What do you want, exactly?

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In order to figure out what you want in your practice or any area of your life, it helps to first figure out what you don’t want.

Try this exercise:

Sit down in a quiet place and write, as quickly as you can, a list of everything you don’t want in your professional life. The things that take too much time, the things you hate, the things you don’t hate but would prefer not to do.

Don’t editorialize (or whine), just get it out and write it down.

It might be litigation, divorce, small cases, big cases, employees, partners, working for someone else, going to networking events, business travel, high rent, long hours, billing, collecting fees, unhappy clients, stress, too little income. . .

Don’t hold back. Write it all down. Nobody will see your list but you.

Keep writing until you can’t think of anything else.

Look at your list. It feels good to unload all of your burdens, even if it’s only on a piece of paper.

But you might also feel angry, as you see, in black and white, all of the things you have brought into your life and allowed to continue. Things that cause you anxiety, stress, time, and money.

Acknowledge those feelings and resolve to change the things that are causing you to have them.

You probably can’t eliminate all of the things you don’t like, or even most of them, at least anytime soon. But you can eliminate some of them and make some of them better.

Look at your list and decide what needs to go and what needs to change. Then, take a few minutes and make a new list. A list of things you want, based on your first list.

If you said you don’t want to handle divorce any longer, what do you want to handle instead? If you said you don’t want to chase clients to pay their bills, write down the way you want things to be.

Then, add to your “want” list anything else that comes to mind. Let your imagination soar. Do you want to work a 5-hour day and simultaneously double your income? Write that down. (NB: you can do that, as other lawyers and I can attest).

This is an important exercise because clarity is the first step towards change.

Plan, do, review. Start with this

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The number one reason most people fail

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Gary Keller, of Keller-Williams Real Estate and co-author of The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, said, “The number one reason most people fail is because they are unwilling to endure the monotony of success.”

Starting a new project or initiative is exciting. A few weeks later, when you’ve settled into a routine, the excitement will wear off.

Not much is happening. You’re bored. Going through the motions. Easily distracted. Ready to quit.

You’re being tested. Will you continue? Will you endure the monotony? Will you have faith and stay the course?

Success doesn’t happen all at once. It happens incrementally, sequentially, little by little. As you do the activities over and over again, they start to compound. Before you know it, you’ve reached a milestone.

You need to know that this is how it works before you begin.

If you’ve chosen the right goals, and the right activities to reach those goals, you will eventually reach them. It might happen slowly. You might not see it happening. You might get discouraged.

How do you keep yourself from quitting?

First, think about your goal and what it will mean to you when you achieve it. Meditate on it. Drink in the feeling. Understand that it may be hard but it is worth it.

Then, think about what it will be like if you don’t achieve the goal. Imagine how you will feel knowing you gave up.

Thomas Edison famously said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Don’t let that be you.

Marketing legal services is easier when you know the formula

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Asking questions

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You’re good at asking questions. You do it for a living. Questions help you discover the truth, open and close doors and get a grasp on where to go next with a case or a line of questioning.

Asking questions can also help you clarify your goals and what you’re doing to achieve them.

Look at your calendar and your task list. All of the projects you’re working on, upcoming appointments, meetings, calls, emails, things you have to research, documents you need to prepare. Your day is filled with work and you’re getting most of it done.

Things are good.

You’re bringing in clients, making money, building a future. Don’t stop there. Don’t settle for the status quo. You can always do better.

Make it a habit to ask yourself questions about what you’re doing. Start with the big picture:

How can I earn what I’m earning and work fewer hours?

How can I increase my income without doing more work?

How can I bring in more clients at less expense?

How can I bring in bigger cases or better clients?

Not, “Can I?” but “How can I?” Assume you can.

Cogitate on questions like these. There are answers. You will find them. But only if you ask.

More.

Before you start a new task, ask yourself, Why am I doing this right now? Maybe it can be done later. Maybe someone else can do it. Maybe it doesn’t need to be done at all.

Asking why helps you to prioritize.

That’s “how” and “why”. You should also ask yourself “when” and “what”.

What should I do differently? When would be the best time? What should I add or remove?

Don’t forget “who”. Who should I talk to? Who could help me with this? Who do I know? Who do I want to know?

Ask questions about everything. Perhaps you are in the habit of scheduling new client appointments at a time that’s convenient to the client. Is this the best policy?

I don’t know. Ask more questions. Does accommodating the new client interfere with something else you should be doing? Does it impair your ability to finish things you’ve promised to other clients? Does it send a subliminal message that you’re hungry for business?

Interrogate yourself about who, what, when why, and how. Use your skills to spot the issues. State the arguments, for and against. Yes, I know, you could argue either side and all sides, all day long. You’re good at that, too. But don’t get caught up in that. Make a decision. Take action. See what happens.

Then you can ask more questions.

More questions to help you decide

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A simple way to make important decisions

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Lots of options. Lots of things you could in the coming year to reach your goals.

Which one should you choose?

Should you work on Project A or Project B? Should you overhaul your website or start a newsletter? Should you work on meeting new professional contacts or write a book? If you have more than one book idea which one should you choose?

You’ve only got so much time and so much energy. How do you decide?

Everything on your list is important and valuable. In making your list, you gave a lot of thought to these options and you want to do all of them.

“I have the entire year,” you say. “I will do them all.” Maybe. Remember last year at this time? All of your ideas and plans? How many did you accomplish? How many did you start?

So don’t count on anything. Don’t bit off more than you can chew.

Instead of planning to everything on your list, choose one thing and do that. When you complete it, you can decide what to do next.

Okay. Which one should you do?

The easiest?

The most challenging?

The one with the highest payoff?

Should you stop listening to me ramble, pick something, and get on with it?

No. Do this: relax, close your eyes, and imagine it is the middle of next year. Look back at the time that has passed and where you are at that time. Think about your list of projects. Which one would you be most disappointed about not completing?

Choose that one.

The possibility of regret for not doing something will bring everything into focus. Whatever you are contemplating–work projects, career choices, schools, partnerships, where to live, when to retire, or any other important decision, unless there is a compelling, logical reason to move something to the top of your list, let your subconscious mind choose for you.

Once you choose, start immediately and don’t second guess your choice. Your subconscious mind is never wrong.

Need to get serious about marketing? Let your website do most of the heavy lifting

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Are you overly analytical?

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You’re a lawyer. Being analytical is part of your job. But if you’re overly analytical, you may want to consider a different modus operandi.

Continually weighing the “what ifs” and “on the other hands,” re-doing your research “just to make sure,” and scrupulously avoiding any and all risks, can easily do you more harm than good.

While you’re figuring out what to do, opportunities are passing you by.

What if instead of analyzing everything to the nth degree before taking action, you take action first and then analyze?

You’ll make some mistakes. Suffer some losses and embarrassments. Have some sleepless nights. That’s the downside. The risk.

What would you gain in return?

Opportunities for big breakthroughs. Amazing profits. And some wild adventures.

By accepting some risks you open doors to life-changing gains.

Now, I’m not saying you should “shoot first” in every situation. You have to use common sense. Look at the facts before you jump in. Gather enough information to know if what you’re considering is possible.

Has anyone done this (or something like it) before? If so, why can’t you?

It may be difficult. The odds might be against you. But if you believe something is possible, or at least not impossible, go ahead and take a leap of faith.

If you stumble, get up and try again.

Success always requires action. Always. Thinking is important but you can’t accomplish anything until you do something.

Once you do it, even a little, you will learn something. You’ll either be empowered to do it again (and better) or you will know it’s not going to work and you can do something else.

But you won’t have to guess or agonize about being right or wrong, you’ll know.

Act, then analyze.

Your plan for building a successful practice

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Stop writing a “to do” list and write this instead

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We have lists. Lots and lots of lists. Things we need to do, things we want to do, things we’re not sure about but may do someday. How are we supposed to prioritize anything and decide what to do today?

I have a suggestion. Take your “to do” list, the one you wrote for today or this week, and change the name to a “to finish” list.

A to do list isn’t really a list of things we intend to accomplish, is it? It’s a list of things we plan to start. But creating value in our lives isn’t about what we start it’s about what we finish.

Changing the name to a “to finish” list forces you to write a better list. Instead of writing things you should do and hope you can finish, you make a list of things you know you have the skills, resources, and time to finish that day.

If you are planning to start a new project but realize you don’t have time to finish it today, you are forced to break up that project into smaller chunks you can get done today.

A “to finish” list forces you to think about what’s important. It makes you examine the many options available and organically prioritize your list. You not only get more done, you get the most important things done.

Shifting your focus from a long list of things you need to do to a short list of things you are committed to doing gives you clarity and peace of mind. As you finish the items on your list, you feel good, giving you the energy and desire to do more.

Starting is the hardest part of doing anything. But finishing is the most important. If you want to be, do, and have more in your life, stop starting so many things and start finishing what really matters.

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Focus, yes, but on what?

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Everyone tells you to focus. Be a master of one thing, not a jack-of-all-trades. I’m in that choir, singing that same hymn. You know we’re right and you want to focus. But on what?

Which practice area? Which target market? Which strategy?

Which project should you work on? Which task should you get done today?

Nobody has the answer for you. You have to decide for yourself. But how?

Should you use logic? Trust your gut?

Should you do what nobody else is doing?

Should you do what others do but do it better?

There’s really only one definitive way to figure out where you should focus and that is to try lots of things.

Look at 100 ideas. Get rid of 90 that don’t make sense or that don’t inspire you. Out of the ten that are left, run with the top three. That’s what Steve Jobs did and those three ideas became the company’s focus over the next year.

Experiment constantly. Test lots of variables. Don’t try one or two headlines or email subjects, try fifty. Don’t try five keywords, try 105.

Talk to more people, write more articles, give more talks.

When you find something that works well and feels right to you, make that your focus. At least for now. What works this year may not work next year. Something new may work even better.

Keep learning, keep trying new ideas and different ways of implementing them. And always, keep your eyes on the market. It will tell you what it wants and how much it will pay.

The formula for building a successful practice 

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Aim for the top dogs

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You know a lot of people. You’d like to know more. Instead of meeting people randomly, you should meet and work with the biggest and the best.

The ones who influence the right people in your niche or local market. The ones who can send you business, introduce you to other influential people, and show you how to do the things that got them to the top.

They might be other professionals. They might be bloggers, authors, speakers, coaches, or trainers. They might be politicians, consultants, business owners, or industry leaders.

They all have one thing in common. They can help your career take a giant leap.

It may be harder to connect with them but it is worth the effort. One top dog can do for you what 100 other dogs cannot.

Don’t settle for building a network of ordinary people. Set your sites on the biggest and the best.

Start by asking yourself these two questions:

1. Who are the 10 leading people in my marketplace, and
2. How can I connect with them?

Answer these questions and get to work. One day, your name will appear on other people’s top dog list.

Building a successful practice starts with a plan

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When a herd of zombies is coming at you

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You hear it a lot in movies. The characters are having problems. Zombies are crashing through the gate. The bad guys are coming to take their stuff, and everything looks hopeless. Someone wants to give up and someone else says, “C’mon, we can do this. We’ll figure it out.”

And somehow, they almost always do. Although that might not happen until the next season.

There’s a lesson in less. No matter what you’re going through, whether you’re struggling to bring in business, your clients aren’t paying your bill, or a herd of zombies is coming at you, you just keep going.

Whatever the problem, action is the cure.

You can think. You can research. You can pray. You can ask others for help or advice. But at the end of the day, those zombies aren’t going to cut off their own heads.

Of course, building a law practice is very much like fighting zombies.

When I opened my own practice, I rented an office from an attorney who had an extra room in his suite in Beverly Hills. It was expensive but I had big plans and needed to look like I had something going on. Unfortunately, I didn’t. I had trouble paying the rent.

But I kept going.

After a while, I moved to another office closer to where my prospective clients lived. The rent was cheaper and gave me more breathing room. More time to keep going. And I did.

I continued to struggle and eat peanut butter sandwiches for dinner, but eventually I was doing better and got my own suite of offices.

It took years but I made it.

Some of my success came from improving my legal skills. Even more came from learning how to market my services. But most of my success came because I didn’t quit.

I had problems. I made mistakes. I lost money. Hell, in my first year I had to appear at a state bar hearing (without representation) to explain to a panel how I wasn’t violating ethical rules by running ads offering to pay referral fees to attorneys. (The law had just changed to allow this and when I pointed out that I was abiding by the rules, I won the case.)

No matter where you are right now, keep going. Nobody’s coming to rescue you. But you can get through this. Just keep moving and I promise, you’ll figure it out.

Need clients? Here you go

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You’re smart enough but are you lazy enough?

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You know I’m a fan of the book, “The 80/20 Principle” by Richard Koch. He wrote a sequel, “Living the 80/20 Way: Work Less, Worry Less, Succeed More, Enjoy More. In it, Koch quotes General Erich von Manstein, an officer in the German army, speaking about leadership:

“There are only four types of officers.

First, there are the lazy, stupid ones. Leave them alone, they do no harm.

Second, there are the hard-working intelligent ones. They make excellent staff officers, ensuring that every detail is properly considered.

Third, there are the hard-working, stupid ones. These people are a menace, and must be fired at once. They create irrelevant work for everybody.

Finally, there are the intelligent lazy ones. They are suited for the highest office.”

Different versions of this citation have appeared, sometimes attributing the quote to others. In 1942 Viscount Swinton (Philip Lloyd-Greame) spoke in the House of Lords in London. He described the four classes of officers and credited an unnamed German General:

The clever and lazy you make Chief of Staff, because he will not try to do everybody else’s work, and will always have time to think.

What does this tell us? I think it tells us that maybe we are too industrious for our own good. Maybe we need to do less work and more thinking. Maybe we need to delegate more work to hard-working intelligent people who will take care of the details while we take care of the big picture.

I’m going to take some time to think about this. How about you?

Behold: an easier way to get more referrals from other professionals

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