminating marketing activities that use too much time
  • giving some employees more responsibilities
  • reducing overhead by cutting expenses, consolidating, negotiating
  • opening satellite offices
  • improving your brand
  • getting more online reviews
  • setting up additional websites to leverage important keywords
  • working fewer hours
  • improving billing and collection methods

There are many more.

Start by spending some time identifying major weaknesses, if any, and patching the dam.

Spend more time identifying and implementing things you’re not doing that could help you grow bigger or faster.

Spend most of your time identifying your strengths and making them stronger. Your strengths got you to your current level and, more than anything, they will get you to the next.

Client referrals are a major area of opportunity

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Suck it up, buttercup

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My wife needs a new chair for her office. Last night, we stopped at our local Staples, which is having a sale on office chairs, and she found one she liked. I had a $30 coupon in my pocket which was for phone and online orders. The plan was to find a chair she wanted, go home, and order it.

Eduardo came over and asked if he could help. I asked him if I could use my coupon if the chair we wanted was already on sale. He said he wasn’t sure but would go ask his manager.

He came back with good news. Not only could we use the coupon, we could buy the chair in the store and take it home with us. His manager would override the “online” code and make it happen.

Nice.

Eduardo rang us up. He called his manager over to handle the override. The manager came, clicked some buttons, and the deal was done.

On our way home, my wife and I compared notes about the manager’s attitude. Whereas Eduardo was friendly and helpful, the manager was a walking corpse.

He didn’t say anything–no “have a nice evening,” “enjoy your new chair,” or “thank you for shopping at Staples.” No smile, no eye contact. Nothing. He clicked some keys, threw the used coupon in the trash, and turned to walk back to wherever managers hide out.

As he walked away, I said, “Thank you for your help”. He half-turned back to me, mumbled something, and continued his retreat.

So, what’s the problem? The problem is, he didn’t do his job. If I was his district manager, I would have fired him on the spot.

His job isn’t just to approve coupons. His job is to foster a pleasant customer experience. Make customers feel welcome, appreciated, and glad we chose to spend our dollars with them instead of anywhere else.

It’s the most important part of his job and he didn’t do it.

Maybe he was ill. Maybe his wife just left him. Maybe he hates his job and his life.

So what? When you show up to work, you leave your problems in your car and do your job.

You do your job even if you don’t feel like it. If you have serious issues, stay home. Take a few days off. Do what you have to do, but don’t bring your problems to work.

Nobody cares about your problems. Everyone has problems of their own. Suck it up and do your job. If you can’t do that, go work somewhere else.

As employers, we know that everyone can have a bad day. Hell, we have them ourselves. But nobody should be allowed to let their problems get in the way of our job.

How to use your website to make your phone ring

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Here’s a year-end marketing project for you

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Now is a good time to update (or start) your new client welcome kit.

A welcome letter is not enough. You should overnight new clients a comprehensive package of information, instructions, and other materials that not only make the client feel welcome but equip him to help you do your job.

Your kit should answer the new client’s questions about their case and about working with you. This will reduce anxiety, misunderstandings and calls to your office.

The kit will also help you cross-sell your other services, help you build your list, and stimulate more referrals.

What goes the kit? Information.

  • what happens next, and what happens after that
  • instructions — what to do, what to NOT do
  • office hours, appointments, parking, how to contact you and your staff, payment options, what to do in an emergency,
  • answers to FAQs and answers to questions clients often don’t ask but should
  • information about the law and procedure relative to their case or matter
  • how to navigate your website
  • your social media channels and a request to Like and Share your content
  • where to send feedback, reviews, and suggestions
  • what to say and do to make referrals
  • a list of your other services and practice areas
  • your bio, and information about your staff
  • social proof about you and your firm–reviews, testimonials, endorsements, success stories/case histories–to minimize “buyer’s remorse” and provide”talking points” the client can share with partners, superiors, etc.)

And so on.

Your kit should also include a supply of your business cards, copies of reports or books you have penned, brochures, and various “referral devices” they are encouraged to share with friends and contacts.

Include more than you think is necessary. People tend to associate “bulk” with value, so load ’em up. It’s not important that they read everything, it’s important that they see that you are accomplished, organized, professional, and prepared to help them.

You can (and should) selectively share some of the contents of your kit again at a later time, especially when it has been updated. This gives you another excuse to contact them, and another way to remind them that you can help them and the people they know.

You can also use much of this information in your kit for prospective clients. But we’ll save that for early next year.

“Referral devices” bring you more referrals. Here’s how to create them

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