Nip it in the bud

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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

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What to do when business is slow

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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

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The key to earning more and working less

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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.

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Organizing books and files

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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?

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RIP Grumpy Cat

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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

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Frustrated, overwhelmed and disillusioned

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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

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Too much business, not enough revenue

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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

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Ask your clients this ‘million-dollar’ question

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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.

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Reducing decision fatigue

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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

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Building your law practice by design, not default

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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

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