Its official, last year is finally put to bed, taxes are done, accounts reconciled, bills collected, and the books are closed, so now there’s time to reflect on the good, the bad and the ugly.
The good – Mac’s, CrashPlan, Grasshopper, personallized pens, and getting an accountant
The bad – Iomega REV, Retrospect, phonebook ads, “door” law, and conservative business cards.
The ugly – the high cost of tuition when taking graduate courses at Reality U.
Making the decision the decision to be a “Mac attorney” was difficult. After all, there is a dearth of law practice specific software out there for Macs and the vast majority of the useful, free stuff out there is targets for the PC. The surprising thing was that when you compare oranges to oranges, there is little price difference between similarly spec’ed and equipped Macs and PCs, but the statistics show that Macs have a longer (>2x) “life-span”. The beauty of drinking the Apple Kool-aid is that the products are plug-n-play. From connecting routers to installing servers, once you’ve connected the wires and plugged into power you are up and running. Sure you can customize things, but elementary functionality is there from word go. It’s really cool to find computer systems that just work.
See: It Went Bump in the Night to see why CrashPlan made the good list.
Grasshopper is a highly flexible virtual PBX offering outstanding customer service and more features than I actually use. It was assured a spot on the good list after I discovered how call following worked and realized that not only could I program which numbers to try and in what order, but I could also assign numbers to blocks of time – no more worries about being interrupted when in a client meeting.
When I look at all the marketing things I’ve tried, having pens with my name and number on them seem to be the most successful. These things are like viruses – they get dropped off in one place and get carried off far and wide. While I’ve seldom heard from the person I originally handed a pen to, I frequently hear from someone they handed the pen to. Its like an automatic referral system. People need pens lots of places (gas stations, restaurants, check out lines, etc), few people constantly carry pens with them – so you hand them a cheap pen, say keep it and let the pass-it-forward concept work for you.
Getting an accountant was one of the best things I did this year. My only regret is that I didn’t have one from the beginning. Yes, this is an expense, and yes there is an app for that, but do you really want to invest your time into doing books?
OK Iomega & Retrospect, I understand that maintaining device drivers across multiple computer platforms is a daunting task, but when you make your customers dig through web site to discover that after waiting 3 months for a promised fix you’ve decided to simply ignore the problem and stop supporting your product on a particular computer system you earn the pole position on my bad list.
I ignored my gut feelings and bought space in the yellow pages. Even after researching the subject and following the rules, there’s absolutely no ROI on this move.
I knew I should focus, I knew that building a practice would take time, but there were bills to pay and contacts to make so I succumbed and started to practice “door” law – if it came through my door I’d consider it. End result – I had no way to build a consistent marketing message, had no focus to my elevator speech and really spread myself thin as I tried to pick up lots of law rather than mastering just one area.
I thought lawyers should have business cards (not a bad idea in and of itself) and so I went out and had a local printer design a very nice, conservative business card for me. The end result screamed lawyer (actually, it screamed “I’m so conservative, I make the Orange County Republican Party look like drug-crazed hippy radicals”). Unfortunately this does not make for a memorable business card and when you are trying to grow a business, making no impression is making a bad impression.
Real Life University has a pretty steep tuition when you enter its graduate school (the entrance exam is child’s play – start a law practice). While there are no scholarship opportunities, there are ways to mitigate the cost. The problem is that by the time you discover them, you’ve already had a few hard lessons. The ones that became obvious to me this year are:
1) Stay focused on your business plan and stick with your chose area of law – don’t dilute your product. Expanding your practice areas comes after developing expertise and clients in one. This is one instance where a wide net does not catch more. Focus allows you to spend your marketing resources wisely, allows you to develop a succinct marketing message that readily identifies what you do and why a client should use your services.
2) Work, work, work on your marketing – at the beginning a solo practice is 70% marketing, 20% business, and 10% law (this is why focus is important, there’s not time to be spread thin). Your marketing message should be consistent, uniform and memorable and should tell people who you are, what you do, where you practice, why should they use your services, and how to contact you.
So that was the year that was for the Rural Lawyer. Hope yours was better.