Frustrated, overwhelmed and disillusioned

Somethings wrong. You’re working hard but spinning your wheels. You’re stressed out and you don’t know what you’re doing wrong.

Am I incompetent? An imposter? A fool?

Maybe. But probably not. That’s probably your frustration, overwhelm, and disillusionment talking.

More likely, you’re simply trying to do too much.

I’ve been there. Early in my practice. Ready to pull my hair out because I was working hard but not making any money.

I hadn’t heard about The Pareto Principle–the 80/20 rule–and the power of doing less to accomplish more.

But something told me I had to start taking things off my plate, and I did.

I eliminated or delegated things that weren’t working (or that I hated), no matter how “promising” they seemed or how much I wanted them to work, and freed up time and mental energy to do the few things that were actually working.

The “20% activities that produce 80% of your results”.

What happened? Besides being scared to death that I was cutting out too much and doing too little, my income went up.

Because I was focusing on (and getting good at) a few things, instead of trying to do “everything”.

I was earning more and working less.

One of the things I focused on was marketing. Ah, but not all kinds of marketing. I focused on a few strategies. One of these was learning how to bring in more referrals.

You can learn how to do that, here

Too much business, not enough revenue

A lawyer tells me, “I have too much business and not enough revenue. I feel that I am working myself to death.”

Ah, yes. Overworked and underpaid. I haven’t talked to every lawyer in the world, so I can’t be sure, but I suspect this is a common problem. 

He continued:

“Everything I take on seems to expand in complexity and it is hard to get the work done. I have hired assistants in the past but they don’t seem to work out very well.”

Okay, class. What would you suggest to this fellow traveler?

Mike?

“He needs to keep hiring assistants until he finds someone who works out.”

Yes!

I know finding and training people can be a frustrating experience, but it’s not impossible. You have to keep looking.

Use an agency to screen people. Be willing to pay more to get top talent. Hire temps until you do.

You can’t do all the work yourself or you will always be overworked and underpaid.

However, before our friend does this, he needs to do something else. Anyone?

Mary: “He needs to increase his fees.”

Bingo! Gold star, Mary. We’ve got some very smart people in this class.

Increasing his fees will simultaneously increase his revenue and decrease his workload. That’s what they call a twofer. 

Unless. . . well, sometimes, when you charge more you get more work, not less. You get better clients who are willing to pay more and they give you lots of work.

How about we put that aside for now. Any other ideas?

Jerry?

“What kind of practice does he have? If he doesn’t specialize, he should. It will simplify his work and attract better-paying clients because clients prefer specialists.”

That’s right. Good advice.

Well, I see our time is up for today. Excellent ideas for our friend. I’ll pass them along.

Okay, no homework tonight, guys. See you tomorrow.

How to earn more without working more

Ask your clients this ‘million-dollar’ question

Years ago, New York Mayor Ed Koch used to walk up to people on the street and ask, “How am I doing?”

Really.

He learned what his constituents thought about the job he was doing and was able to use some of that feedback to make improvements.

He also scored points for being open to feedback, something most politicians usually run from.

Anyway, you can do something similar in your practice, but instead of asking your clients, “How am I doing?” ask them this question:

“On a scale of zero to ten, what is the likelihood you would recommend us to a friend or colleague?”

You could ask this at the end of the case, before they leave your office. You could email a survey question. Or you could have someone call them on your behalf.

However you do it, follow up (by phone or email) and ask,  “Why did you give us that score?”

You’ll get some interesting feedback, I’m sure. You’ll also plant a seed in your client’s mind about recommending you. If they give you a high score, i.e., a high likelihood that they will recommend you, they will be psychologically more likely to do that.

Nice.

A simple, one-question survey (plus follow-up question) is easy to implement and could bring you a lot more business.

You could instead ask, “On a scale of zero to ten, how would you rate the quality of our legal services?” Or, “The next time you have a legal issue, on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the highest, what is the likelihood that you would choose us as your attorney?”

So tell me, on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate the quality of this post?

Marketing is easier when you know The Formula.

Reducing decision fatigue

I forget where I read it but it makes sense: we can only make so many decisions in a day before our brains reach “decision fatigue” and the quality of our decisions diminishes.

The upshot is that we should do our best to make important decisions earlier in the day.

We can also reduce decision fatigue by finding ways to make fewer decisions.

One way is by develop more routines.

I’m sure you’ve heard the idea of wearing the same color t-shirt every day. Once you’ve chosen your color and brand, you don’t have to think about it again.

Once you’ve figured out the best route to different courthouses, write it down and you won’t have to think about it again.

Another way to reduce decisions (and speed up your work) is to create checklists for everything.

Checklists for opening and closing a file, conducting a client interview, reviewing and summarizing a deposition transcript,  in case of emergency, and so on.

Templates and boilerplate for writing letters and emails or responding to FAQs also help. So do lists of resources you frequently access or recommend (links, cites, references, forms, notes, etc.)

Start by paying attention to all of the decisions you make today. You’ll probably be surprised at how many there are and how much time you spend making them.

Then, look for ways to eliminate small decisions so you’ll have more time for the big ones.

If you have “referral fatigue,” here is the answer

Building your law practice by design, not default

When you need a new computer and visit a retailer to see what’s available, the sales person (if they’re doing their job) will probably ask you a series of questions:

  1. What will you be doing with it?
  2. Are there any “must have” features?
  3. Anything that’s “good to have but not required?”
  4. What’s your budget?

Your answers will help eliminate from consideration computers that don’t have the power or features you want or need or that cost more than you want to spend. From the remaining options, you can zero in on the right choice.

It seems to me that these questions can also help you make the right decisions about managing and growing your practice.

What type of work do you do or want to do?

What practice areas, niches, target markets, and types of cases or clients?

Start with the big picture. Eliminate what you don’t want so you can focus on what you do want.

Must have features?

You might say, “I don’t want partners, I want a preponderance of my clients to come from referrals, I don’t want to do any paid advertising, and I want to commute no more than 40 minutes to my office.”

Good to have but not required?

You might say, “I would like to able to work from home two days per week, I don’t want any full-time employees, and I would prefer do little or no litigation.”

What’s your budget?

How much time and money are you willing to invest to manage and build your practice?

How much on overhead (dollars and/or percentage of gross)? How much on advertising (if any)? How much time on marketing each week?

There are no right or wrong answers, of course, but thinking these things through can help you zero in on what you need, what you want, and what you’re willing to do.

No high-pressure sales people required.

For a simple marketing plan that really works, go here

Here’s your plan

With a little planning, next year could be your best year ever. 

Start by deciding what you want to improve or expand or what problems or bottlenecks you want to remove. These should be relatively high-level strategies that relate to your long-term goals. 

Things like

  • Entering a new market or niche
  • Developing a new skill or improving an existing skill
  • Offering a new service
  • Finding new referral sources/jv partners
  • Improving your billing and cash flow
  • Starting a newsletter, blog, or video channel
  • Cutting overhead
  • Trying (or increasing) PPC advertising
  • Hiring more employees/outsourcing
  • Streamlining your workflow

There are many more possibilities. 

Make a list and then choose no more than three to five strategies for the year. (If you get them done, you can go back for more).

The next step is to decide what “success” looks like for each strategy. 

What’s the desired outcome? How much/how many? When do you want this to occur? 

It might help to think about why you want this result. What will it help you do, have, or become? How will it materially improve your practice or life?

Write a short description of each desired outcome or goal. 

Once you chosen the what and why, it’s time to consider the how. How will you implement these strategies? How will you achieve these goals?

For each strategy or goal, write down specific action steps.  Make each step as simple as possible. Break up big tasks or projects into small, bite-sized pieces. 

Organize all of your action steps into logical order and add them to your task management system or calendar.

And there’s your plan. 

This will help you create a simple marketing plan

Breakage

Retail stores allocate a percentage of their revenue for breakage, to cover losses due to damaged, defective, or stolen inventory.

They also use it as a warning signal. If they allow 2% for breakage, for example, and they have a month or a quarter with 3% breakage, they know they have a problem with something (or someone) and can look into it.

Lawyers should also have a breakage fund. Your accountant may have already set this up for you under “contingencies”.

Contingencies cover uninsured losses: claims, deductibles, lost deposits, bad checks, embezzlement, write-offs, and so on.

If you don’t already have this, consider it. Allocate, say, 1% of your net revenue, to cover contingencies. Deposit the money in a separate account, to prevent yourself from dipping into it.

If you sustain a loss, you’re covered. If you don’t, you can move the funds into savings or another account.

There’s another type of contingency fund you might consider.

Call it a “mad money” account. Or a “don’t worry so much” account.

You can use it to buy the deluxe version of something you want when you can only justify the basic version.

You can use it to buy things you want but don’t need.

You can use it to cover a loss when you buy something you never use or that breaks and can’t be returned.

Without guilt. Without giving it a second thought.

If you’re the type that beats yourself up when you make a mistake, this might be for you. If you’re typically tight-fisted about your budget, this might be for you.

Put $100 a month or $200 a month or $500 a month into a “I don’t care” account and use it to cover mistakes, flings, extravagances, and losses.

Take some chances. Live a little. Don’t worry so much about mistakes.

Breakage happens. But now, you’ve got it covered.

What are your three things?

“Perhaps the most important personal productivity tool ever discovered is what we call the “Law of Three.” This law says that 90% of all of your results and eventually, your income, come from only three of your daily activities.”

So says Brian Tracy in a post on his blog.

In 80/20 parlance, those three activities are your “vital few”–20% activities that deliver 80% of your results.

And they’re different for everyone.

Tracy used sales managers as an example. He says their three things are recruiting, training and managing.

So, what are your three things?

Of all the things you do in your practice, what three activities create the most value?

Focus on those three things. Do more of them, get better at them, and you should be able to increase your income at an accelerated rate.

You may also find that you can let go of a lot of things that aren’t your top three. This will give you more time (and energy) for your top three activities, allowing you to compound your results.

But don’t stop there.

Once you’ve done this exercise and found your three activities, do the same exercise for each of those three.

If one of your 20% activities is litigation, for example, identify the top three activities that make you better or more successful at it.

If one of your top three activities is marketing (and if it’s not, what’s up wit dat?), make a list of all of the marketing activities you do and from that list, choose your top three.

Which marketing activity brings in the most clients? Which produces your best clients? Which activity do you do best and want to do more?

Focus your marketing on those three things and consider letting go of or doing less of everything else.

You’ll thank me later.

One of my top three: client referrals

Too much or not enough?

Most lawyers present prospective clients with a single option: hire me to do “x” [or don’t].

The problem is, if they don’t want “X” or think it’s too expensive, they have nowhere to go but out the door. If you give them two or three options instead of one, you increase the odds of getting hired.

Right?

Maybe. If you’re not careful, giving them too many options, or the wrong options, can lead to the same result.

Too many options can lead to confusion and indecision. They need to think about it (but don’t). They need to discuss it with someone (who is equally indecisive).

So they do nothing. Or find a lawyer who offers something simpler.

I’m not saying you should stick with one option. Sometimes, that’s the right choice. Sometimes, it’s not.

How do you decide?

There are many factors to consider: the legal issue, deadlines, the stakes, the client’s experience, their budget, how many other attorneys they’ve talked to (or hired before), and more.

It also depends on the quality of your marketing documents and salesmanship.

Most lawyers take the “safe” route. They look at what other lawyers do and copy them. If they all offer one option, they do too.

Some lawyers look at what other lawyers are doing and do the opposite. The masses are almost always wrong, they believe, and even if they’re right, being different is the essence of differentiation.

The smartest bears in the woods admit they don’t know and try different approaches. They offer different groups of prospective clients different options or they offer all clients one option for six months and a different set of options for six months and see what works better.

They might have different packages or price points for clients with different budgets, for new clients (to get them in the door) and returning clients, and for clients in different markets. They also have something to offer to prospective clients who balk at the first option.

They track their numbers and that’s how they know.

What’s that? You want a simpler answer? “Just tell me what to do!”

I just did.

This will help 

12 lists for organizing and managing your practice

I like lists. They keep me organized, focused, and productive. I use them every day.

Take a gander at this list of lists, to see if there are any you might want to add to your productivity toolkit.

  1. Current Projects. Everything you’re working on (or should be). Having these in one place will keep you from neglecting anything and see if you’ve got too much on your plate and need to offload something.
  2. Next Projects. What do you intend to work on once you’ve completed your current projects? This will help you prepare for those projects, e.g., write down ideas, research, etc., so you can start them without delay.
  3. Ongoing & Recurring Projects. Other projects or responsibilities, e.g., updating your website, networking activities, content creation, client relations activities, your newsletter, preparing reports, etc.
  4. To Do This Week. 3-5 important projects to focus on in the next week to ten days.
  5. To Do Today. Look at your “this week” list, your calendar, your project lists, and elsewhere, and choose 3-5 “MITs” (Most Important Tasks) for the day.
  6. Routines. Checklists of weekly or daily tasks for tidying up, organizing, and planning your work. Examples: weekly review, inbox zero, cleaning up computer files, paying bills, morning and afternoon “startup” and “shut down” routines.
  7. Goals & Dreams. Monthly, quarterly, and annual benchmarks. Long-term goals or vision.
  8. Someday/Maybes. Ideas you’re considering but aren’t yet committed to doing.
  9. What’s Working Now. Questions that prompt you to reflect on what’s working well so you can do more of them.
  10. What’s Not Working Now. Questions that help identify problems, bottlenecks, and poor ROI, so you can eliminate, curtail, delegate, or fix them.
  11. Budget. Track income and expenses to reduce debt, increase profits, manage investments, etc.
  12. Remember. Ideas, quotes, or accomplishments you want to keep in front of you, to stay motivated, focused, and on message.

Do you use any lists that aren’t on this list?

My Evernote for Lawyers ebook